And while that may be true at least in part, Master Klass, says anyone can create their own masterpiece, and they’ll teach you to do so in the matter of just a couple of hours! I too thought it was unbelievable. And yet I’m here at the workshop with Mariana Ostrohlyad. She says she has heard the same complaint about little to no talent a hundred times. No one, however, comes out of her workshop empty-handed.
An Exposed Soul
“First of all, I think every human being, deep in his soul, is an artist of some sort,” says Ostrohlyad, “you only need to realise your creativity! And when you do, just imagine the pieces you’ll be able to hang on your wall at home!” With examples of paintings by Mariana and other pros dotting the room every which way you look, I have to say I am curious to see what’s lurking deep down in my soul.
Finding an easel I’m hoping will serve me well, the smell of oil paint fills my nostrils. I look down at the glass full of brushes at my disposal and feel slightly giddy at the prospect of creating. Here, the option to let your imagination run free is yours. As this is a story for What’s On, however, I take advantage of the copy-from-a-master alternative where there is a pile of reproductions from masters through all the ages. I look through a number of pieces from world classical to Ukrainian modern and feel slightly overwhelmed. Mariana senses my apprehension and tells me to take my time and find something that responds to me. Finally, I pick out a portrait of an unknown woman who looks reserved and independent of the contrasting colour gamma that surrounds her. I like her. I’m going to paint her.
Throwing on an apron so as not to ruin my clothes with possible splashes, I approach the easel. Master Mariana has given each of us students the required instruments: canvas, palette, various tubes of oil paint, brushes and small rags to keep everything clean as we work. Being new to this whole artistic thing, I have been given a special canvas covered in fine linen. Apparently, it’s easier to work with. Pinning the portrait to the easel, I look from it to the blank canvas and back again. What happens now...
The Rhythm is Gonna Get Ya
Ever aware that I am not the most creative type, I should have a little more faith in myself. We’re not told to just go ahead and paint that which is in front of us after all: there are steps that need to be taken. In this case, the first step is drawing the outline of my picture on the clean canvas with chalk or with a special charcoal pencil. Mariana explains that every artist will first mark and measure that which he is going to paint. So with the help of my pencil, I measure the distances from the edge of the canvas to where the figure sits, then the size of the face, the distance between the eyes, the shoulder width and all other elements to ensure she is properly proportioned. Ostrohlyad says not to be afraid of making mistakes or adding the odd line here or there, as the paint will cover it, and the draft, in whatever form it takes, will help you stick to the main lines of the composition. My hand trembles a little at first, but then I get into the rhythm, and the pencil slides gently as it repeats the same angles and curves of the picture in front of me. Adding some professional touches to my sketch, Mariana says it is done and ready for some colour.
Classic-style artists worked mainly with brushes. The 20th century piece I have chosen, however, was in fact created with the help of a palette knife. It looks like a small blade which Ostrohlyad says allows the artist an enormous sphere of creativity. Making interesting and unique smears, the blade obeys the often passionate artist in distinctive and fascinating ways. “You can even paint with your fingers,” Mariana adds inspiring me: “With a finger you can make very soft, gentle smears leaving prints on the canvas.”
First of all I need to work with the background. The original painting has a pail rose as its backdrop so I squeeze out some red and white paint and mix it together trying to find a similar consistency. Applying the paint, I’m told I should try not to copy. Rather, find colour nuances which appeal to me. Struggling to come across a suitable tone amongst the variety of options in front of me, I ask Mariana how to harmonise the colours: is it something I can study or is it something that just comes naturally? “Such notions of harmony and intuition are innate, it is something you cannot learn. In fact, I believe every human being is itself pure harmony, which is only something that comes out when you create. Painting gives you the opportunity to listen to yourself and find this harmony. As beginners, you have an advantage. A professional artist does a lot of things mechanically. But amateurs follow their instincts!” Experimenting then, I add some blue, some green and finally finish the background with a collection of colour.
Moving onto the woman herself, I mix a little yellow with white and red, and using wide, sliding movements her face comes alive! Another fancy thing about this palette knife is that an artist can actually draw with it and so do I! Mariana suggests I scrape the nose, eyes and mouth with it. My first second and third attempts are dreadful, and I thank the heavens this knife can erase as well as it creates. Amidst my delicate search to find the right angles and features, however, a nose and other parts of the face appear once again. Wow! It isn’t easy!
Fear and All His Friends
Moving down to her body, the original is painted in tones of green and gray which I try to imitate on my canvas. Ostrohlyad says not to be afraid of adding or erasing oil from the canvas: I can still alter the tones, the colours or the lines as I wish but only while it’s still fresh. From what I understand, fear is something that can really damage the final outcome, so I’ve decided to let go of mine. What I will soon find out is that this simple decision makes the rest of the creative process fun and exciting.
As the artist I have now become, I paint the flower beside the woman in the picture with ease. And now with a more or less finished piece, I move onto accents – see how quickly I have caught on to the artistic vernacular! I add red to the cheeks. Taking a thin brush I make her eyes more striking, and then I liven up her lips. Adding a few contrasting lines in dark brown and bright yellow to focus attention on certain parts (her breasts, for example), master artist Mariana compliments my efforts adding some final touches of her own.
There is a woman next to me who attends these classes regularly. She says one of the last stages is to step back and look at your work from a distance. I do so, and I have to say, my artistic eye is quite content with what it sees! Requiring one more thing, I add my initials to the bottom right corner with firm but careful hands. And as I finish, I feel like a real artist!
Mariana tells me she thoroughly enjoys watching her students’ reaction at this point. “Some of them laugh like children, others nearly cry! There is one girl who comes in regularly. She has a very important managerial position. But when she’s here she turns off her phone, and leaves all of her troubles at the door.”
Holding my own happy head with pride, I carry my painting home. As I go, I meet with a few astonished and even a couple of jealous glances. I bet they thought I did this all by myself. Well, that’s only half true. The folks over at Master Klass, and Mariana Ostrohlyad in particular, are the ones to thank.
Master Classes of All Kinds
Master Klass Cultural Centre (Lavrska 16)