Painting Workshops!

Painting by Carlos San Millan

Painting by Carlos San Millan

I just spent three days in a painting workshop with Spanish painter Carlos San Millan, a master of imbedding light and chroma into his intimate oil paintings of interiors. You can see his work here:

Like any painter, I’ve taken countless workshops over the years. I continue to do so periodically, to learn particular techniques from master painters who are at the top of their professional game. Painting is a lifelong pursuit, and keeps you endlessly engaged. Professionals understand it takes a lifetime to learn to paint.

It’s a nuisance to leave the comfort and organization of my own painting studio, but it’s worth it when someone with stellar chops comes to town for a workshop.

However,, workshops are difficult and exhausting. You work your butt off, leaving you worn out for days afterward. Standing in front of an easel all day isn’t what’s so exhausting- it’s what I do most days, anyway—but it’s the mental overload of trying to absorb and apply new methods quickly so you can get as much as possible from the crits.

What are crits? In art school parlance, “crits” are critiques. Crits are as traditional to art school as the Socratic method is to law school, and the first thing new art students learn is how to successfully survive a crit (hint: you check your entire ego at the door, keep your mouth shut- don’t defend your work- and LISTEN). But I digress.

Occasionally, I’ve excitedly signed up for a workshop from a master painter whose work I greatly admire, only to discover during the workshop that they aren’t particularly good as teachers or are, well - diva jerks. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often, but my point is, you never know what you’re going to get.

This may not seem important, but it is. A workshop is an intense learning environment, and if you have a bullying instructor it’s a lot harder for you to learn. Stress dampens creativity.

I was therefore delighted to discover that not only is Carlos San Millan an outstanding painter, he’s also a humble, generous person and all-around good guy who can teach very, very well. The class loved him, and he sold out two separate three-day workshops at Seattle Artist League.

Carlos San Millan’s painting style looks loose and gestural, with lots of movement and vibrating color, but this relaxed style takes decades to develop (Sargent is known for loose brushstrokes as well, but each mark was intentional and carefully calculated).

It’s a beautiful effect, because it leaves breathing room for the viewer to fill in the missing pieces herself. It reminds me of how trial lawyers are trained to lead the jury right up to the brink of the conclusion, but to let the jury fill it in themselves, so that you don’t annoy them by stating the obvious. Or like a great poem that’s slightly ambiguous enough so that the reader can read her own interpretation into it. Being able to participate in this way, in the art we’re viewing, keeps us interested and more engaged. It’s a conversation between artist and viewer. 

But back to Carlos San Millan. He’s been influenced by such contemporary painters as Antonio Lopez, Alex Kanevsky and Seattle’s own Ann Gale. He’s sort of in the Perceptual Painters camp, and sort of not.

His subject matter is usually interior scenes, but they are never gloomy despite the usually low ambient light. He was trained to draw and paint from life using the indirect method, but he’s moved far beyond an academic style and has developed his own distinctive voice. He’s all about the mark-making and uses a variety of tools to create a variety of effects: palette knives, putty knives, even colored pencils.

To someone like me who was trained in the formal, academic style, permission to use mark-making tools is pure joy and very liberating. My fellow painters Ruthie V. and Christine Grachek showed me some cool tools they’re using to lay down pure color notes, so I ordered them and am eager to try them out today.


I had some particular reasons for wanting to take Carlos’ workshop. I live in my painting studio, an eclectic little 1904 cottage. I’ve been wanting to do a series of interior scenes of this place but have been grappling with how to approach the light and chroma given the dim ambient light. Now I’ve got some of these issues solved, thanks to Carlos’ workshop. I’m excited to get started.

Now a blurb about Seattle Artist League. This was my first experience with this art school located at 101st and North Aurora. It was started in 2016 by local artist Ruthie V. (pictured below, left) and her student, City Catering owner Lendy Hensley, and already they’ve managed to bring a world-class painter like Carlos San Millan to town. Ruthie writes an interesting art blog that I highly recommend; you can read about it here: .

If Ruthie V. manages to bring Carlos San Millan back from Spain to Seattle again for a workshop, don’t miss it. You may have to join Seattle Artist League (why not?) to get early notification before it fills up.