Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cobalt Studios: Summer Scene Painting #2

The Day to Day
The Summer Scene Painting program at Cobalt is an intensive, three week, hands on experience.  It had been years since I had held a paintbrush for eight hours a day.  I loved every minute of the experience.  For me that is Zen.

We started out with basics, as one would expect.  Much of what I learned at Cobalt was material I was already familiar with, but somehow each concept was taught in a different way than I had heard it before.  This time, it wasn't just about how to do things but also why we do them that way.  There was a healthy dose of geometry and physics and a few other surprising sciences taught.

Every minute of the work day at Cobalt was scripted.  Rachel and Kimb know how long everything should take and plan accordingly.  There was time for each project to be completed with no real down time.  There was no real wasted time.  For each thing, they would let us know at the beginning how long it should take and gave us that much time.

Each day began in the waiting room where we had a joke of the day, then we would talk about that day's project.  At that point, we would go into the studio and sit around a table for instruction.  The time was balanced, in the first and second week between instructional experiences and practical experiences.  This was really important during times when we were waiting for paint to dry.  Instead of sitting around doing nothing, Rachel and/or Kimb would gather us at a table and lecture.  Each session was planned and there were great handouts for each of them.  No real wasted time at Cobalt.

The First Thing
The basics are important in anything we do.  Scene painting is no different.  We started out with layout and cartooning.  Every good painting, whether you are painting on an easel or on a grand scale for the theatre, begins as a good drawing.

The first couple of days, we worked on how to scale and layout drawings using charcoal grids.  Scenic artists traditionally stand up to paint or draw but their work is on the ground.  Vine charcoal and paintbrushes are inserted into the end of three to four foot bamboo poles and we work at arms length plus that.  People tell me all the time they can't imagine painting that way.  I tell them it's just a matter of brush choice, brush placement and trust.  If you can get past the mental part, anyone can paint in this fashion.

Years ago, I made a conscious decision when learning scene painting, to trust the teacher.  People who know what I want to know.  I decided they were teaching things for a reason and it must be important.  Being teachable is the most important part of being a student.  Period.

The first mini-project we were given was a line drawing cartoon.  Each of us received a different cartoon and we were expected to scale it and make a grid and then transfer it to a large piece of craft paper.  I got a turtle, whose name escapes me.

Drawing with a charcoal in the end of a bamboo stick.  Holding the reference drawing is essential

The finished drawing.  Notice the faint charcoal grid

The Second Thing
After we finished our drawings, the next project was to create a much larger drawing as a team.  My team chose a Hirschfield drawing.  Each of us took a different third of the drawing.  We created a grid with charcoal and snaplines.  Then we each cartooned our section of the drawing and hoped it matched up.

Once we were done with that, we teamed up again and had to lay out a perspective drawing.

Drawing the Hirshfield

The finished piece

The perspective drawing

Cobalt Teachings
During the first week, when we were waiting for paint to dry on a project, we sat around a chalk board and learned about light, shadow, highlight, bouncelight and etc...  Each thing we learned prepared us for something in the next project.  Everything built on the last thing.  It was very much a line upon line, precept upon precept experience.

We learned about how to draw cylinders, cones, cubes and spheres.  We learned about the different types of shadows and highlights.  Everything that was taught had a purpose.  There was no wasted time.  Great experience.  One I hope to repeat.

Pissaro shapes

With teachings


Cobalt Life
The most important part of the Cobalt experience is the work in the studio.  When we weren't in the studio, we had a little time to ourselves.  Prior to attending Cobalt, we all received a questionnaire about food.  What we'd like to be stocked for breakfast, what food allergies we had, etc...  Since I have a great deal of food allergies, I thought I'd have to sneak out and find stuff to eat.  I never had to do so.

Each of us took turns over the three weeks where we'd either be the head chef or an assistant in the kitchen.  Every night there were gluten free, soy free, dairy free options for me to eat.  There were a few other students with some food allergies and everyone who cooked made certain everyone could eat.  That was a kindness.  We ate well at Cobalt.  Everyone was on their best behavior and everyone made sure they made their best dish.  I made my son in law's famous asparagus wrapped in black forest ham with asiago cheese.  Big hit with the other students.

Our day began with breakfast.  Everyone was on their own for breakfast.  The fridge and pantry were well stocked with the items we had asked for on the questionnaire so no one went hungry.  After breakfast we headed to the studio and worked.  At lunchtime, we went back to the farmhouse and ate lunch.  Typically it was leftovers from the night before.  Then back to the studio for the next round.  When it was time for dinner, the chef and the assistants left and began cooking.  When we weren't in the kitchen, we could explore the property, take walks, graze on blueberries, meditate or enjoy one another's company.  It was important to share an evening meal together.  After supper we had time to ourselves.

In the group I was in there were no smokers or vegetarians.  Rachel said that was very rare.  My time at Cobalt was idyllic.  Every moment of every day was exciting.  I had waited so long to come and I had been worried it wouldn't live up to my expectations.  All of that was put to rest the first day.  I was so thankful to be at Cobalt.  Mind blowing, life changing.

On the weekends we were able to go exploring.  We didn't go to the studio on Saturdays or Sundays.  Cobalt is in a small town in the Catskills called White Lake, New York.  The studio is eleven miles away from the site of the epic concert Woodstock.  They have a museum there and one weekend some of us went there.  Images of that trip can be seen here.  Some of the students opted to go into the city for the weekend.  I chose to hike.  We were in the Catskills.  I have already been to New York City and I am sure I will go back.  It's not often I get to hike the Catskills.  The National Park Service manages long sections of the Delaware River near there and there were a series of six short hikes you could do and then receive a patch for them.  A few of us decided to get the patch.  We had a great time and accomplished our goal.  Those hikes can be viewed here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The Studio Cat
Rachel says every studio needs a cat.  We had Winifred.  There were times when I had to work in the studio alone.  A few times I wanted to go in and finish something and ended up in the studio after hours.  Winnie was a welcome companion during those times.  She kept watch over the studio.  She knew who was in charge.  Apparently she gets the most hits on the Cobalt Studios Facebook page.


Knows who is really in charge

Cobalt Studios is a great training ground for scenic artists.  I loved my time there and hope to go back for some of the other training that goes on there.  I would recommend Cobalt Studios to anyone who was serious about learning the craft of scene painting.  Great times.

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