Felicia Forte spent each morning giving a demonstration of her technique to the students, who put those new skills to work in the afternoons.

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Felicia Forte, foreground, is a representational oil painter based in Detroit. She is also an instructor of drawing and painting who has taught at various institutions including the de Young Museum of Fine Art and the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Townsend Atelier owner Peggy Townsend calls Felicia Forte a "rock star" in the contemporary painting world, and that "we are really lucky to have her in Chattanooga."

Forte teaches about five workshops a year, including one recently in Spain, and was at Townsend last weekend to teach portrait painting with live models to a dozen students from around the country. They came from Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts and Nashville.

Gypsy Perry, a student at Nashville School of the Arts, actually played hooky on Friday to attend. This was a new experience for her and an opportunity she didn't want to pass up.

"I've never done like a real workshop with a real artist," she said.

Perry said she is basically self-taught and that she normally looks at a finished piece and tries to deconstruct how it was painted. This was an opportunity to see and learn how to create a new piece from blank canvas to finished piece.

"I've learned a lot of patience and to use strategic steps," she said. "[Forte] has a specific way of doing her work. I didn't know the process before."

Forte spent the first two hours of each day demonstrating her "direct painting" (wet paint into wet paint) techniques, and and then the students spent the afternoons replicating what they learned. Forte said she has a specific style of painting and teaching. On Saturday, for example, the students were tasked with painting three images on one canvas, and they had just 60 minutes per image.

They were also given a Zorn palette, limited to yellow, red and black paint. She said the idea of the exercise was to get the artist to focus on what is important.

"I'm known for economy," Forte said. "For me, it's an exercise, but for some it's the way they paint."

On Sunday, the artists painted a portrait of local model Rose Dantin. Except for the alternative-rock music playing quietly in the background, the atmosphere was serious and quiet. Dantin sat motionless on a small riser, surrounded by 13 artists studying her face.

On each easel was a sticky note with words such as "edge control" or "accurate colors" representing what the artist wanted to most improve on that day. Written on Diego Fishburn's note were the words "One color, one stroke."

He said the note was there to remind him to focus on one thing at a time and to then sit back and assess before moving on to the next. It's a technique that will help him in future works back home in Texas.

"I've known of Felicia's work for awhile and fortunately I was going to be in Tennessee, so I was able to make it work to be here," he said. "I've learned quite a bit."

Contract Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.