My friend and fellow pastel artist Jessie Grant and I spent five days last week studying with Sally Strand. Sally has long been near the top of my list of "must-study-with" artists based on her magical way of portraying light (see her "men in white" and "player" series of paintings for examples), and when I saw that she was coming as far east as Chicago, I jumped at the chance. Sally's home base is California, and she rarely comes even this far east--though I NOW know that she'll be in or near Montreal next May with the Pastel Society of Eastern Canada. Nevertheless, I'm not sorry I went now--the experience was all I had hoped for and more! Sally takes a very scholarly approach to painting. She is a deep thinker and a natural teacher, and is generous in sharing the results of her many years of dogged practice and exploration. While some artists make the whole painting thing seem mysterious and the result of some unique genius, Sally deconstructs her process into understandable (while challenging) steps, and works very hard to help each student grasp these principles. Her focus on big value structures across the whole picture plane will help me to develop stronger designs for my paintings before I get distracted by portraying the specifics of the subject, and her unique exercises using various coloured gels on the lighting of still life setups was transformational in helping me understand the effect of the colour/temperature of light. Her workshops are expensive--deservedly so, and you definitely get your money's worth. I'd encourage you to save your pennies and spring for a workshop with Sally whenever she's in your area, or at least within travelling distance. Your work will reap the benefits.
And if you get to Chicago, the Art Institute is a MUST see--we spent three magical hours chasing down works by Sargent, Degas, Cassatt, Monet, Renoir, Innes, and SO many others that my head was spinning and my legs almost fell off--but worth every ache and pain to see these masterpieces.
Here are some shots of our experience: Jessie on the steps of the Chicago Palette & Chisel Club which hosted the workshop (very atmospheric Italianate mansion, but did the studio HAVE to be up six flights of stairs??), a view of students in the workshop tackling the still lifes, my results of the same setup under two different lighting conditions (really--all that changed was the colour of the light), the final day's unfinished project of a live model laundry setup, Sally teaching energetically, and a view of the Chicago skyline at night from our 43rd floor executive apartment rental (recommended by the Palette & Chisel Club and a great pied-a-terre for the workshop).