Monday, November 8, 2010

Sargent's edges

A woman complained on facebook that there were no women in the photo of the pirate gang. Here is my remedy.

Sargent image from

Sargent was a master at handling edges. One of the advantages to his working alla prima was that since whole passages were wet up at a time, he could blend edges easily. Blending a wet edge when both sides of that edge are wet is very effective blending a wet edge into a dry passage is never as good. Let me walk you through some of the hard and soft edges in this little girls head.
  1. There is a hard edge where the zygomatic arch meets the ear. Below this the edge go soft as the cheek is softer than the bone there.
  2. The turn of the jaw is represented with a hard edge.
  3. The line of the jaw goes from hard, to soft, to imperceptible at point 3
  4. The cast shadow of her hair is razor sharp, as cast shadows often are. This is a bony area too, so the edge helps communicate that.
  5. This edge at the top of the nose is very soft, showing the delicacy of her skin, but also giving contrast to the hard edge at 4 nearby.
  6. Another hard edge as the bony cage of the eye meets the upper lid.
  7. The lower lid and the white of the eye are treated as one shape. The edge is almost imperceptible here.
  8. The bottom of the earlobe here is hard as it sits in space away from the head.
  9. At 9 the line of the ear is softened again where the outside of the ear and the hair are fused together.
The edges I have described were based on observation, but Sargent thoughtfully designed them to better express the forms he wished to describe. The rhythmic coming and going between the hard and soft edges gives the painting vitality and visual excitement. Sargent's handling of edges had a profound influence on the painters of that generation and the next. The Boston School painters imitated this quality endlessly. Great painters have always had hard and soft edges, but Sargent seemed to make more of an art out of it than most the painters just before his time. His edges give his paintings and elegant grace and add immensely to his depiction of form.


CANDY said...

Your remedy could use a few zygomatic arches. Not to mention a good bra or TWENTY...jus' sayin'...;)


It kinda works for some of you, just sayin'

b said...

Sometimes pirates did dress is drag. Maybe they complained about there being no women too?

I'm loving the posts on Sargent. It's good stuff to think about.

On another note, your blog sure could use a search option. I've been reading through all the old posts and a few days later I can't find something I wanted to refer to again.

By the way, your blog is making me neglect my painting and hurting my eyes from all the reading at the same time, and it has been more than worth it. Keep it up!

Deb said...

okay, now that I've spit out my coffee all over the keyboard....

Why are girl pirates so funny?

They just ARRRRRRE ....

Anonymous said...

i think you did a wonderful job scribbling on that photo and colouring it in despite the fact that you all look like pretty awful looking women... was the fb woman happier as a result?
great post one edges, btw
thanks for this and the laugh:))

Philip Koch said...

I'm really enjoying this series on paint handling! So much of the inner personality of a painting is born there. Good stuff.

billspaintingmn said...

Ouch! Agony! The contrast of the ugly old guys against the Sargent's beautiful little girl gave me whiplash!
Agony & Extacy? They say it's an art thing.
All kidding aside, the disection of the edges is very helpful, Thanks!

John Stanford said...

Just remember that Sargent struggled in front of a canvas just like we do! But, then he turned twelve and things started making sense.

willek said...

These posts are Stapleton at his best. Keep 'em coming!

Barbara Pask said...

Such gorgeous gals, so funny.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There is a search option. It is the box on the upper left.

Gil said...

Sargent's portrait is actually of a little boy. I don't know his name.

Connie said...

Looks a little like the movie Some Like it Hot! Would you please do an analysis of edges on a landscape with buildings?

b said...

You mean I'm supposed to pay attention to the little bar thingy at the top? :)



Mary Sonya Conti said...

ok....that surely cured whomever asked...............

Charles Valsechi III said...

How much anatomy do you think Sargent knew and considered while painting. It seems like you are very thorough in explaining the anatomical reasoning behind the marks he made, but do we know if he was making those marks because of previous anatomical knowledge or if they were mostly informed by observation?

MCG said...

His name was Jacques Breton. Painting humor, arrrr. Is it true Gammell used to wear a pink tutu for his critiques? Could that explain all this? :]

JAMES A. COOK said...

JUST like Deb, I to, when I opened up your blog to start my day with my cup of coffe and my face suffed with my muffin- I spit all over my monitor and laughed so hard and started to choke . They thought I was having a heart attack. That has got to be one of the funniest things I have seen. The homons and transfermation you guys did overnight is incredibal. I almost peed in my pants.
Stape, you add great humor to painting. Fantastic
....I like this blog on handling. It teaches me to be aware of my every stroke, with purpose. I am putting better quality into my paintings but being aware of my hard and soft edges. What a difference. THANKS.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I burned my bra, in the 70's

Stapleton Kearns said...

I was noticing that one of us looked pretty good, others less so.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, thats a pretty elite group of drag pirates there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I expect the facebook complaint woman is mortified.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Handling is super important. As long as we are using paint, I think it should show. At least in my paintings.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I thought we all looked OK given our ages and general butchness.

Stapleton Kearns said...

He did struggle. The better you get, the harder it is.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are more in the grand master plan awaiting approval.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, we are wicked cute,no?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am not sure either. Did it start with peder?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will try to remember to do that. Ask me again if I forget.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Either cured them or made em sicker.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Without a doubt Sargent knew his anatomy. Most portrait painters who are good, do.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I never saw any pink Tutu, only a little blue lab coat.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I try to mix it up a little to hold the readers attention.

Dan Corey said...

Hey Stape, thAnks. For making me beautiful! :))

JT Harding said...

What about the lips? Do I hear a #10?