Friday, September 25, 2009

Another little trick

I often work on a painting and build up way too much paint. At the end of the days work I want to get some of that off, but leave as much of the image intact as I can, to work on tomorrow. Here's how I do that.

I tear a page from an old phone book I keep for this purpose. I don't know about your house, but around here they seem to pile up. Every few months another mysteriously appears on our stoop. I lay the page onto the surface of the painting, and flatten it out with the my palm. I then pull the paper away lifting off most of the excess paint like so............

I rubbed the paper into the wet paint pretty firmly, so it removed a lot of the paint. Still, it left enough of my work visible and undamaged so that I can see the drawing and continue on its fresh surface tomorrow, when I take another run at it. It is possible to remove less paint by just placing the page onto the painting and removing it. Some of the detail will inevitably be lost in the process, for me, that is not such a problem. Because I have painted the passage once before, doing it again happens very quickly.

Because I have painted for so long, I can paint very quickly if I know what I want a passage to look like. Knowing what it ought to look like is the hard part. Not knowing what the painting should look like is the source of most of my painting problems, not the actual manipulation of the paint.

On another subject...I taught a workshop last weekend and at one point I sat on the open tail gate of a truck and talked to them about painting. I spoke on a number of things, but the thing I was most hesitant to tell them, they actually took rather well. That is, "Those of you who are struggling out here, are all doing it for the same reason, your drawing ability is not sufficient to carry you through the problems presented by the landscape. I felt kind of bad about saying it. This is not a small problem I pointed out to them.

That has started me thinking, how do I suggest they learn. I am a lot more useful to them if I offer a solution after I point out a problem. The short easy answer that I could give would be, there are lots of small teaching ateliers scattered around that can teach you to draw well enough to deal with the difficulties of drawing the landscape. I had one atelier trained painter in the workshop, and he was fully able to handle the drawing. There were also a few students who, though a level below that one fellow, were able to make sense of the landscape before them. Their drawing was not as elegant and confident but they were able to get the picture on the canvas and get things in their proper proportions and relationships to one another. I questioned them a little bit. One had done a number of highly finished still life paintings, and the other was in a weekly sketch group that met to draw the figure, another had just painted a lot outside.

Many people are not in a place in their life where they can just drop everything and attend a full time atelier. They have mortgages, families, and jobs. I have begun asking myself, how can they get themselves trained well enough in drawing to confidently place a landscape on the canvas? My guess is that still life painting and figure groups are the answer. I will continue to mull this over and I will address this again.

I haven't written a whole lot about drawing in this blog. It seems like the format of a blog lends itself well to some things, like discussing ideas and design. Drawing is ideally taught by a master correcting a students drawings. I don't know how I could do that in a blog, but I'm working on it.


willek said...

Just a terrific post, Stape. You "Tonked" that picture. In a Jeremy Galton book: "Encyclopedia of Oil Painting Techniques" , pg 67 He talks about this procedure, named after Henry Tonks, a profesor of painting at the Slade School of Art in London. (I think there is more than one Henry Tonks) I have never done it as, it seems, I seldom get to a freshly painted piece after a day in the field, for a couple of days, and the work is often too dry by then. So, I tend to scrape back with a knife, apply a light coat of medium and continue my attack. This technique gives a nice all over even gloss if repeated over the course of many sessions.

Drawing... I took one drawing class at the MFA many years ago, but then over the course of the last 30 years, have been going to a weekly drawing group working from a model. I think this has helped me keep my hand/eye and observational skills up, though I do not consider myself a good draftsman. Someone said drawing is measuring, and that statement has helped me a lot. But, I find, if I miss a meeting or two, I quickly lose it a little and have to work to get it back. I have a lot of figure drawing books. I like the Faragasso book on drawing the figure, based on Frank Reilly teaching methods. All of the basic principals of figure drawing carry over into landscape and still life drawing.

willek said...

I don't mean to dominate the discussion, but I have been thinking about your post of the 23rd. When painting heavily light struck areas might not glazing be a good way of holding the hue without washing or chalking out the color? If you add white to red you to lighten it, you end up with pink shich is not what you see. But if you glaze a very thin red wash over a white the red should keep its hue.

Simone said...

Thanks for saying that! I teach still life in my classes especially during the hot summer months when painting outside is brutal. I have frequent inquiries from aspiring landscape painters who want to eventually participate in "Paint Outs". When I tell them the thing to do is paint still lifes they don't believe me and remark how boring that would be. The few who take the leap of faith do progress in drawing skills as well as paint handling. Landscape painter Foster Cadell used to have his students start out with still life, too. Thanks for the post. said...

Hi All,
When Stapleton asked us "What would be the one piece of advice you'd go back and whisper into your ear to further your artistic endeavors?" My answer was to draw every day. I am happy to say that I have taken my own advice. I now draw every day; it's paid off.

I even draw the landscape. A painting friend of mine threatened to rip the pencil, the charcoal and my measuring from my hand... I'm still standing with my charcoal and so I'll stand by the "draw every day" advice I gave myself. For me "Painting problems are drawing problems."

I've also Tonked a few landscapes. It does reduce the values and the details of the painting but it reveals something essential, a good base,to revisit the passage. Don't just read this blog, try putting into practice all this great tutorial. You'll find what works for you and your work will improve.

Stapleton and I have very different opinions on aesthetics. But I can't disagree with any piece of his painting expertise.

Judy P. said...

Damnit Stapleton, I hope drawing is not my problem, but now you make me think about it. My sole reason for confidence is that in high school I did tons of pen and ink drawings from life, and obtained some fame for it (High school fame being the hugest thing). I just posted a still life, and the easiest part was rendering the detailed bust- color, value, brush handling of the simpler spheres were the headaches. I'll keep the question open, but for me painting problems are just that: the muddy, poorly stroked mess that I'm capable of.
For my comments, I keep reminding myself 'you're a beginner-just shut up and listen!' along with a quote, 'We have much to learn, if we do but listen'. Your blog has great stuff on which to listen, and I will try.

Jeremy Elder said...

Not that my drawing is perfect, but taking figure drawing classes and open figure drawing sessions has really helped refine my gestures, observation, and measuring. In my case, I found a community college class taught by a competent local artist who teaches to supplement her gallery income. It is a lot cheaper than an atelier too ($90 for four months, four 6 hour sessions each month). Although, if I had the cash and time, I would take some classes at Jeffery Watts' Atelier down in San Diego.

By the way, I have seen spray paint artists use the same technique with newspaper to reveal layers of paint below the top layer.

Gregory Becker said...

I have decided to draw the figure to better my observation skills and it is the great revealer of how we see and interpret.
I found a place that allows open figure drawing. 10 dollars per 3 hour session. Pickup a local art magazine for ads.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I scrape em too. But I am uncomfortable using the phrase "tonking" it sounds, nasty.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't see how I coujld do that on location. I am interested in pushing the lights towards the color of the light as a desirable thing and don't lament losing some local color. I do however carry a powerful homemade pink that I cook up myself.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that is excellent advice. Only a few students will do what it takes to learn. Most want to short cut the process. Wheres that slide projector, I can hear its humming.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I am going to do a post on Philip Koch soon. He does drawings outside in charcoal and then uses them to make the paintings inside.
We agree on how to spell aesthetics, and both eschew the use of prosthetics.

Stapleton Kearns said...

WEE all have a problem with drswing, it is simply a matter of degree. Some great artist, I think maybe Josh Reynolds said give me a student who can draw and I can teach them to paint in a week.

P.S. values are a part of drawing. we thend to only thing of the line as drawing but in painting we work in mass drawing, mostly

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that sounds like a great idea. Still life is good too. Have you copied drawings?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I need to hunt down a figure group around here that I can draw in.

Frank P. Ordaz said...

You hit the nail on the head. The drawing is the armature of te painting. Guys like you and me have been doing it so long its like second nature,

Now that I have been teaching I see a growing demand for sound basic drawing. Figure class is a good place to start. But a good instructor will help out the process....


Jeremy Elder said...

Yes, I have done Bargue and Rubens copies, and even done drawings of Vermeer paintings. I should do some more though.

See here: