Friday, February 18, 2011

About "laying tile"

Chris Curtis, of the Searchers 1941-2005

I received this query via e-mail the other day. Following that is my answer.


Dear Stape,

I have a question that has been keeping me up at night. You have talked before about laying down paint in a tiled fashion with each brushstroke next to the other. You and other smart dudes also emphasize that each brushstroke must be planned and mixed before you lay it on the canvas. Does that mean that no two color spots on the canvas are the same? Is there ever any cause to dab at the canvas repeatedly without reloading the brush?

And finally, how big are the tiles? Say you're standing looking at a barn. If it's very far away, one brushstroke will be enough to describe it, and presumably it will only be one color. As the barn gets closer, assuming it's not shade-dappled or so big that it needs to be described with atmospheric perspective, how much of it will you describe with one brushstroke, or one color? What about a stand of bushes or a snow-covered hillock? How many tiles will you lay to describe it? Or a mass of trees?

Of course micro-local (I just made that word up) color will vary. But say you have an area in front of your eyes about the size of your palm that is all approximately the same color, like a roof or a field or a tree crown. How do you fill that in or enlarge that color spot? Thanks as always for your educational blog. After you answer this question I will be able to go back counting sheep instead of leaves.
Signed,.................................Toiling in the Data Mines.

Dearest Data miner:

I often tell students to lay tile. What I mean by this, is to mix a "tile" of the appropriate color and value on the palette and lay it in place discreetly on the canvas then take the brush away. I do this for two reasons. The first is to discourage them from trying to "worry" the paint on the canvas into a picture. The idea is to mix up the note, lay it on the canvas and move on. Secondly, "tile" implies a structure with body and thickness rather than a stain of turpentine and pigment. You cannot make a painting out of thinner. "Laying tiles" encourages a purposeful and precise authoritative approach as opposed to mucking about in an undisciplined flurry of ill conceived or tentative strokes.

I think it is OK to daub at a canvas several times with a loaded brush, but then it it's time to stop! It is really easy to get carried away and stop thinking about what you are doing. When you wake up from your reverie you have thrown the same note in too many places without thinking. So it is best to make and lay a tile or two, and then STOP! Time to think again, observe nature, consider your design and intent, and mix a new note. It might be a variation on the last one, but it should be reconsidered. Avoid going into a trance and daubing stupidly all over your canvas. That's really easy to do. So Stay Awake!

Then you asked "And finally, how big are the tiles? Say you're standing looking at a barn. If it's very far away, one brushstroke will be enough to describe it, and presumably it will only be one color. As the barn gets closer, assuming it's not shade-dappled or so big that it needs to be described with atmospheric perspective, how much of it will you describe with one brushstroke, or one color? "

The tiles are often a pixel, that is, at least for your layin, you are going to cover the canvas with pieces of intelligence of a certain size. You might decide to make marks no larger or smaller than a thumbnail. I sometimes joke when beginning a picture, that I am throwing hamburger sized chunks at the painting. This is part of "starting out with a shovel and finishing with a needle". You might start laying in your painting with large strokes and then as you finish subdivide them into smaller strokes. As for your barn, I would caution you against covering a very large area with one brushstroke of a single tone, like a house painter. Better to superimpose two related or similar colors. That will give vibration and visual interest to the painting. I often point out to students that in my own paintings, that if they slid a wedding ring across the surface there would be several notes within it's circumference no matter where they placed it.

An area of a size larger than say a walnut should be varied in color. If you paint an area larger than that with a flat tone, like a house painter, it will go flat. Every surface varies in value, temperature and color as the eye travels across it. Your barn should be one color at its base and another at the eaves. It would also benefit by some modulation within the general tone used to describe it, barns are weathered, so throw in some variation, grayer here and redder under the eaves where the paint has not weathered as much. Invent those variations if necessary. These variations please the eye and confuse it as well. That better gives the idea that we are looking at the complexity of nature.

I am not suggesting that you will always see these things, but that your picture will be more convincing and pleasing if you install them.

23 comments:

Fraser McTaggart said...

Very informative. I really need to be more switched on when painting. But I'm still at the point where I get really taken in by 'painting' and forget to think as much.
Thanks for the post.

Forever An'GUSMom said...

I see you have a well known photo of Chris Curtis on the top of your blog. Did you know Chris? I'm a huge fan of his.

ChrisCurtisFan/CCF

Deb said...

who was Chris Curtis?

Libby Fife said...

"...as opposed to mucking about in an undisciplined flurry of ill conceived or tentative strokes."

Well, I have certainly done this! (and that description kills me.) Just to clarify though, do you advise "laying tile" in the beginning as you might be blocking in your masses or as you get farther along after the general masses are in place. I don't want to get stuck on a "procedure" but would like to incorporate this concept into what I already do, along with a more thoughtful and less Zombie like application of paint. Thanks in advance for your answer.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

Thanks, Stape. You put things into a language we can all understand and visualize as we read it. I tell students to "spackle" their paint on like you would plaster. I love your terminology of "laying tiles".

Philip Koch said...

This is one of the best posts I've read on clear seeing and decisive color mixing on the palette. Even though I myself use bigger brushes (larger tiles) than Stapleton, I think he describes the whole process exceedingly well.

mariandioguardi.com said...

I have seen Stapleton do this "tile laying" over the days in the workshops. Big tiles to little tiles (tiles meaning brush strokes of flecks of color). It works beautifully for landscapes where light is always changing and flitting around and changing.

This probably is useful in other genres but I particularly like the effect in a landscape.

Barbara A. Busenbark said...

Always so helpful, especially when looking at how to approach a painting and where to go next. Thanks!

willek said...

Thanks, Stape I know you have addressed this in the past and I review it from time to time. You are at your best, I think, when describing these techniques.

billspaintingmn said...

I suppose we are all data miners. Wanting to know how to make better paintings.
Keep that miner hat on and the light focused in front of you, is what I get from this.
It's easy to "reverie" and loose focus on what I'm trying to paint.
In the end, it's another cull.

One thing I do understand from you Stape, is that to be out there painting will be the best experiance. Learning to think "laying tiles" in itself will help to stay focused.
Think about what I'm trying to say on the canvas before I say it.

Silvio Silvestri said...

Great post, Stape. I am a blind, dumb painter after reading your post. Maybe it would be helpful to see three photos demonstrating your approach on tiles on three or six square inches from block in to finish? I esp like these "how to" blogs.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Fraser;
It is easy to just get sucked into automatic and screw up a painting.
...............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Forever;
I am a fan of The Merseybeat sound, yes and a lot of other old music. Don't care much about Lady Gaga.I am a geezer.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deb;
Chris Curtis was the drummer and wrote much of the material for The Searchers, a sixties band from England.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Libby;
No Zombie like application, gotta keep thinking. Here is an old hippie phrase for you. BE HERE NOW!
..................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip;
Thanks, you are always an encouragement to me.
............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Durinda;
What do you direct. I simply HAVE to know.
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Marian;
It is of course only one way of doing things. But it is helpful advice to students who are too tentative in the application of the goo.
........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Barbara;
Thanks.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

willek;
I am sorry that I frontloaded so much of that into the blog. There is a lot of that stuff in the first six months.
...........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

bill;
You have to "do the trip!"
..............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Silvio;
I could do that.
...Stape

M said...

Thank you Stape!! You have given me a lot to think about and a goal to reach for!