In the January / Februray 2022 issue of Columbia Metropolitian magazine, Michael was included in the feature article,
Fine artists unravel the mystery of painting
By Lynn Nickles
Michael Story, Michel McNinch, and Rob Shaw each tend to gravitate toward the natural beauty of South Carolina’s landscapes and waterways, yet their painting styles vary widely. The common ground for these accomplished Columbia artists has more to do with how they relate to aspiring artists. Each of them enjoys sharing what they know about the process and techniques of making fine art, and the benefits are mutual for teacher and student. Working as an artist often requires isolation, and Michael, Michel, and Rob agree that the social aspect of teaching is refreshing.
When Michael Story first thought about teaching art classes, he remembered fellow artists saying, “Are you sure you want to give away all your trade secrets?” Michael shares his techniques with students across the country, even posting detailed pictorials of his process on his website.
Moving to Charleston from Pennsylvania with his family in 1968, Michael, a Wisconsin native, initially felt he had arrived in a foreign country. "I didn’t understand the South and had no idea what pluff mud was," Michael says. "I thought, 'I guess this is swamp land.'' I didn't realize that a significant part of my future career would be painting landscapes of the Lowcountry."
As a teen, Michael took a job as a sign painter for Turner Advertising in Charleston. His maternal grandfather owned a sign painting company in Wisconsin, and Michael was always encouraged to make art, in part because of his grandfather's success.
Michael's mentor at Turner Advertising was Tad Lisicki, a Polish artist and Holocaust survivor, who taught Michael how to paint large images that the eye can correctly perceive at a distance. That training was invaluable. Later while attending the University of South Carolina, Michael was drawn toward professors Boyd Saunders and Philip Mullen.
Pastel on Paper
Michael Story focused on painting tropical birds during the pandemic. He concentrates on maintaining distinct shapes of color to define the birds and backgrounds, aiming for color relationships that excite the eye.
Michael’s grandfather was a professional artist and was his first teacher. Michael knew he wanted to be an artist and was encouraged by family to follow that dream. Today he is an award-winning artist who guest lectures, judges art shows, and regularly teaches oil, acrylic, and pastel painting throughout the United States.
"I've thought about it at times, Michael says. "Is there anything I’ve learned from these professors and other valuable teachers I've had that I can pass along to my art students?"" As a teacher, Michael is not trying to encourage people to mimic his work. "I show you a process that works for me, and if you want to apply some of it or all of it to your work, that’s up to you."
Part of the challenge with painting is the intimidation factor when beginning artists see a blank canvas and wonder how to arrive at a finished piece. Michael distills his painting process to a series of defined steps, first sketching the image with tonal variation in charcoal, then applying a wash, usually red, over the entire canvas. Shadows get painted first and dark colors before light ones.
"I think that's the process that anyone should follow to paint, to set those little goals in between — or maybe in life in general, to set those little goals instead of having this huge goal that you don’t even know how to meet," Michael says.
While teaching a recent workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, Michael visited an exhibition of Charleston artist Mary Whyte’s watercolor paintings, We the People: Portraits of Veterans in America. Michael finds Mary Whyte's watercolors to be unmatched in their quality, and he points out that she threw away failed attempts at painting, considering it part of the learning process.
Michael says, "I think anyone can learn the fundamentals of painting." The important point is to have the discipline to work past those failed efforts.
Michael loves to travel out west and has painted scenes of Arizona and Colorado to vary his subject matter. Michael's daughter, Aidan, is a veterinarian serving in the military with her husband, Casey. They are stationed in Colorado with their two young children. He also has painted scenes of the Grand Canyon. When the pandemic hindered his ability to teach or travel, he produced a series of exquisite water lilies and another of bright tropical birds, both in pastel. Even though the medium is different from oil, many of the same design principles apply.
Lagoon at Dusk • Oil on Panel • 36x27.5 inches
Michael has lived in the South for most of his life and has been inspired by coastal waterways. He explores the interconnections where land and water meet. In the studio, he has discovered that a sense of calm often transcends the painting process when water is incorporated into the composition.
"Sometimes what I recognize in my teachings is that everyone wants to apply radiant color to their paintings. Successfully achieving that depends not only on the color that you mix, but the colors you surround it with. If you surround it with darks, it can become more radiant." Michael recently gave a talk to the Crooked Creek Art League, titled “Don’t Be Afraid of the Darks," using his haunting water lily series as a visual aid.
A beginning artist might try to highlight reds to make them brighter, resulting in dull pinks. Citing his painting of a macaw, which was exhibited at the S.C. State Fair last fall, Michael said, "I added black to his head to accentuate the reds. I included complementary colors such as cool greens and turquoises behind his head to make that red as brilliant a hue as possible." Techniques like this, which took years to learn, are what Michael strives to share.
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