Thursday, September 8, 2011

No postcards please

Etchings by Charles Meryon, French 1821-1868

Here is a question from a reader that I found interesting. I appreciate the questions you all provide me. I have a small file of them to trot out when for blog ideas. I do feel sometimes as if I have picked all the low hanging fruit. The first 400 posts or so are real nuts and bolts art instruction. If you haven't read them I encourage you to do so.

Hey Stape!! Question, if you have an answer - How do I keep the compositions of my paintings (of important structures) from looking like postcards?
...................... Rachel from Cardholders Services

Rachel;
Here are some points with BULLETS;

  • Postcards usually choose the most generic and obvious view. Perhaps you shouldn't. Balance the important structure with another less important one or.....
  • Choose a detail or an unexpected view. I joke with my friend T.M. Nicholas every time we paint a picture with a prominent house in it (in the voice of an obnoxious gallery visitor) "I suppose it's nice, but I wish it was MY house". The solution to that is often to
PUT THE HOUSE INTO THE LANDSCAPE, RATHER THAN PUTTING THE LANDSCAPE AROUND THE HOUSE.

I often will paint the landscape and THEN drop the house into it to make sure that happens. The painting then says "LANDSCAPE with a house, rather than landscape with a HOUSE.
  • We all enjoy sunny, blue skied days, but so do the people who make postcards, avoid that big blue background and use something with a little more edge. Try not to paint too "sweet" postcards are always stupidly cheerful and happy, happy, happy. A less major key look will be less postcardy.
  • The deep fault you are having is (I think) that you are choosing your pictures cropping and design from an object standpoint. That is : I am going to paint a picture of this house, better to:
FIND AN ARRANGEMENT OF LINES AND SHAPES IN NATURE THAT SET ONE ANOTHER OFF, WORRY ABOUT THE SUBJECT MATTER LATER.

If the shapes are good, the painting stands some chance of being successful, if they are not, and you can't bend them so that they are, you are never going to make a good picture at that location. Perhaps it would be better to introduce some tropical fish.
Postcards tend to be in all happy and bright colors too, introduce some grays and unexpected or even slightly discordant notes. Think Led Zeppelin ( Whole lotta love) not Bread (Baby Im-a want you). That's where power comes from, no edge, no power! Postcards are too "happy" to cut into the viewer much, you have to have some "attack" to get beyond the "pretty picture" problem.
  • Ask yourself what YOU are bringing to this picture,YOU need to be on that canvas. That could be in the brushwork or in your "take" on the subject or in your color. A painting needs to be poetic, a postcard needs to be just what the average person expects to see. It might be better to shy away from those subjects when you can. If you are making postcards hoping that they will sell, my experience has been that the viewer knows that and feels that they want something more artful. Of course if you have a commission to paint a certain subject, you do what the client wants and sneak the art in there as best you can.
Here are a few notes on Charles Meryon. The son of a doctor, Meryon became a lieutenant in the French Navy. Upon leaving the navy he decided to become an artist. Because he was color blind he restricted himself to black and white, particularly etching. Working first as a copyist in a production house he later went out on his own focusing on scenes of Paris. He made great series of them.

Meryon was technically brilliant but as much as his art appealed to, and was understood by other artists who revered him, it didn't sell particularly well. In later years Meryon went mad and was committed to an insane asylum. I am feeling a little "off" myself.

I a guest artist this next week at the Ocean House, in Watch Hill Rhode Island, a very grand place indeed. If you are in the area, stop by and see me paint, I suppose I will be working on the grounds of the hotel or on the shore pictured here.

34 comments:

Mandikat said...

Brilliant! I can't wait to get started.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mandikat;
I am plagued with typos this morning. Reread my post again I have corrected and added to it.
..........Stape

Steve Baker said...

FIND AN ARRANGEMENT OF LINES AND SHAPES IN NATURE THAT SET ONE ANOTHER OFF, WORRY ABOUT THE SUBJECT MATTER LATER.
No truer words. Leave out "in nature" and it goes straight across the board. Think I'll print it and hang it the studio.

Eden Compton said...

Great post Stapleton - thanks! I am in Newport and would love to come see you paint over at Watch Hill. What day and time will you be there?

mariandioguardi.com said...

I love the Watch Hill Light House and I have painted it a couple of times. You know why? Rectangles!

Bill Guffey said...

Another great post, Stape. I thought of you the other day. While driving down the road I saw these trees (that I've painted before), noticing the color, I thought, "Those trees look like $500 suits." Think I'll go back and visit them again this weekend.

Tim said...

Unless of course, someone is paying you (ie me)for a postcard view of their house...

Brady said...

Stape, I hope you're doing well. Sounds like you're keeping busy slaying the art demon.

Every time I read your blog I realize this art thing is harder than it seems. Just when I think I have a handle on something I learn something new and suddenly it's like I can't paint anymore.

Thanks for all the posts and your efforts to teach people you don't even know a thing or two.

Lucy said...

Utrillo worked from postcards.....given to him by his mother Susan Valadon because he was often too drunk and too sick to stand up and paint outside!!!
Of corse, there was no Photoshop back then to make postcards so sickly oversaturated with "sweet" color, as they are today.

Philip Koch said...

Good post, once again. Your "postcard" comments remind me of the time years ago when I was teaching a landscape painting workshop in the little town of Chambersburg, PA. The organizers had put me up in a local B&B (which looked like it was run by the Adams Family, but that's another story).

Anyway I was quite taken with the gardens in the B&B's backyard and did a couple of small plein air oils of them first with the B&B's fire escape in the background and another with its garage door featured prominently.

The B&B owner just went nuts over my choices, telling me in exasperation that "no body wants to see a backyard. You paint the front yard. Everybody knows that." Later on I overheard her speaking to another of the guests. She told him that there was an artist making paintings of the property, but that from my choices of subject matter it was clear I was crazy.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

There are several worthwhile quotes in today's post, but it is "No Edge, No Power" I'll carry away already enlarged and printed to post on my studio wall. Thanks, Stape

Lucy said...

I find these Charles Meryons a perfect example of what you were talking about in your previous post....too much clutter!

Silvio Silvestri said...

Great advice Stape! I get lost in the pretty picture for tourists and, sometimes, I can't find myself to put myself into the painting as you recommend. That is why I like impressionism so much. Putting my slant on things is so right on. Thanks for the reminder.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! This is another great post!

If you're feeling a little off, please know you are "Right On" to
me!
(My opinion.)
Have a cigar!

Philip Koch said...

Stape- you're going to love this one...

I just awakened this morning from a dream- you and I are out painting the landscape somewhere. I struggle to get a simple underpainting layed down while you whip out a very beautiful finished oil in just minutes. Then out of nowhere a wealthy woman appears and buys your painting on the spot, announcing loudly to the world she's glad she's found someone of your talent.

Damn!

Bill Hibberd said...

Stapleton, Having just discovered your blog I must say how much I appreciate your willingness to share info. Very accessable yet rich. Thanks brother!

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! As an (American) artist I want to say thanks for all your contibutions, to us and every other artist in the world.

The good things are not easy, it takes hard work, dedication, support and more!

I find all that here. You are a Patriot of uncommon vallor.

You inspire us to be what we are supposed to be. To what we are called. I will attempt to move forward.
I will continue to do the trip.

willek said...

You seem to be pointing all of your posts directly to me!!I fight the trite demon all the time. All the time knowing the trick is to take the trite and make it sublime.

I stopped at Bowdoin College and saw the Hoppers there. (During the Hurricane) The most interesting was a group of small early outside pictures, all done at Monhegan of sea and rocks. The pallets were almost all of what looked like Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre Black and White. Some had a very little cobalt blue injected. I was able to get close to see into the strokes but not without a run in with a guard. are you familiar with those pictures?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mandikat;
Thanks, dear.
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Steve Baker;
Go with the large font.
...........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Eden Compton;
I am doing an event this weekend at the hotel. If you contact Ocean House they will give you the specifics.
........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

mariandioguardi.com ;
That lighthouse is too square for me!
.........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bill Guffey;.
Gotta remember those suits!
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Tim;
That is the way it is... they pay they call the tune!
.................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Brady ;
Thanks, I hope to be useful!
.................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Lucy;
Everyone knows how to paint except the poeple who actually do it.
.......Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip Koch;
The answer above was actually intended for you.
.....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jo-Ann Sanborn;
Thanks,
...........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Lucy;
I find them wonderful. If detail is consistent across the surface of an image it can be like filigree or Arabic calligraphy, unified and not cluttered.
..........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Silvio Silvestri;
you are welcome!
.......Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

billspaintingmn;
Thanks Bill. I am a little off!
.........STape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip Koch;
You get museum shows! C'mon!
...........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bill Hibberd;
Thank you sir!
...........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

willek;
Inh heavens museum the guards will be glued to the opposite wall and protest feebly as they struggle to free themselves.
..............Stape