Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Each brushstroke.....

Here's a Metcalf painted about a hundred years ago in Cornish Flats, New Hampshire. This is also where I painted today. I got up early and set up in the field you see in this painting and worked there most of the day. I love finding sites used by my artist heroes. I will do a post or two this summer showing a few of those places. I will show you the artists painting and what the site looks like today. However I have a different agenda tonight. I am going to talk about the building blocks of a painting.

I am going to list the things that must be considered every time your brush touches the canvas. They are legion. Every time you paint a "note" you need to understand the following things. I am proposing a sort of checklist. However it is long enough that it will take some time for you to be able to automatically apply each of these ideas. But if you start to look for several of them it will help your painting and gradually you can expand your checklist to include all of these. You must consider these qualities listed below in every brushstroke.

  • Is this brushstroke in the right place?
  • Is it in the light or is it in the shadow?
  • Is it the right value?
  • Is it the right color?
  • Is it the the right chroma, that is, is it too saturated or is it too grave ( gray)?
  • Is the temperature of the color correct, is it too warm or is it too cool?
The brushstroke you place on the canvas will be one of several kinds. The brush stroke will either:

  • Be visible or invisible. If it is visible it will:
  • Run with or along the form. Imagine a brushstroke running up the trunk of a tree.
  • Run around or across (against) the form, like a ring going around or a plane laying horizontally across the surface of an object.
  • It may obscure the form. Think of this as a basket weave pattern, or a flurry of small strokes. You might expect to see this in dense foliage for instance.
  • It may be a pointille dot. That is a small spot of paint placed usually as an accent, nearly round or squarish in shape, but not greatly elongated.
  • have the edge painted correctly, either hard or soft.
All of these brushstrokes work together to form a larger unit called a passage. That's rather like words working together to build a paragraph in an essay.

This seems like a short entry, and perhaps it is, but there is a whole lot there. I would call it concentrated. If you commit these lists to memory it will help you as you consider your work I will elaborate more on this and talk about what a passage should contain. I will begin to show the different sort of brushstrokes over the next week or so.


willek said...

Terrific post, Stape. It is the very practical stuff we have to know. It makes me wonder how you go about establishing key. Isn't that one of the first considerations? Does the scene yell it at you or do you impose it each picture? WillEK

JAMES A. COOK said...


I understood the same consideration. That the first thing you do on site is to key your painting and then the herding of sheep follows using all of the painting rules you just expressed in this blog.
Great blog STAPE, this is the type of teaching I need to learn. Your blogs and subjects are making a difference with me and after 4 months I am noticing a difference.


Jonathan said...

Great post Stape! Very essential in learning strokes! They are so important! Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Wow, that is invaluable information. I think a lot about color and value, but you helped me realize I am not paying nearly enough attention to the direction and type of stroke I apply.

Also, I think I need to study the California impressionists so that I too, can travel to sites that have been painted before and learn from the artist and location.

By the way, my dad is a carpenter by trade, so I won't be needing your table saw. Sorry to rob you of the $4,600.

willek said...

Boy, That metcals is a showstopper. Where is it, do you know? WillEK

Todd Bonita said...

Great post today...I like it laid out like this..pow-pow-pow..simple, easy to understand bullets. This is the kind of thing I like to print and keep around the studio. Thanks.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Thanks, I must establish key by instinct. I will have to think for a second here.....
I am a low key painter. That gives my work a little bit of an unusual look. we are accustomed to outdoor painters being high key. I deliberately set my key down so there is still a lot of colored pigment rather than white in the notes I put in the light. I guess I will talk about key in tonights post.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

As I paint more I am enjoying the ability to get what I want with each brushstroke. I had a tendency to lick the painting with the brush until the stroke was gone. I think a lot of this just comes with time, if you know that it is your goal.
I tend to like a well placed brushstroke in a still life too, but I also like the painting to have a look as if it were "breathed" on to the canvas. I have a thing about liking people to look and wonder, "how did he do that."
What is your feeling on the difference, if any, of using this mindset on landscape versus a still life or portrait? I suppose the thoughts are the same, but the subject maybe insists on a smoother application.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I am writing today on key.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks.I intend to break out that part of the post into its separate components soon.

Stapleton Kearns said...

What fun that woulld be. I would love to do that myself. You go in at Bishop.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am sorry I don't know. I keep clipping files and it came out of some magazine possibly 20 years ago.
You can see a really great one in the Worcester Art Museum though.Much better than this one, one of the very best in fact.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I like to itemize things with bullets. I am glad to hear you think it makes things clearer.

Stapleton Kearns said...

What follows is what I THINK. The gospels remain wholly silent on this subject.

I think their is an enormous difference between outdoor landscape paintings and the studio disciplines. Trying to paint the landscape out of doors by the same method is not very effective. The landscape tends to be made of myriad jots of color that assemble like confetti miraculously thrown to form an image on the ballroom floor. Painting it smoothly like a studio still life, installs an artificial sort of look to it, out of keeping with what goes on out there.
When I see studio painters doing landscapes or the legions of photo copying dweebs (of which I am sure you are not one) they all seem to screw up because of this failure to grasp the essential difference in what is going on outside as opposed to in the studio. The impressionist painters and before them Constable discovered and exploited this.It is the ability to deal with the incomprehensible, flickering complexity of nature outdoors that makes the tight studio painter a fish out of water when trying to paint the landscape,which is by its nature pixilated.The previous has been a statement of opinion,albeit an experienced one, and not of fact.