Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finding subjects in the landscape

Tonight I want to throw an idea at you that will help you find painting locations. It will make lots of places paintable that you might have walked by before. Stop looking for a subject to paint.

Look for shapes, not objects when hunting locations. There are lots of places that have good shapes and a picture with good shapes is going to work, no matter what it's subject is. Now you are seeing like an artist and not a writer. Even when you do find a subject that's a natural, an old barn or a picturesque mountain view, stomp around until you get the best arrangement of shapes it offers. Often when a picture goes wrong, it is because of the failure to make good shapes.

The paintings on this page are by Eugene-Louis Boudin 1824-1898 courtesy of the Boudin was an expert at this, his paintings are arrangements of shapes and colors that set one another off. If you squint at the marketplace picture above I think you will see what I mean. He has also arranged the lights and shadows to make the picture work.

Harbors are often picturesque but Boudin has designed this one. He has, for instance, grouped his objects into large simplified darks that make big shapes rather than indicate individual hulls of boats. Then he threw a white hull down on top of the whole show. Maybe it was there, maybe it wasn't. Who knows? But it is a great device. That strong contrast at the subject matter arrests the viewers eye. Again squint at this image and see the bold simple arrangement of a few lights and darks that he has used.

Look at the irregular wedges of black that Boudin has built his design. Also notice the nearly divisionist "hatching" he has used in that rooftop. It almost looks like Childe Hassam's handling. Because he is painting an arrangement of shapes rather than a narration of specific characteristics of the place he is free to summarize things and work with a more artistic handling.


Bernie's Art said...

Boudin is one of the most under rated painters in my opinion. What a great influence he was in the development of plein aire painting, as well as his encouragement of Monet.

Lucy said...

In these paintings shapes and values take precedent over color. Yet, they are filled with color and light. I wonder how big these are and if they were painted in front of the motif?

Stapeliad said...

Good stuff here, it takes me way too long to find a painting spot.

Stapeliads aren't really spiny but they are stinky.

Janice Skivington said...

"look for interesting shapes" Thank you, that is one of the best little set of words of advice yet. Simple and it will stick in my brain.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice Stape. i know I get caught looking for subject matter rather than shapes more than I should. Great reminder!

Philip Koch said...

Another great post!

"Look for interesting shapes." So critical and so hard to learn how to do it. I often tell my students to forget WHAT they are looking at and instead study only How it appears.

What we're really tellling our students is to function part time as abstract painters.

When I get stuck on a landscape painting I often turn it upside down in the easle and work on it that way for awhile. Surprisingly it almost always works.

Boudin and young Monet used to go painting together.

JonInFrance said...

Brushwork that's abstract close-up, and now abstract shapes! - you're going to make us all into abstract artists, right?

clarkola said...

Timely topic-yesterday I was determined to use what I learned at Snow Camp (nicely done description Amy-from the one who lost her keys) to paint the lingering Vermont snow-I drove out to Lake Dunmore, walked around-drove to the beaver pond looked around-wandered the town-trying to imagine cropping various scenes into a 16x24 panel. An experienced painter would have found many pictures out there-a beginner was daunted-nay defeated.
think I'll make up a game of walking 10 steps out the door and painting six paintings from that spot. The snow's still here-the sun is shining-the shapes and values sharp-the determination irrepressible.
I add my gratitude, Stape, for your generous efforts to help us get more conscious.

Anonymous said...

Good post. Thanks.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I agree, I need a good book on him.There are a lot of things online though at the

Stapleton Kearns said...

He did a lot of painting outside and it was he who introduced Monet to the practice. He was a huge influence on one of my heros too, Edward Seago.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Perhaps looking for shapes will speed up the process.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Might make a great neck tattoo.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I often tell my students to forget WHAT they are looking at and instead study only How it appears. Thats a great quote! Mine now.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There is a a whole blog post to be had from that. The abstract part is the art part. Subject matter and rendering are more mechanical and literary.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. When you are in those places, why not just set up and go to work?Even if the spot you choose is not perfect as you spend time in a place you learn it and often figure out where to paint it from next time.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I guess you are reading this in Russia?

a nantucket blog. all things nantucket. said...

I'm sharing this with our readers.