Katharina Gifford | New York City
Contemporary Maine Realist Portrait Painter
Maine portrait painter, Portland, Maine, contemporary realist painter, oil on canvas, drawings, portraits, still life, figurative art
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New York City

It has been now almost two weeks since I arrived back to Maine from New York City and Steven Assael’s workshop. it was an incredible trip and experience, and I’ve been thinking about writing this all down since I got back,and have been thinking more with the time I spent at home in bed with a head cold that set in as soon as I got back to Maine. Now the cold has seceded, summer is still here, and I am excited to get back to work with all that I’ve garnered from the trip still fresh in my mind.

All the trips I’ve taken to New York City have been no longer than a couple of days, and on this trip I decided to try Airbnb. The place I stayed was in Chelsea, and on my first night (having arrived by Greyhound at about 5:30), I dropped my stuff off and took a walk up 6th Avenue to the area where Steve’s studio is located. Only took 20 minutes one way, it was hot and I was sweating buckets but it was awesome. New York is probably my favorite city in the world. It’s a battle between it and Florence and Moscow. Well, so far that is 🙂




Steve’s studio is on the 4th floor of an old building. (I swear I lost about 5 pounds that week, from both the studio walking and NYC exploring!) The studio itself is a great size, and it was chock block FULL of his artwork, books, random furniture and furnishings, and then more artwork. The floor had little explosions of paint everywhere. Paintings were stacked against eachother on the floor against the wall. HUGE canvases were there too, both on the wall and on easels. Still life objects, costumes, mannequins and random other pieces were tucked in all over. I had two first big impressions: the first was that all of this work is overwhelmingly amazing, and the second was relief because my studio looked exactly the same way! I’m always glad to see artists’ studios as crazy as my own, it makes me feel like I’m doing at least one thing right 🙂

Introductions were made, we met Eddi and Steve’s other great assistants. The other folks who were taking the class were all so very nice. It was a great discovery that there were a bunch of folks who had taken his workshops before, so a lot of people already knew each other. Some were locals, some came as far away as California, Canada and Michigan.

We all found a spot in the sitting area of the studio, and with fans and A/C blasting, we all settled around Steve and he spoke to us about his philosophies on creating art, what we would be working on, some goals that he was looking for us to accomplish during the workshop, and notes that we could take back to our own practices.

I’m working on transcribing all of my notes, which there are a good number of. To describe what he was talking about and my reaction to it, it will be a challenge not to sound like a cult convert. What was so wonderful to me (and in general always amazes me) was that he was putting into words everything I kind of already understood. He said a lot of things that I had always been thinking about and doing in my own practice. He also said a lot of things that I hadn’t been thinking about, but that made so much sense. Here are a couple of things that stood out quite a bit. It all stood out for me, but this resonates:


  • The physical part of painting requires letting go
  • Draw ALL the time. Carry a sketchbook all the time. Your impressions will become part of your vocabulary. What the conscious mind forgets, the drawing mind will remember.
  • Skills, rationality, etc. takes you to the edge of the precipice, but to jump it takes faith and the stroke of a brush.
  • Do more thinking + looking than painting. Look, think, than paint.
  • Challenge yourself with what you’re after.


His demos were great. Watching his process was inspiring because you could see exactly what he had been talking about. He started with a basic drawing in paint, put in the shadow and light shapes, and put in a background tone. He used huge brushes, fan brushes, and every type in between (see his brush tray pic below). He scratched out and smoothed over. He would throw a huge gob of paint at the canvas on top of something he had been meticulously working on moments earlier. He would flick paint on the floor from his brushes in order to create the perfect point at the end of the brush. He would look, pause, look at his painting, look again at the model, then put brush to canvas. It was fascinating and intense.


During our own time painting with the model, he walked around and gave us each some suggestions, and in most cases would ask to make some painting notes himself, which was wonderfully helpful. The workshop was mainly concentrated on color. The model was lit with red light for one session, and then lit with green light for the other. I found the green lit pose to be the simplest to get for some reason. A lot of my color learning had come from my studies with Ronald Frontin, so the idea of using colors as temperature and value was not new to me. What was new to me was how it could be applied, how it could be moved around. I have been so used to drawing/painting exactly what I see, and getting all of it. What Steve showed us was that we need to find those parts that we love the most about what we are looking at, why do we like it, how do we recreate it, emphasize it? There’s a strong green light on the model’s shoulder that looks interesting? Why? In real life there might be light on other parts of the model, but that light on her shoulder is what I want to make an important feature of the painting. All of the painting matters, but I feel like in a way I was given permission to stop worrying about rendering everything that I saw in exactly the way I saw it. Obviously, drawing is number one, with painting, it’s rendering and suggestion. And it’s up to the painter to suggest to the viewer. It was all very quietly, yet powerfully, enlightening.


Once I’ve finished writing up all of my notes, I will see about posting them all on here.

In the meantime, here are a few pics from the trip and workshop!


  • eddi fleming

    14.08.2015 at 21:12 Reply

    Hey Kat, so glad you had such a great experience. He is so amazing, not only his painting and teaching, but the things he talks to us about!! I never get tiered of hearing, believe it or not it is always different.
    keep in touch.

  • Steven Lewis

    17.08.2015 at 14:27 Reply

    Hi Kat,
    It was nice meeting you. Thank you for posting this material !!!! Please keep in touch.
    Best Wishes
    Steven Lewis

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