Portrait of a horse
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In the Studio This Week – A Mixed Bag

In the studio this week, I was finishing up the last week’s lessons in Section 1 of the program devoted to drawing and oil painting.  The week started out easy with a mixed bag of simple mark-making exercises making a graphite abstract landscape, and a doodle tree. I was taking it easy, not devoting much time to the whole process. I was even able to squeeze in some final work one of the Kaleidoscope lessons I had started previously.

I was feeling confident that this easy week would get me caught up to where I needed to be.  I even laid out an aggressive schedule having me complete the course before we left to head North in June 2024.

I should have looked ahead as the final lesson was a big one – choosing a new source subject and spending at least 6-8 hours finishing a painting using one or more of the techniques learned so far.

Abstract Landscape

This started with a free-flowing period letting various mark-making tools glide across a sizeable piece of paper. The goal was to eventually move the marks in the direction of something similar to a landscape. I used charcoal, water-soluble graphite, and a china marker to create shapes that ended up looking like the infinity symbol.

The next step was to look at the paper and see if you could pull an image out of the marks. I saw a lake with trees on the shoreline, a moon, and a boat on the lake. I worked a bit more to define the boat and the moon and added a man fishing in the boat. I’m not sure what the overall purpose of this lesson was other than to get students out of wanting to control the process.

Abstract graphite landscape drawing showing a man in a boat

Doodle Tree

This lesson was called John’s Creative Tree. John is the husband of Elie Milan, the primary instructor in The Mastery Program. Again, this was a series of free-flowing marks with various instruments to form what I called a doodle tree.

The process was rather fun and reminded me of the doodling I have done since I was a teenager. Again, I wasn’t overly sure how this lesson fit into the overall scheme of things.

Sketch of a tree done in a doodle style

Opus One

I chose this heading as the meaning is from a musical term:  Opus One is attributed to a composition generally considered to be a composer’s first masterpiece. According to The Mastery Program guidance, this painting was to be our Opus One, a culmination of all we have learned so far.

Students were instructed to go back over the course materials and pick one or more of the techniques learned to put into practice in this new painting that was intended to be our best ever. As part of selecting a technique, students were encouraged to challenge themselves to choose one they had struggled with before.

I chose the techniques from the Fat Over Lean Lesson combined with the White-on-White techniques. I chose another horse as a subject to maybe start a series of horse paintings that could be marketable. I had good success with the previous horse painting using the Fat Over Lean process but didn’t feel so successful with the White-on-White process, so that was the challenge for me.

I can’t say I feel this is my best painting ever. I still struggled with the White-on-White technique. The goal with this technique is to master the color temperature rather than using values to create depth. Cool colors show receding areas and warm colors are used for the prominent areas. I felt I just couldn’t get the warm colors used on the head correct as they seemed too brown compared to the grey of the body. I’m planning to finish this with an application of cold wax medium for the mane and selected areas on the head and body. What do you think?

Opus One painting of the head of a white horse with a flowing mane
Opus One


I think I should always look ahead in the lesson plan to get a sense of what comes next. I was overwhelmed from the previous week and was enjoying the first few lessons that weren’t overly taxing. As a result, I cut my time short working on the Opus One painting. Next section in The Mastery Program focuses on mixed media techniques and voice.  This is supposed to be more fun. I hope so but at this point, I have paintings stacking up in my studio and garage!

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