Mary Whyte, Painting, New Orleans Jazz

All at once, amazing and frustrating,” Such was my reflection on the one-of-a-kind workshop put on by American Watercolor Artist Mary Whyte on my 4 hour flight from New Orleans to Seattle. But, I should back up a little.

mary and stormy

I had this workshop on my schedule for more than a half a year.  I was a little apprehensive about taking a workshop from such a prominent artist.  While she is a formally trained artist and has painted extensively in oils, pastels and pencil her medium of choice for more than two decades has been watercolors. Her passion is painting people in their environments.  Not just portraits, but pieces that tell stories of those she paints. She feels that watercolors particularly lend themselves to producing luminous skin tones and effects.

Following her passion to paint those that seem to have fallen off the radar she has spent the last 20 or so years telling the stories of her neighbors, the Gullah women of St. Johns Island in South Carolina.  Her desire to paint the dying trades has carried her hundreds, if not thousands, of miles traveling the South looking for those that just work and toil, a sometimes barely subsisting by the sweat of their brow.

I was determined, before walking into that workshop to read every book by and about her and watch every video.  I spent the entire last month focussing on studying mixes for skin color and drawing and painting the human face. Although practice always helps, I wasn’t quite prepared for what came next. Mary had us painting for three straight days, three different models with different skin colors, trying several advanced watercolor techniques. It was certainly challenging and I will be practicing for sometime to come. She got us started by listing here 3 class rues.  1) there are no stupid questions, 2) you must tell at least one joke, and 3) you must paint ast least one bad painting. “Don’t worry,” she said, your real workshop and your good paintings will start next week in your own studios when you start practicing these techniques.”


I have to say, the most challenging was to get deep darks with objects that blend together within the shadow, without making mud.

Over the three days, Mary demonstrated for about 6 hours, students drawing and painting for 10-11 hours, and discussions about materials , equipment, painting into shadows, mixing colors, composition and creating dominance in one’s painting. Finally, she reserves the last hour of each day as an open discussion on the “Nuts and Bolts” of being an artist. This included topics like what it takes to be an artist, how to decide what to paint, how to price and market your work, what her typical work day looks like, and what your job is an artist. It was a packed three days, winding up with an open critique of the student art.

Last Day

Of course, then there was New Orleans.  Our evening activities included a class dinner as an upscale restaurant, sampling the New Orleans own drink -Sazerac- and two jazz clubs that included the Snug Harbor featuring Charmeine Nevelle and her band. (Aaron Nevelle’s niece btw).

Charmenne Nevell

That last thing Mary left us with was this, “Never say, I want to paint it, but, it is too hard.” Mary is a brilliant and skilled painter and an excellent teacher and she is committed to both.

Thanks to Tracy Culbertson, Owner of Art in the Mountains workshops for putting on an amazing event. #marywhyte#workingsouth#morethanlife




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