Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Surface and impasto

Images courtesy of artrenewal.org They have become a login site. For 14 dollars you get access to a lot of hi-res images. I have downsized these and cut details from them, those on the site are much larger. I believe the library of images they offer is worth the small investment and would encourage you to join. I receive no kickback, funding etc from them or anyone else who I recommend over there in the side bar, well, except for RGH paint who gave me a quart of white once.

I want to talk about surface in this post. There are two main sorts of surface, enameled (as it is sometimes called) ie. very smoothly painted without ridges or areas of deliberately roughened paint, and an impastoed, or 3D surface where the artist has intentionally allowed the paint to project from the surface to carry his illusion. Great painters have fallen into both camps.

The head at the top of the page is a detail of a Raeburn. He has used the thickness of his brush strokes which follow the forms of the sitters face to express the structure there. Until the early twentieth century painters worked with lead white. Lead white comes in a variety of handling qualities from ropey or stringy, to liquid and flowing, to crumbly and dry. The most common was an unguent and easily manipulated version such as you see in the painting above. One of the few drawbacks of flake lead (other than its toxicity) is that it becomes more transparent as it ages. Knowing this, artists would often load their whites ( paint them thickly) to make sure they retained opacity over time. However this gave an added benefit, these thick lights contrasted with the thinly painted shadows and a heightened dimensionality appeared. The artist gained another means to express the illusion of volume and dimensionality on his flat surface that an enameled surface didn't give him.

Painters who work over canvases with carefully transferred drawings on them tend to work very smoothly. Often they are coloring in or glazing these drawings in transparent veils to make their paintings. This is an academic approach. Painters who use impasto tend to paint directly from nature. They drag paint here, load it there, or use a palette knife to create the illusion of texture and form by various kinds of manipulative paint handling.

Below is an example of Rembrandt painting a sleeve. He was perhaps the greatest manipulator of impasto. The globs and striations in the paint surface appear at a distance to be the brocaded details of the material. In the upper left of the detail is a good place to see that. Incidentally, this is some of that crumbly look I spoke about earlier as opposed to the more liquid handling in the Raeburn above.

Art is what the artist brings with him to a painting. It is not found in nature itself. Art is man made and the result of an artists decision making process. It is not resultant from observation or accident, but is deliberately installed through intention.

The use of impasto requires the artist to make decisions about the nature of his paint application and its the varied effects he wishes to obtain. It cannot be more than inspired by nature in front of him, it must be invented. The same sort of passage can be painted absolutely smoothly to great effect as well.

Above is a sleeve and hand painted by Ingres. It has great complexity like the Rembrandt yet it is smoothly painted. In the hands of a master either approach can result in triumphant verisimilitude. I don't mean to say that one approach is better than another, however the use of impasto does require an additional set of decisions for the painter to make about how his surface will look.

Here is a detail of Rembrandt's' Hendrickje bathing. The impasto emphasises the simplified and broad planes with which Rembrandt has described the forms of his subject. The use of impasto and the expression of form are entwined and work together to further the artists purpose. More on this in my next post.

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I also received this e-mail:
"I, of course, noticed that you've ceased your superhuman habit of daily posting. I've grown so fond of spending evenings scouring your archives. Your blog is the art instruction I didn't receive back in the sixties/seventies, and your views and wonderful humor have become a comforting light in my search to improve my paintings. I've looked for a post that might explain your absence, but haven't found anything. I hope you are well, and that you'll be back soon. Thank you, for all your generosity and the effort you've put into what you have produced for us".

I have backed off to posting about once a week for now. I may return to greater frequency but I need to do this for a number of reasons which are:
  • Unspecified and serious difficulties in my private life.
  • A need to concentrate on my painting, I have to get my inventory up, which is off partly due to the unspecified difficulties opaquely alluded to above, but also because I have been making such difficult studio paintings, seascapes and such that take forever. I am much faster out on location than in the studio.
  • The blog was intended to be a one year project and instead extended to a thousand posts, which are archived and available should anyone want to read them. It is an encyclopedic "book" of what I have learned over the years I have painted. It should be useful to many who are looking for that information ( or perhaps slant is the better word ) which is hard to find in the mainstream art world.
  • I have written most of what I set out to write. The technical and design posts most importantly. I don't want to become repetitive. The low hanging fruit has been picked. There are lots more posts I can write and will, but they are more time consuming and difficult. The Encyclopedia of Dumb Design Ideas are a great example of that. I will do more of those but each one takes about 20 hours. They are worth the time and a lot of fun to do, providing I have the time to use doing them.
  • The blog will continue, but as I said above, I will have to keep to a reduced schedule for now. I do want to be useful. Thank you all who have continued to follow along.

26 comments:

Simone said...

I'll keep you and yours in my prayers. Thanks for sharing from your knowledge and experience. Very helpful.

Shirley Fachilla said...

The anticipation will just make the pleasure of a new Stape post greater.

Barbara Hageman, Artist said...

Thank you for the gift you have given all of us in your insight and observation, Stape. This is a heartfelt wish that your "unspecified" issues will resolve so you can think, paint, and communicate without the weight now surrounding you. Best wishes for better days.

Craig Daniels said...

Well I will just say thank you again for such a valuable resource. Hope things work out well for you.

Judy P. said...

Best wishes to you, and do take good care of yourself, Stape; you've given us so much already. I hope you and yours have a fine Thanksgiving holiday.

jeff said...

Stap for what it's worth hang in there and keep up the good work.
I've been through a few rough times myself in the last few years so I think I know what you are talking about on one level.

Anyway your blog has been one of the few I go to on a regular basis not only info but for your complete and utter honesty in how you perceive art and the making of it.
I might not agree with all of what you post but I do respect the viewpoints and the information is top notch. RGH is one of them.

mike rooney studios said...

dont know how you did it everyday for so long. doing my posts several times a week was unbelievably daunting and i dont put nearly the effort into mine that you did. Bravo!youve been very helpful to many (me included). hope your issues get resolved to your satisfaction.

waysideartist said...

Like your correspondent, I have to tell you how appreciative I am of all the work you have put into these blog articles. You are very generous with your instruction, advice, and time. I have so much to learn and it's helpful time and again to read your posts and search the archives. Thank you, thank you! Every new post is a pleasure and worth the wait.

mariandioguardi.com said...

I love paint on my painting. They call it painting! Sure one can get effects modeling and enameling . But I'll take impasto every time. Have you ever painted flat and even as inI enamel surfaces?. The guy who taught me painting painted that way. No wonder I was kicked out of his class when I wouldn't let him pry the pallet knife out of my cold stiff hands.

Susan said...

I just wanted you to know I absolutely love reading your blog. Your vast knowledge,sense of humor and writing style make it a delight to read. I'm trying to take my time with each and every post, extracting every bit of your knowledge you are so generous to share with us all.
I started reading your blog from the beginning and I'm up to March of this year. I've recommended it to everyone I know because it's such a valuable learning experience.
I look forward to many future posts. Thank you so much.

Ed Cahill said...

Best to you Mr Kearns. It's a been a joy reading through your older posts. I spent many nights doing just that— even slowed down just to make them last a bit longer.
Times are rough now days and we all must do what is needed to make our families strong and our art meaningful.

john pototschnik said...

Stapleton, you are the best. Your blog has been, and will continue to be,a great inspiration to me. Your knowledge of art, it's history, and painting,is incredible...and you are able to communicate that in such a clear way. Everything you write is worth reading, regardless of how often you post. Best wishes to you in every area of your life.

Robert Sesco said...

Mr. Kearns,
Take your time; build up your inventory; respond with discipline and wisdom (like a master) to the test Life has thrown you; eliminate stress, seek laughter, and know that your extended family of readers wish you well. Like all of Life's tests, this too shall pass. I liken your modern blog to an ancient guild, where apprentices come to read the words of the Master, have their art critiqued, and to learn the craft. Thanks for writing.

tweenlives said...

Thanks for all of it Stape, I've
been through your posts twice now. And the next ones will be appreciated just as much whenever it is possible for you. Some of your readers may enjoy passing the time watching these panel discussions with Richard Schmid.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=hbTPeHy547U

billspaintingmn said...

Thank you Stapleton for the strong information and inspiration you have brought to myself, and others.

There is no way I could have gotten
what I need to know to make a better painting, without your posts.
I'm not saying I'm making better paintings,(ha)..but you got me out of my "Groundhogs Day" movie of painting and have helped me to make progress and move forward.

"It's better to give than recieve"
as I read it in the scriptures. It
is a comfort to know this. You are
a blessing to all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

willek said...

I was struck by the roughness of a forehead in a portrait by Fantin LaTour at the gallery at Smith College. ( Might have been of a mysterious Mr. Bartlett) It looked like he took dried on pallette scrapings and placed them in the most light struck areas, painted them white, then glazed over that. The effect under that gallery lighting was of live skin. Some of the Rembrandt pictures look like similar treatment.

You continue to present the absolute best information for painters to be found anywhere. We will selfishly take all we can get. We are grateful and our best wishes are with you all.

JonInFrance said...

Yeah, well the great thing is - you did it!

That is achievement -
and is always a joy for the doer and a true-hearted audience

Terry said...

Dear Stape,
We are so grateful for your generosity to us, we wish you rest, good health and love this Thanksgiving, and all through the year.
You are so adept at creating beauty out of dirt, ground stones and oil, one beautiful stroke at a time. Life is creating one moment at a time with whatever we have to work with. The beautiful landscapes we cherish were created from turmoil. You see beauty in the plainest, (to the rest of us)just plain ugly scenes! You are amazing at dealing with whatever the weather to create beauty out of the difficulties, with such great humor! These strengths will carry you through.
Your work is a blessing to me and so many every day, thank you, Terry
ps all the unspecified difficulties in my life, as a great grandmother, begin to have their own beauty.

Karen said...

I learn so much from your blog...Just want to give you a big Thank You and wish you and your family well.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

Ok, I was going to whine that I missed having your blog to read every morning. It gave me a reason to get up extra early and enjoy the quietness of the day. So, being the season of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all that you have written so far and that you have taken the time to share so much with us. I look forward to the day when I can paint under your direction.

James Gunter said...

Thank you for your blog.It has been a tremendous boon to me, and I've recommended your blog to so many others.I hope things go better for you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

mariandioguardi.com said...

A Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear Stapleton. I see lasagna and cannoli in your future.

barbara b. land of boz said...

Happy Thanksgiving Stapleton....
This has been a wonderful day with the family. I have so much to be thankful for, and I truly feel that all things happen for a reason. Like this blog you have spent so much of your time on. While I'm not sure where life will lead me. I'm certain it has been enriched by the sharing of your knowlege. May you have a blessful day with your family.
Just want to say "Keep on keeping on" Stape.

Cynthia Hillis McBride said...

A couple of years ago several artist friends in our semi-small town were complaining about the quality of art instruction available in our berg. Two of us almost simultaneously recommended your blog to all. Our small group of Colorado plein air artists is certainly wiser, and no doubt better artists because of your educational efforts. Stape, your posts have illuminated many dark corners in my pitifully bare cupboard of artistic knowledge. This all may be "low hanging fruit" to you, but to most of us they are gems beyond compare. I suspect you have already forgotten more than I ever learned in school. Thank you for what you have done and continued prayers for the possibility that you might soon be able to resume our much needed education.

Lori Woodward said...

Completely understand, and you're not the only popular blog artist who is moving to one per week... it seems to be the trend, and I think it'll be a nice change for you and for us.

Artists shouldn't have to log onto their computer every day anyway. We're all so appreciative of what you've already done for us, and will look forward to your future posts - as you get time.

I know they will be worth their weight in gold.. or should I say, Paint!

Maybe someday, you can print them all out and put a nice ebook for us... in your spare time of course.

Sincerely,
Lori

JoAnn Sanborn said...

Prayers and hugs and much gratitude.