Monday, March 23, 2015

Notes from Alexander Zimin workshop

So, I finally have a moment to put my notes together from the Sacha workshop.
A few artist friends asked me to act like a stenographer, and take down everything of interest from the lectures with Zimin.
Even though we had an excellent professional translator, oil painting vocabulary is often so specific that many things simply get lost in the translation. 
Here are some of the highlights from the lectures and private conversations with Sacha:
1. Before setting up your still life, think about the concept and plan, and set the tonal key of your future piece. What is a tonal key? There are four basic ones:
a. predominant white value, two mid-subdominant values and dark discord;
b. predominant light mid-tone, subdominant darks and white discord;
c. predominant dark mid-tone, subdominant black and white and light mid-tone discord;
d. predominant darkest, subdominant mid-tones, white discord.
2. After you have decided on your tonal key and are done setting up the still life, it is a good idea to make a small thumbnail tonal sketch and a small color sketch.
3. Alexander never starts with toning the canvas, or any sort of underpainting, washes, etc. He calls himself "Sniper". His concept is shoot straight and don't beat around the bush, find the right color and place it boldly and assertively (well, if only we all can do that!). He never maps the colors -- just through a right tone on the canvas. 
4. Sacha uses a mix of turpentine (the stinky one) and damar varnish -- well you can imagine the smell, but he feels that that exact mix never fails him, versus Gamsol or other mediums. He doesn't use any oils at all. He constantly reminded that it's just HIS way, and may not work for everyone.
5. The high key painting Sacha starts with is a neutral drawing of big masses and general shapes, or what we call "envelope". And placement of a big masses .
6. And right after that he mixes big piles of mid-tones for shadows.
7. It's all about temperature shifts -- not light against dark, but cool against warm, and vise versa.
8. He starts with 2, 3 tones to set up the whole atmosphere of the painting.
9. From general shapes, he transitions to more details, constantly paying attention to the relationship between subjects, background and foreground. But first he is blocking the canvas with his midtones.
10. When we asked about colors, we learned an interesting approach -- Sacha, although he uses lots of colors on his palette, almost never paints with fugitive colors like Alizarin, Veridian and Ultramarin. He still has Ultramarin on his palette. He prefers Cadmiums and Cobalts. He likes Prussian Blue and Golden Green that is "darker and warmer than sap".
11. Lots of big brushes, and lots of oil paint. ... Don't really clean the brushes between strokes. ... putting aside, taking a fresh one and so on. ... It keeps painting fresh and adds texture.
12. And lastly, he stressed that it all depends on "Setting the goal, planning and finding the tonal key''.

"Roses and Lemons" oil on linen, 18x24


  1. This is a beautiful painting, Emiliya. Great composition! Thank you for writing such a detailed account of your workshop! I haven't been able to attend any workshops yet and appreciate this..a lot! :)

  2. Jennifer, thank you dear. Alexander is also teaches in Carmel ..I would highly recommend you his workshop. Where do you live? We have a fantastic art school here "Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio" you need to come! :)))

    1. Thanks! I'll check it out! Carmel isn't very far from me.:)