Daniel Sprick Painting Portrait Workshop – What I Learned

a charcoal portrait of a model named Lury done at a Daniel Sprick portrait workshop
a charcoal portrait of a model named Lury done at a Daniel Sprick portrait workshop
My Portrait Study of Lury from the Daniel Sprick workshop 18×16 Charcoal on Canford paper

Daniel Sprick Painting Portrait Workshop

I attended Weekend with the Masters in Monterey, California – the art workshop and conference hosted by American Artist magazine and a handful of art supply vendors. See the Dan Sprick workshop details below.

Hundreds of artists from all over the U.S. were under the same roof for four days; the all-art-all-the-time energy was palpable and fascinating.

Imagine talking about various watercolor papers for an hour over lunch with no one getting bored! Or just by chance, meeting a group of attendees who have admired the same artist – online, and in publications – and for the first time, will watch him/her during a painting demo – together.

Conferences like this are the antidote for any artist who spends days and weeks working alone in the studio.  

Jared by Daniel Sprick (2011)
Daniel Sprick teaching a portrait workshop at Weekend with the masters
Daniel set up his easel relatively close to the model and used a small panel and Cobra water miscible oil paints – which were new to him (a gift from the manufacturer attending the event).

Daniel Sprick Workshop

There were almost 30 instructors on site. Attendees had a chance to take multiple classes and attend various demos from 5-8 outstanding artists in just a few days.  

Instructors also got a chance to meet each other – some for the first time.and I saw many teachers wandering in and out of the classes of their peers to listen in, or paint/draw for awhile.

Evenings were dotted with clusters of kindred spirit attendees and instructors – huddled over dinner and drinks. There was lots of talking about exhibits, museums, galleries, process, marketing and supplies.  

I registered for an all day session with Daniel Sprick – one of my favorite contemporary painters. He did a demo for us in the first half (photos below) and we did drawings or paintings of the same model in the second half (my unfinished study is at the top of this post). Dan also let each student flip through his ipad. We saw his archive of paintings, and some work in process images from his studio, next to the reference photos he was painting from. It was phenomenal.

Daniel Sprick Portrait Demo beginnings
Daniel’s portrait of the model Lury in the first stages

Dan Sprick – Trust Yourself

Daniel’s portrait (above) started with a line drawing of the model’s head and features. He laid the structure in very light with vine charcoal, and followed by a broad fill in with thinned pigment. The paint brush obliterated what he laid in with the charcoal.

When asked why he brushed his charcoal drawing away with the paint, he smiled. Then he said “You should trust that if you can lay features in once with charcoal, you’ll be able to place them again with paint. And it’s a second chance to get it right. ”

In the shot above, he went back into the  shape of the model’s head and started blocking in shadow patterns. He made adjustments to the curves of the model’s face and cheekbones as flat masses.

Daniel Sprick's palette for the portrait (Cobra Water Miscible Oils)
Daniel’s palette for the portrait (Cobra Water Miscible Oils which were given to him by the manufacturer at the event.)
Daniel Sprick teaching a portrait workshop
Daniel uses a mahl stick to steady his hand for the smaller or finer brushwork.
Daniel Sprick Portrait Process
Dan laid in daubs of oil paint with deliberate, slow placement, and made jokes about how kind we all were to stay and watch such unexciting stuff. You could hear a pin drop in the room.
Dan Sprick painting a head demo
I know it’s cliche, but watching the face emerge from the panel under his brushes was akin to a magic show. He is such a masterful painter, and this was just a two hour demo. He told us that he normally works 12 hours interrupted on the first day of painting a head.
Dan Sprick portrait painting
Daniel uses a fan brush – held lightly at the tail of the handle – to gently soften edges over a brow or cheekbone of the bridge of the nose, etc.
Daniel Sprick Painting a Face
I know it’s cliche, but watching the face emerge from the panel under his brushes was akin to a magic show. He is such a masterful painter, and this was just a two hour demo. He told us that he normally works 12 hours interrupted on the first day of painting a head.

The Argument for Practice

The workshop with Dan was one day. The first half was a demo, followed by workshop attendees painting the same model under his tutelage. This (above) was as far as he got in the time allotted with the oil portrait of Lury. But it was a spectacular view into the process of a master. And you can se her lovely face – and his likeness – in the photo below.

What We Learn From the Masters

The workshop was a day full of lessons. The ease of his mark making and reflective muscle memory of his color mixing all coalesced into the same message: the trick to good painting is doing the work. Hours and weeks and months and years of practice is the holy grail of painting well.

Dan Sprick model Lury
The model, Lury, on a break strolling to see everyone’s portrait in process of her, while Dan made the rounds to discuss each attendee’s art.
Dan Sprick and Quang Ho painting side by side from the same model in 2011
At the same conference, Dan Sprick and Quang Ho painted the same model on a stage side by side.
Daniel Sprick Still Life of a Mirror
Dan’s breathtakingly simple, luminous painting Still Life with Mirror

Links Related to Workshops and Resources

Here are some other posts related to workshops, and figure drawing and painting, for your perusal:

  • Read this about a workshop with Carol Marine in France. It inspired an observation of the challenges one faces alone in the studio after an amazing experience with instructors. Especially when they are so far ahead of your skill set.
  • Here is a post about the importance in getting the face and figure right in drawing and painting. There are different rules in figurative work, compared to landscape and still life. I’ve assembled some tips and links to help us out.

Getting Better at Art

If you’ve attended an amazing workshop, leave us a link in the comments to your post about it. And if there’s a book you love about drawing and painting the human form, leave the title for us too. We get better at art when we work together.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. You can subscribe to get each new post via email right here.

P.P.S. If you wish someone would write a little primer on watercolor paper to help demystify the stuff, it’s here. I couldn’t find it anywhere when I first started, so I wrote one for you.

Art Quote

I’m 77 this year, and I’m seeing more and more color with a better-trained eye. I think I need two more lifetimes to get painting down. But I don’t have that “artistic angst”. Painting is a joy, and I’m grateful every time I pick up a brush that this is my vocation. We should all paint like a pig eats.

Richard Shmid at 2011 Weekend with the Masters

4 thoughts on “Daniel Sprick Painting Portrait Workshop – What I Learned”

  1. Fascinating. I think you have achieved great depth and feeling in your “unfinished study”. Thank you for your posting of the demo steps. Wow.

  2. Wow, what a great place to get to go to! This series of photos is great; I’m surprised he could do so much in such a short time. Your study is a great start too!

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