Michael Workman’s workshop class

A while back, I had the special opportunity to attend an advanced painting workshop at the Sedona Arts Center in Arizona with master landscape painter, Michael Workman.

I was very excited about this experience because I have admired this elusive artist’s work for many years, plus Michael is an ‘artist’s-artist’, and one of the greatest landscape painters of our time. I was interested in learning how Michael ‘deconstructs’ his paintings and balances between a realistic approach and abstract interpretation. Click the images below to enlarge Michael’s paintings.

‘Mike’ takes an organic approach toward teaching. With the painting workshop in such a picturesque setting such as Sedona, I expected to do a lot of plein air painting on location.  The weeklong workshop included many thought provoking lectures and generous demonstrations.  Michael taught us about a lot about his philosophy on composition and his use of the Golden Rectangle.

Suggested Reading:
“Elements of Dynamic Symmetry”
“Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting”

art teacher

It is impossible for me to share all that we learned during our week in Sedona, but I hope you will enjoy some of the week’s highlights and Michael Workman’s insightful quotes.

“If you can’t draw, it’s hard to be a good painter.”

“If you have nothing to say, it is not art.”

“Don’t pander to the level of the viewer.”

“People want to skip to the end without doing the work to get there.”

“I am willing to fail over and over again, until I get it right.” (this is Michael’s modus operandi)

“To be a good artist, you have to be opinionated.”

“If you are not frustrated, you are probably doing it right.”

“I have to go to the studio each day to prove that I can paint.”

“The same principles apply to painting cityscapes as landscapes.”

“Think in terms of  ‘sketching’ or drawing with paint.”

“Most of the painting problems are caused by bad drawing, value and color.”

“When you paint everything so obviously, you lose the poetic mystery.”

“What you leave out is more important than what you leave in.”

Great artists have the ability to leave out the superfluous.”

“At the end of a painting session, I always obliterate the painting so I have something to come back to work on the next day.”

“I believe in God and I want it to show in my landscapes.”

The 30, 3, 3 Rule:

  • A painting should grab your attention at 30 feet away.
  • At 3 feet away, the painting should tell a story and create a dialog with the viewer.
  • 3 inches away, the painting should be interesting to other artists with interesting texture and paint application.

Painting support:

  • Michael paints on Baltic Birch wood panels, and hardboard panels.
  • Most often Mike makes his own cradled boardswith 1/2 inch plywood strips secured with wood glue.
  • He makes his own painting panels and covers them with ‘bleached muslin’ and sometimes 100lb watercolor paper with 3-4 layers of acrylic gesso.
  • He sands in-between the first and second coats.
  • After the gesso is dried, Mike tones the boards.

(Mike doesn’t use a brush, but he ‘trowels’ on the gesso.)


Mike uses a very minimal palette. Sometimes he will add a brighter yellow and a few other transparent pigments for his glazing.

  • Ultramarine Blue Deep
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Titanium White
  • Cad Yellow Lt
  • Cad Red Lt
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Burnt Sienna
  • He makes his ‘blacks’ using burnt sienna and ultra marine blue.
  • He uses very little paint!


  • Mike uses Galkyd gel medium when plein air painting.
  • In the studio, Mike makes his own medium: 1 part Damar, 1 part stand oil, 6 parts Terpentine. (you can substitute with Gamsol or Galkyd Lite).
  • Cobalt dryer.

I was amazed to see what this artist can paint and create with only small round brushes. He rarely uses larger than a #4 round brush.

  • Rounds
  • Mike painted almost entirely with ONE #4 round brush!
  • He uses a flat brush for glazing.

(Mike used this same little brush throughout the whole painting. He uses this brush on large and small paintings!)

Michael Workman is a very generous teacher. He literally loves all aspects of his personal painting process from the panels that he makes, to applying paint, to the care he takes with his clean-up. Michael shared many of his secrets to painting and business success with us. This workshop class was filled with talented, professional artists who were all enthusiastic about pushing themselves to the next artistic level – so we learned a lot!

  • Some of his favorite artists to study:
    George Innes
    Antonio Lopez
    Wayne Thiebeau
    Stuart Shields
    Victor Higgins
    Egon Shiele
    Gustave Bumann
    Leaon Gaspard
    Gustave Klimt

One of the workshop highlights was when we all enjoyed a day of ‘painting like Mike’ where we literally copied along with him as he painted. This was a successful learning exercise.

(Michael’s horse demo)

(Our class ‘paint along’ copies of Michael’s horse demo)

Over the years, I have sought out my favorite painting mentors. Why? Because, although I majored in Art in college, I still consider myself self-taught. I learned how to draw very well from my high school teacher, but in college the curriculum was geared toward abstract art. As an aspiring realistic painter, I felt very frustrated with this and almost abandoned Art as a career.
I am grateful to artists such as Michael Workman who are confident and willing to share their talent and knowledge with others like myself. Mike challenged me and gave me some ‘homework’…I can’t wait to start working on my new series of paintings which will be inspired by my week with Michael Workman. ~Lori

sedona arizona red rocks

Lori and Michael Workman

It would be great to meet you on my Facebook FineArtTips page where you can learn art tips and share what’s on your easel’ with me…and I hope you meet me on Twitter!

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Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting
This is an indispensable book and must-have for any serious landscape painter. The whys and hows of the various aspects of landscape painting. Angles and consequent values, perspective, painting of tree, more. 34 black and white reproductions of paintings by Carlson. 58 explanatory diagrams.
This is the artist’s bible and is owned by all the top artists!
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Retail: $9.95
Your price: $8.46

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