Monday, February 28, 2011

Mississippi workshop

Above is a demo from last years Mississippi workshop.

I am going to do a little advertising tonight, something I don't do a lot. But I am teaching a workshop at the end of March (
MARCH 28 - APRIL 1) and I would like to encourage you to come if you can. I have taught this one before and it is a five day class. Rolling Fork is another world, it is the heart of the Mississippi Delta. I should be spring there, the daffodils are up there already and the leaves should be out by the the end of March. Here I am in the cold and snow and in a month I will be in summer weather. The Delta is an interesting place, it is sort of the land that time forgot. It has those big live oak trees that I love to paint in the south and we usually set up on farms and backroads in the nearby country side. There are lots of old farm buildings and open fields. I think it looks a little like the country that Seago painted sometimes. Because it is a five day gig, rather than my usual three day workshop I can get a lot more done with the students. The workshop is run by my friend Pat Walker and she does a great job. The food is terrific and the southern hospitality is welcoming. So if you want to get the summers painting off to a good start, meet me in Mississippi where summer begins, long before wherever you are. To find out more click on the link here.

Below is a review that a student from Snowcamp sent me. I have not edited it, other than to drop the reviewers last name for her privacy. I thought she caught the general feel of the workshop pretty well and gave a good account of her personal "take" on the whole thing.
Stapleton Kearn's Snowcamp.

Before I attended Stapleton Kearn's Snow Camp, I thought I could paint. I had a
classical foundation in drawing, and years of self taught painting, mostly figurative,
in the studio from live models, but also often using (gasp) photo references. I had
begun showing and was on my way working to establishing a more serious career.

My excuse for never leaving the studio was that during my career days working for"Mr. Charlie in the Straight World" (as Stapleton calls it), and now with 3 young kids,
I usually paint at night when all is quiet, and it never occurred to me to go outside. I don't like summer weather, and I never knew you could paint in winter. I use large canvases, Smallish brushes, lots and lots of colors, 3 big palettes at once spread over tables, and a way of holding brushes I wasn't even aware of, I just do it.

I had been feeling stifled by my paintings, and the painstaking final stages where
they seem to get "worked to death".

I admire abstract expressionism, but never learned or tried using any of the principals, and was totally unfamiliar with the great American Landscape Painters.
I didn't know abstract expressionism was involved in their work.

I stumbled across Snowcamp on Stapleton's excellent art blog. I admired
Stapleton's passion for spreading knowledge of artists to others, and his (not altogether sane) thought process. I also admired his work, even though the genre was completely new to me. Before that, to be honest, I thought landscape painting would be boring literal representation, which is why I never looked into it before. It
was his blog that opened my eyes to a new angle of looking at things and led to exploring this new genre.

I knew I would be the newbie setting up outside and looking at landscapes for the first time, but figured I knew my way around an art conversation or two, and could
hold my own just fine. It was the perfect short intensive course environment and weather for me to work with, so I rented a car, packed up the gear, ditched the kids,
and headed for New Hampshire. I was ready to shake up my style and turn a new

And it was like this.

Pretend you're an English equestrian rider who has been doing Dressage for
years. You grew up around English breeds, use English saddles, and you always
perform traditional equestrian riding tests in shows. You trot forwards and
backwards and to the side gracefully and your horse curtsies to the judges. You wear proper English uniforms, sit in an elegant upright posture, and view the art of riding through the English equestrian culture. It has taken you years to gain these skills, and you're pretty darn good. People give you compliments.

Now pretend you go to a weekend rodeo school on a ranch to learn to ride rodeo with the biggest outlaw in the wild wild west. Upon meeting him, you're not altogether sure he hasn't cut himself a deal to keep out of jail in exchange for teaching squares to ride. You admire his skill and reckless bravery. You listen to
his legendary advice and death defying stories. You watch him apply what he says to riding fearsome bucking broncos with the greatest of ease. You take copious notes (which seems out of place at first-but then you realize too much is being
taught to just remember). You UNDERSTAND all of what he is saying. You are
inspired. You are excited. Armed with your new knowledge, dressed in your new boots, perched on your new breed of horse, sitting in your new saddle, convinced you will be the greatest new wild west buccaneer ever, you enter the ring.

And in less than 2 seconds you are thrown high into the air, landing squarely on
your arse. You try to get up a few times, but keep getting thrown down on your arse. You really can't get up from your arse. The cowboy saunters over, feigns empathy (says so himself) and gives you a top notch personal tutorial-even works your horse for you until he settles down a bit. You're amazed, you see the light, you really get it now, but once he walks away, you're thrown again, and you still can't get up off of your arse. But, in theory, you do understand how you could keep from landing on your arse the next time. Or so you think. You're convinced you may actually rope a calf before the weekend is done. But you're wrong. You'll be needing years of practice.

Suffice it to say, I didn't' "do" anything great at Snowcamp, and I didn't get to bring
home any masterpieces to show off. Luckily Stapleton did warn us at camp that we wouldn't most likely be bringing home anything worth keeping if we were new to this, so that made me feel a bit better. He reassured us numerous times that
landscape painting was no more difficult than playing violin concertos or
performing thoracic surgery. Which I now know to be true.

I actually spent part of my first work session learning how to set up my new french
easel (yes I practiced once at home when it came in the mail as a dress rehearsal,
but it's different in a snow drift). Even though I learned french easels are "good but they're sort of for girls" (or anyone who isn't a commando woodsman), Stapleton respectfully taught me a trick to getting the braces steady and patiently (not sure if he feigns patience or just empathy) helped me place my spilling thinner while I asked ridiculous questions. Then it took me a few hours to get over constantly dropping my brush in the snow because I wasn't used to the size of the brushes,
the new way of holding them that he taught me, the amount of paint scooped onto them, or wearing a bulky winter gloves, because by this time, the temperature was dropping fast.

What I did gain at Snowcamp with Stapleton Kearns, was the experience of a lifetime. Our family had been having a sudden "situation" at home happening, and it wasn't prudent for me to take the time away at that moment. I came within inches
of canceling. But something told me I needed to do it. And I'm so infinitely grateful

that I did. There was no way in the universe it could have been any more valuable or worth it.

Stapleton Kearns is deeply passionate about art and artists and is very generous with his time in this workshop. Our group had communal breakfasts, lunches and dinners which were some of the most valuable lessons on any number of art topics.
Also included were bizarre personal life stories and more than a few surreal tangents.

Stapleton never lost his energy or punked out. Even though he had his blog to do at night, he stayed with the dinner conversation for as long as it took. Everyone was respected and allowed to talk, ask questions, and share throughout the duration of the course. We learned during meals, during Stapleton's live painting demos, during his critiques of work that other students had brought with them, and even in down times and breaks as well as while painting ourselves. The group was small and wonderful.

I kept marveling at how amazing it was to have a sequestered opportunity like this with a master, veteran and busy working artist who could just as easily be homeworking in his studio or out in the field. His answer to the inquiry, "Can I ask a
question?" was always, "WOULD YOU PLEASE?!". And he meant it. He answered
ANY question.

The deluge of information was so intense, it would have almost been too much if not for the gregarious personality of the somewhat (OK, very) boorish Mr. Kearns.
Just when you couldn't take another academic art note, and your mind got a little too full, he'd break off on a whackadoo rant. Usually about the 60's. Or he would ask (a hundred times) if his soiled neon insulated orange hunting stocking cap from WalMart that he got with a buddy (see we learned a lot of things) looked good on him. We almost trapped him in a couple of political conversations but not quite.
Not only was this workshop intensive and difficult, but it was extremely fun. In
between the demos was the beautiful silence or the snow. And sometimes the
blues guitar of Stape's mp3 player.

I can only imagine what it would be like to take his course as an experienced landscape painter and utilize his critiques at a higher level. He managed to make my juvenile atrocities look almost decent with a few quick strokes and clear explanations of what they needed. His instruction style is amazing for any level of painter. He gave his all to every student in the course at every level. There was plenty of personal attention.

It was a bittersweet farewell to Snowcamp. I left an exhausted Stapleton Kearns
reclining on the stairs dutifully staying alone in the deserted inn waiting for AAA
with a stranded student who had locked their keys in their car. A barbarian, but a
gentleman, shepherding his students to the last moments.

As I drove down the beautiful dark mountain, I couldn't help feeling I had made a
mistake by not staying just a few more moments to pick his brain. It started to dawn
on me, that soon he wouldn't be there to answer every little question. There was so
much I had not asked him. But he had filled his end of the deal -done the trip-
(some 60's vocabulary I learned at snowcamp) and then some, and I had a long drive
back into the real world, my mind buzzing and overflowing with knowledge and
perspective gained that weekend. Enough to rejuvenate and inspire any tired
mind. It was the best course ever. My heart strings tugged as I left the snowy
intersection at the base of the mountain and entered the 1-93 South and away for
good. My only regret was that I didn't' get to show anything of value to Stape.

I'll be back to a future workshop, Stapleton Kearns, with a Gloucester Easel, a stack
of work to critique, and some serious chops. Maybe not next year, but possibly the
next or the next. And I'll be the best painter you've EVER SEEN.

The most incredible thing


Whosoever could do the most incredible thing was to have the King's daughter and half of his kingdom.

The young men, yes, and the old ones too, bent their heads, their muscles, and their hearts upon winning. To do what they thought was the most incredible thing, two ate themselves to death, and one died of overdrinking. Even the boys in the street practiced spitting on their own backs, which they supposed was the most incredible thing anyone could do.

On a certain day there was to be an exhibition of things most incredible and everyone showed his best work. Judges were appointed, ranging from children of three to old men of ninety. It was a grand exposition of things out of the ordinary, but everybody promptly agreed that most incredible of all was a great hall clock - an extraordinary contraption, outside and in.

When the clock struck, out came lifelike figures to tell the hour. There were twelve separate performances of these moving figures, with speaking and singing. People said that nothing so incredible had ever before been seen.

The clock struck one, and there stood Moses on the mountain, writing in the tablets of the law the first great commandment: "There is only one true God." The clock struck two, and there were Adam and Eve, just as they first met in the Garden of Eden. Were ever two people so lucky! They didn't own so much as a clothes-closet, and they didn't need one. At the stroke of three the three Holy Kings appeared. One was as black as a coal, but he couldn't help that. The sun had blackened him. These kings brought incense and precious gifts. When the stroke of four sounded, the seasons advanced in their order. Spring carried a budding bough of beech, on which a cuckoo sang. Summer had for her sign a grasshopper on a ripening ear of wheat. Autumn had only an empty stork's nest, for the birds had flown away. Winter's tame crow perched on the corner of the stove, and told old tales of bygone days. At five o'clock there was a procession of the five senses. Sight was represented by a man who made spectacles. Hearing was a noisy coppersmith. Smell was a flower girl with violets for sale. Taste came dressed as a cook. Feeling was a mourner, with crape down to his heels. As the clock struck six, there sat a gambler, throwing dice for the highest cast of all, and they fell with the sixes up. Then came the seven days of the week, or they might be the seven deadly sins. People could not be sure which they were, for they were not easy to distinguish. Next came a choir of monks, to sing the eight o'clock evensong. At the stroke of nine, the nine muses appeared. One was an astronomer, one kept the books of history, and the others were connected with the theater. Ten o'clock struck, and Moses came forth again, this time with the tables in which were written all ten of God's commandments. When the clock struck again, boys and girls danced out. They played and sang this song:

"All the way to heaven
The clock struck eleven."

And eleven it struck. Then came the stroke of twelve. Out marched the night watchman, wearing his cap and carrying his morning star - which is a truncheon tipped with spikes. He sang the old watch song:

"'Twas at the midnight hour
Our Savior He was born-"

and as he sang the roses about him unfolded into the heads of angels, with rainbow-tinted wings.

It was good to hear. It was charming to see. The whole thing was a work of extraordinary craftsmanship, and everyone agreed that it was the most incredible thing. The artist who had made it was young, generous, and sincere, a true friend, and a great help to his poor father and mother. He was altogether worthy of the Princess and of half the kingdom.

On the day that they were to proclaim who had won, the whole town was bedecked and be-draped. The Princess sat on her throne. It had been newly stuffed with horsehair for the occasion, but it was still far from comfortable or pleasant. The judges winked knowingly at the man they had chosen, who stood there so happy and proud. His fortune was made, for had he not done the most incredible thing!

"No!" a tall, bony, powerful fellow bawled out. "Leave it to me, I am the man to do the most incredible thing," and then he swung his ax at the craftsman's clock. Crack, crash, smash! There lay the whole thing. Here rolled the wheels, and there flew the hairsprings. It was wrecked and ruined. "I did that," said the lout. "My work beat his, and bowled you over, all in one stroke. I have done the most incredible thing."

"To destroy such a work of art!" said the judges. "Why it's the most incredible thing we've ever seen." And the people said so too. So he was awarded the Princess and half the kingdom, because a law is a law, even if it happens to be a most incredible one.

They blew trumpets from the ramparts and the city towers, and they announced, "The wedding will now take place." The Princess was not especially happy about it, but she looked pretty and she wore her most expensive clothes. The church was at its best by candle-light, late in the evening. The ladies of the court sang in processions, and escorted the bride. The lords sung, and accompanied the groom. From the way he strutted and swaggered along, you'd think that nothing could ever bowl him over.

Then the singing stopped. It was so still that you could have heard a pin fall in the street. But it was not quiet for long. Crash! crash! the great church doors flew open, and boom! boom! all the works of the clock came marching down the church aisle and halted between the bride and the groom.

Dead men cannot walk the earth. That's true, but a work of art does not die. Its shape may be shattered, but the spirit of art cannot be broken. The spirit of art jested, and that was no joke.

. To all appearances it stood there as if it were whole, and had never been wrecked. The clock struck one hour right after another, from one to twelve, and all the figures poured forth. First Moses came, shining as if bright flames issued from his forehead. He cast the heavy stone tablets of the law at the bridegroom's feet, and tied them to the church floor. "I cannot lift them again," said Moses, "for you have broken my arms. Stand where you are!"

Then came Adam and Eve, the three Wise Men of the East, and the four Seasons. Each told him the disagreeable truth. "Shame on you!" But he was not ashamed.

All the figures of all the hours marched out of the clock, and they grew wondrous big. There was scarcely room for the living people. And at the stroke of twelve out strode the watchman, with his cap and his many-spiked morning star. There was a strange commotion. The watchman went straight to the bridegroom, and smote him on the forehead with his morning star.

"Lie where you are," said the watchman. "A blow for a blow. We have taken out vengeance and the master's too, so now we will vanish."

And vanish they did, every cogwheel and figure. But the candles of the church flared up like flowers of fire, and the gilded stars under the roof cast down long clear shafts of light, and the organ sounded though no man had touched it. The people all said that they had lived to see the most incredible thing.

"Now," the Princess commanded, "summon the right man, the craftsman who made the work of art. He shall be my husband and my lord."

He stood beside her in the church. All the people were in his train. Everyone was happy for him, everyone blessed him, and there was no one who was envious. And that was the most incredible thing.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some more important Modern art ( some offensive content )

I clipped this out of an art guide a number of years ago. Evidently there had been some problems concerning the WOW quotient of art, that The New York Times says this piece has remedied.

Piss Christ, by Andre Serrano is a photograph of a plastic crucifix bearing the form of Jesus Christ that is immersed in the artists own urine. The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art awarded this piece a prize and the National Endowment for the Arts participated in it's purchase for 15,000 dollars. The piece was displayed at the Whitney in 2006.

Study after Velasquez's Pope Innocent X is by Francis Bacon, a giant of British modern painting. Bacon has been the subject of three major retrospective shows at the Tate, London's most important museum showing contemporary art. Here is another, for good measure entitled Head.

Below; Benefits supervisor by Lucian Freud. Considered the most important British painter of our time, Freud has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The museum of contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Below Robert Mapplethorpe self portrait with a bullwhip in his anus. I have used a slightly censored version. Let me know if you need to see the entire image.

This photograph was included in a traveling exhibition funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Mappelthorpe became the best known art photographer of our time. He photographed many subjects but his homoerotic images caused enormous controversy. The Corcoran refused to hang a show of his work. Dead of aids at age 42 he funded The Robert Mapplethorpe foundation which has raised millions of dollars to combat HIV and Aids.

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst. Hirst is the richest artist in England believed to worth more than 200 million Pounds. Hirst sold out a show at Sothebys auction house for 198 million dollars. He says his work is concerned with death. Asking price? 50 million dollars. So far unsold, this would set a record as the largest sum ever paid for the work of a living artist.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Some valuable modern art

The following ARE NOT a part of my 100 paintings and artist should know and are presented as examples of important modern art.

The Fountain; submitted but not actually shown to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.It is a commercially produced urinal, laid on its back. The original was lost, but it's maker (finder?) Marcel Duchamp created a number of replicas that were exhibited in the 50's and 1960's . These are on display at the Tate Museum, The San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art, at the Pompidou Center in Paris and at the Philadelphia Musuem of art. In 1999 one of these replicas brought 1.7 million dollars at a Sothebys auction. 500 top art experts in England voted it the most important work of art of the twentieth century.

Above is pictured a can of well.......artist's fecal matter. Done by Italian artist Piero Manzoni in 1961. It is one of an edition of ninety and brought 124,000 Euros at auction in 2007. One of the cans while displayed at the Randers Museum in Denmark began to leak. Evidently the smell was horrific. The collector who owned it was furious and the museum although insisting the work leaked in their possession only by coincidence, had it carefully restored. Ultimately the collector was paid 50,00 Euros and the museum kept the can of well........................

My Bed, an installation by Tracy Emin was exhibited at the Tate in London. It is her actual bed and other items brought as they were in her home and reassembled in the gallery. The objects include used condoms, bloody undergarments and her slippers. The piece was sold to Charles Saatchi for 150,00 Euros. It was shown in his gallery and then installed in a special room in his own home.( I suppose its lovely, but it simply won't go with the Hepplewhite, Mr. Saatchi!)

Woman III by Wilhelm DeKooning . Dekooning was presented the National Medal of Honor for his contribution to art, by President Lyndon Johnson. This painting was sold for 137 million dollars.

"Licking" and divisionist color

Here, let me show you something I talked about in snowcamp. Above are three notes of roughly equal value, one is yellow, the next red and the last blue ( barely, in this photo, but take my word for it). They are all mixed down with a lot of white. I am going to lay them loosely on top of one another and make a patch of broken, or divisionist color. Like so..........

The resulting patch of color has the three notes placed discreetly and separately. When we look at it, there is opalescence, or vibration. Vibratory color is much more alive then a simple flat note of paint laid like a housepainters brush stroke. I use vibratory color a lot in my painting because it enlivens passages. It is particularly useful in skies and snow, but entire passages and entire paintings can be made of vibratory color. This simple little effect is one of the roots of impressionist technique.

Nature is complex and the vibratory effect confuses the eye slightly and that recalls the complexity of nature as we see it, better than a flat color note would. There are other ways to do this, for instance, different shades of the same hue laid over one another in the same value.

Here I have divided the pile into two sections with my knife. To the right of that line I "licked" the paint until it was all blended together. It goes flat then. It is the color of pewter, dead. In order to work, the notes have to be separate from one another, discrete.

This is one reason that the old time painters cautioned so strongly against "licking". Licking is brushing repeatedly at your paint like a cat might lick it's fur. It muddies your color and wastes your time. Learn to put a note down and pull your brush away. The more times your brush hits a note, the weaker it gets. You cannot worry the paint on your canvas into a picture.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hitler, Eisenhower and Churchill landscape paintings

Three amateur painters once decided the fate of the world. Above is a watercolor by Adolf Hitler, who was quite prolific. He estimated he had made over a thousand paintings. Most of them were small souvenir type watercolors, many done quickly to be sold cheaply. The phrase "painting a day" had not been coined, but that is essentially what he was doing. Hitler actually sold paintings as a young man and prior to WWI was trying to become an artist. He continued painting all of his life. Given the level of training common among working artists of his generation, he would probably not have been competitive in the marketplace.
Hitler applied to the Vienna Art Academy and submitted his painting. He was rejected

Eisenhower never painted until he was fifty eight. He was impressed by a painter who did his portrait, so Ike took up painting as a hobby. He kept a small studio in and upper floor of the White House. A total amateur, he copied photographs and other artists paintings. I suspect the one I have posted here is done from a Robert Wood. He often gave his paintings to friends and used one for a White House Christmas card. Fail!

Winston Churchill started painting when he was forty years old. He had a sister in Law who painted and started with her. he was fortunate to receive some instruction from John Lavrey a well known English painter of his day. Churchill painted a lot and actually got pretty good ast it. Better than this landscape might suggest. Some of his paintings have sold for a million dollars. But thats because of the signature and not their quality. An argument could be made that Churchill was the best painter of the three.
Churchill did a lot of things well, he was an excellent writer a statesman of course and also laid brick as a hobby, building long haw-haws in his yard.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paintings an artist should know, featuring some Italians I forgot

44) Mars and Venus united by love by Paolo Veronese 1528-1588

Born the son of a stoneworker and apprenticed to a painting workshop at an early age, Veronese rose to become one of the three most important Venetian painters. He was an exponent of the late renaissance style called mannerism. Mannerism is what happened after the classical period off the high renaissance. Artists began to work in more stylish and idiosyncratic styles. They also grew less interested in the classical examples of the ancients. An artificiality and heightened color gave a "look" that had an element of "fashion" to it, as opposed to the timeless reserve of the high minded classicists. Here Mars disrobes Venus with some help from a precocious baby who pins one of her legs.

Veronese is held up as a great colorist. Below is an example of the glowing but mannered color of which he was capable.

45) Feast at the house of Levi also Veronese.
This enormous picture is a last supper. I think if you click on it you will see a much larger image. It was painted for the dining room of a basilica and Veronese included all sorts of random folks like German soldiers and some nice dwarfs. This was noticed by the Inquisition and he was called upon to defend the painting. He did that, and his statement is part of the great body of artists writings that are occasionally referenced by scholars. He solved the problem not by removing the interlopers from the dinner scene, but by changing it's title to The feast of Levi.

46) The calling of Saint Mathew by Caravaggio 1571-1610
A complicated character, Caravaggio developed a style based on extreme chiaroscuro, or light and dark. He enveloped subjects in deep shadow and then sent rays of light into his scenes to provide drama, like the lighting in a theater. He worked direct from nature, posing models as he worked. He had a realism which was unique at the time and was able to secure many commissions. However he had a dark side. Caravaggio was given to street fighting and was arrested many times. Italy of the day was a rough place and even in that world he was an extraordinarily combative thug.
In 1606 he killed a man in a fight and had to flee from Rome to Naples. He established himself there, Italy was not a united country and Naples was its own city state, so he was beyond the reach of the authorities from Rome. There he executed a number of important commissions for the church. As difficult as he was he seemed to be valued so highly that he was still in demand.In 1608 he was arrested and imprisoned in Malta after another brawl where he kicked down a door and attacking and seriously injuring a knight who must have had better connections than his previous assaultees. Caravaggio escaped to Sicily and continued to paint commissions for the churches there.
He grew stranger and crazier and upon to returning to Naples was attacked by some enemy he had made, who that was, is now lost to history but his face was disfigured. He died of a fever in 1610.

Caravaggio's pictures were an influence on many later artists who were inspired by his use of light and shadow,. Rembrandt is probably the best example. Many of the painters he influenced were referred to as Caravaggisti. Caravaggio was forgotten except by the coterie of artists who saw his art on their trips to Italy, until the 20th century when his enormous influence was recognized as a common thread running through many generations of painters.

47) The entombment of Christ, Caravaggio

Some images from

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some thoughts on Franz Hals paint handling

I want to pause briefly and look at the brushwork in some Franz Hals paintings. It is this brushwork that made him so popular with the late 19th century painters. Like Velazquez he was studied as an inspiration by alla prima painters who sought to learn expressive powerful brushwork. Above is a painting called The Gypsy Girl. Hals had obviously been looking at Rembrandt before he did this and there is something Rembrandt like to both the paint handling and the subject matter.

Here is a close up of the cleavo-bodice area. Notice that strap where her jumper goes over her shoulder, that is mostly a stain on the canvas, it appears very thin. I am looking at the reproduction, I wish I had the real thing in front of me, but I don't, so I will do what I can from seeing the image on my screen.

The blouse is just the opposite, it is thickly painted, probably partly with a knife. The thinly stained passage and the thickly troweled blouse are juxtaposed, so that each calls attention to the other. There are a lot of very soft edges going on here too. Had he hardened them up the passage would not have worked as well. The soft blur makes the roughly painted passages seem more believable. His lack of detail is partly concealed by the out of focus look of the area. Notice also the play of warm and cool notes in the blouse. That gives a flickering vibration in much the same way that a later painter might with divisionist color.

Here is our gypsy girls head. Notice the edges on the left side of the jaw, and then compare them to the edges on the right side of the jaw. The contrast in edge delineation gives variety to the lines. The softened edges on the left side pushes the softly turning edges of her jaw back into space behind the more carefully delineated lips and nose, which are closer to the viewer and more important to the likeness. See how he has used square brushstrokes to build the bony structure about the eyes. Each plane in there is represented by a geometrically shaped stroke that expresses its unique shape. This was installed into the painting by Hals, not dumbly transcribed from cold observation.. He knew how the structure worked and explained it in a simplified exposition.

The Laughing Cavalier is another tour de force of brushwork. Below is a closeup of the collar and sash. Notice the handling in the sash. There is really nothing there, but it says sash when you look at it from a certain distance. That is part of why bravura handling is so entertaining, A kind of game is going on between the artist and the viewer. At one look it is just splotches and scrapes of paint and the next instant it is an utterly convincing sash. It is paint, it is a sash. Magic!

Below is a detail of the sleeve and what must be the pommel of his sword handle. Look at the rough way that and the cuff below it is painted. All of that detail in the embroidery on his sleeve is an amazing piece of work. I am guessing that did not go down in one shot, but had to be studied out in several overpaintings.

Monday, February 21, 2011

!00 artists a painter should know, vulgar Dutchmen edition

41) The Jolly Toper (or drinker) by Frans Hals 1584? 1666
Franz Hals was a portrait painter and lived in the Dutch city of Harlem. He was not terribly successful and worked restoring pictures as well as making them. He did a number of large group portraits and many commissions but may not have been highly paid for them as he was sued and had his property seized by a baker to whom he owed money.Forgotten after his death in poverty his popularity surged in the nineteenth century. Hals is valued for his flashy and expressive brushwork. Like Velazquez, Hals was an inspiration to many painters in the 19th century because of that free brushwork and the immediacy and natural look of his paintings.

42) Isabella Coymans (Franz Hals)
Franz gets two into the hall of fame. The brushwork that makes this ladies costume is as daring and fresh as anything ever painted. Sargent certainly studied this. Hals has also expressed the personality of his sitter well. She seems like a real person we might know and I can imagine something of her good nature. Hals like Velazquez used a lot of black, that always sets off colors well.

43) Leaving the Tavern by Jan Steen 1626-1679
Steen was from a relatively well off family whose family owned a tavern. he studied with Jan Van Goyen and married his daughter. I wanted to include one of these sorts of pictures. Many Dutch painters of this era painted bawdy drinking scenes. There are a few that even have knife fights and many with crude sexual advances made on indifferent drunken harlots. Sometimes the paintings were presented as cautionary moral tales, but I think that was usually a cover story. The Dutch were a wealthy society, rich from trade and appreciated a painting of the party life. Many Dutch painters owned taverns and Jan Steen did. I expect it provided cash flow when the art market was thin. Steen was however a successful and well known artist in his time.
These pictures were different from those that preceded them in that they were made for a merchant class rather than princes and popes, and they wanted pictures of their world, not biblical or mythological scenes.
Some images from

I am teaching a workshop at the end of next month in Rolling Fork, Missisippi. In the Misissippi Delta country. I love it down there, it is culturally as deep south as you can get. This is a five day workshop and it WILL be spring there. If you want to attend, here is the link:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A trip to Cornish, New Hampshire

Sorry to post a little late today. I get overbooked. Sometimes I just reach a point where I can't do anymore. But here I am rested and playing again.

I spent the last couple of days on Cape Cop for two openings associated with the Provincetown painting trip this Summer. The Cape Museum of art did a show of some of the work produced there and the Addison gallery in Orleans did a show of some of the rest of the art from the trip. I was in Cornish, New Hampshire some days ago, I can't remember which ones. Cornish is where Willard Metcalf worked a hundred years ago. We set up to paint about a mile from the house where he stayed. I don't think this is a Metcalf site, but I expect he knew it.

Here I am working on a 24 by 30. The snow was up to my thighs, so I had to wade out into it and tramp around in a circle until I had beat down an area large enough to set up my easel. This has been an epic year for snow painting.

Here is my friend T.M. Nicholas. We paint together a lot. He keeps me on my toes, what a great painter! I have known and painted with both he and his father for about twenty five years. I think it is really important to hang with other artists who will bring out the best in you. You will become more like the people you paint with, so keep an eye on that, because the inverse is also true.

Here is the piece I made. I seem to be showing you a lot of half finished pieces on the blog. But that may be useful too. Many of you are strictly one shot plein air painters and that is what this is, a one shot painting. I will work this up in the studio next. When I return to it and finish it in the studio I will try to remember to post a picture of it maybe I will do a step by step of that, might be useful.

But first I have a three other projects with tight deadlines in the studio. I am the guest artists for the Northwest Rendezvous in Montana this summer, but I have to have a piece to them for the catalogue, deadline NEXT WEEK! then I have a show in Charleston at the beginning of next month and a private commission I have been working on. Then I am going to teach a workshop in Mississippi.

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.

Lines on a Romney

Lady Hamilton courtesy

Quick post tonight. I painted all day up in the deep snow of Cornish New Hampshire, Willard Metcalf land, about a mile from the house where he routinely stayed a hundred years ago. Beautiful but exhausting.

Here are some lines drawn on our portrait. of Lady Ham. The lines have several qualities. They are almost all convex, that is, they are arched shapes, so as to contain the forms within them. They all also face inwards. They have a rhythmic relationship to one another. Rhythmic lines pick up and continue the movement contained in another line to which they relate. Look at the lines of the sleeve wrinkle and the two lines above and to it's right that form the open part of her blouse. They repeat one another in increasing arcs. They also wrap around the forms they describe. Then look at the lines forming the hair behind her, those lines are the opposite of the blouse lines. The lines of her hair rhythmically counterpoint the lines of the blouse and sleeve.

The rhythmic lines give the painting a lively major key feeling. Had the painting been full of angry slashing lines and sharp angles the painting would have given us a different feeling. The message of the painting is carried in the design of the lines that form it, besides in the subject matter. They work together and reinforce one another to describe how the artist feels about his subject. Or at least how he wants us to feel.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

About Lady Hamilton's values

Here's that nice Mrs. Hamilton again with her dog. I am going to deconstruct this picture a little more. Tonight I will talk about values. Values are the relationships of the light and darks in a painting. They are not it's color, they operate independently of color. Values show up in a black and white photo of a painting, color does not. Below is a version of the painting with the shadows darkened in Photoshop. This exaggerates the contrast in the values. Squinting at a painting does about the same thing. I squint at paintings a lot.

As you can see, the figure is set against a big dark shape which serves as a foil. Everything behind Lady Ham is in darkness, other than her hair which is simplified. There is no reason for the viewer to go back there, so all detail is suppressed. In the lower left hand corner is a little spiky yew tree. The lower left hand corner is darkened and the yew tree shape points you back up into the picture again. There's no reason for the viewer to hang out there either. However there is a light passage behind that tree. so there is a value contrast down in that area that helps the painting's balance. The eye is captured by contrasting areas, and moves unstopped through blank, dark or undetailed areas. Romney is always thinking about the emphasis created by contrast between his areas of light and shadow.

Here is another version dropped in value and presented in black and white (only values). I have numbered and drawn arrows to each of the lights. I came up with four although you could count five if you wanted by including the hair ribbon. Each of these light shapes is as different as can be from each of the other light shapes. This is important. Each one covers a different amount of area, has a different geometric shape. The great difference in shapes was carefully designed into the painting to make it interesting. A painting full of repeated shapes is visually uninteresting., The most interesting painting has the most varied shapes. Noticed how Romney made the dogs head an extension of the light shape of her breast tissue area. This makes an even more interesting shape here, and adding the mutt to the bottom of the larger shape reduces the number of shapes he has made in the light. These few shapes are arranged into a pattern with one another. It is a mistake to scatter little tiny repetitive shapes all over the canvas. It looks busy and chopped up, jerky.
Notice that the painting is not evenly divided between dark areas and light areas. Doing that makes a painting static. Either the darks or the lights should predominate. An unequal distribution is more artistic. If you look for this in paintings you will see this a lot. The lights are more commanding but the darks are larger. hence there is a balance of sorts. An artful balance of unequal parts. This can be done the opposite way to, A painting might be designed to have a large area(or areas) of light covering a larger portion of the canvas and a smaller grouping of darks that cover a smaller area of the canvas.

I believe I will return tomorrow and deconstruct our patient temptress a little more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A little more about Romney and why we should know him

I got this comment the other day and I think I will see if I can answer it.

Hi Stape,
Besides the entertaining history, education and terrific art, could you expound on why we should know Romney or what can we glean and apply from these great master paintings from the past. ie, the great contrast in values, placement of the objects.

I don't know that it is more important to know Romney than a lot of other artists, but they are wonderful paintings. Romney is the least well known of the the "R's" of British portrait painting
Reynolds, Romney and Raeburn. But all three were very good, Britain at that time valued portraits highly and had a lot of fine head painters. These three were the best.

I have expounded before why I think it is important to know your art history so I will keep it short. If you told me you were learning to play the guitar and I asked you"whaddya think about Chuck Berry?" and you said "who?" I would suspect you were not too serious about your playing. There is no art without artists and what they made. Just as you cannot know rock and roll without hearing the music. If you want to make good pictures you need to be familiar with what they look like. Knowing your art history builds your taste, and it gives you a library of ideas of how other artists have conquered the problems with which you yourself will be faced in your own work.

I picked out the Romney above to look a little more closely at tonight. On the most obvious level, and the least artistic, is the subject itself. Anyone without a smidgen of art knowledge can see that this is a very lovely girl and that the picture is an upbeat charming evocation of her probably done by a man who found her enchanting. She also has a cute dog with her, who doesn't like a cute little dog? Most people who look at a painting see only its subject, this is a horse, that's a pig and that's a house. They don't "get" the art part at all. They see WHAT it is a picture of, but miss HOW it is a picture of. However this is a very charming painting if seen only in the most obvious way.

Below is the painting again with some lines drawn on it.

I could point out a lot of things about this picture but I think tonight I will start with the expression of form. The artist has chosen a very complex and difficult angle to show the head. The head is facing slightly downward at a three quarter angle and tipped slightly to the right. That is pitch, roll and yaw. So Romney had to put the head into a drawing that uses perspective. We have all seen the drawings explaining how to draw a house in perspective, however many folks don't realize that perspective is everywhere and it is necessary to use it to draw a head or a figure. Miss the perspective and the head looks grotesque or at least uncomfortable in some indefinable way.Romney though, has very effectively built the structure of the head. I drew some construction lines on the picture to show how the forms of the head are laid onto the spherical and receding planes of the skull. Like so many things in painting, this had to be thought out and installed. It can't be "observed or copied into a painting. Form is a construct, a human explanation of how an object sits in three dimensional space. This head has volume.

The line that indicates the chin and jaw for instance is picked up and continues around to the back of the head by the line to it's right in the hair. The planes of the head are simplified but well presented and understood. The lines are construction lines that wrap around the head, they are lines drawn around a sphere.
Tomorrow I will go after another quality of this painting.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

!00 painters an artist should had oughta know

38) The Hay Wain by John Constable 1776-1837
I have written so much about Constable already but I felt I should get him into my list. The son of a successful mill owner Constable, rose to be England's greatest landscape painter. He was not particularly successful in his own lifetime and sold more art in France than in England. Constable mostly painted a short stretch of the river Stour on whose banks he had played as a child.
Constables best known pieces were often huge. Although their measurements actually varied, they are known a the"six footers". His full size "sketches" for these are often shown today and appreciated for their velocity of handling.

39) The White Horse, John Constable
Along the same stretch of the Stour, a horse whose job it was to pull the barges upstream, rides back on the barge itself. Constable was important because he was among the first landscape painters to stress working from nature. Although for him this was largely in the from of drawings he also did painted studies from nature as well. Before this time landscape was painted in a more idealized fashion. Claude Lorain would be an example of that.
Constable influenced nearly every landscape painter who has followed him. The French were particularly influenced by his color and occasionally divisionist brushstroke. Delacroix was intensely interested in Constable.

40) The Plaza San Marco (watercolor) by Richard Parkes Bonington 1802-1828

I am tailoring this list somewhat towards landscape painting and the presence of Bonington here is a symptom of that. He is not as well known as some of the great masters I have included, but from a landscapists perspective he is important. Notice his dates.He lived only to age twenty five
The son of a lacemaker he was English but lived as a young man in France where he met Delacroix. He studied at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts.
Bonington had a fabulous talent and painted a lot of watercolors. He was an influence on a lot of painters even into the twentieth century. One of my favorite painters Edward Seago studied Bonington extensively. Below is another example.

illustrations from

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Squaring up"

I mentioned "squaring up a painting to a student recently and they didn't know what I meant. Here is what that is.

Above is a sketch I did for a larger painting that I am working on. The painted sketch is on a panel 14" by 24" and I am squaring it up to 22" by 36" ( Yes, I know the larger is of an inch off, but I wanted an even number measurement in the large stretchers, They may make 21" stretchers but I had the 22" in inventory.). Painters have been using this method since at least the renaissance and probably longer. In the days of apprenticed labor, this would have been done for me by a studio boy.

I let the sketch dry, since I used Liquin that happened pretty quickly. Then I marked off 3" squares starting in the upper left hand corner of the sketch using a soft black pencil. Then I numbered the leftmost vertical squares and lettered the uppermost horizontal hand squares. That way I can find coordinates just like on a map or a game of battleship.

I stretched the larger canvas and put 3 1/2" squares on that, again starting in the upper left hand corner so that the two canvasses would be identical, but bearing different sized squares. Using the larger squares increased the size of the picture by 1 and 1/2" but if I had made the squares on the larger canvas 6" inches across I would have doubled it's size.

Tomorrow I will lay draw the painting onto the canvas using burnt sienna. I can look at my sketch and see for instance what goes on in square C6. This sounds pretty time consuming but actually it goes very quickly. If I skip this step when enlarging paintings I always regret it. I end up installing problems in the larger one that have to be dealt with later, at a cost in time.

I will probably alter the sketch as I refine it on the larger canvas, but my preparatory work should keep me from getting too lost.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

About Lady Hamilton

The lady that Romney painted some sixty pictures of had a very interesting history. I hate to just shuffle by her without writing about that. All of the illustrations are of Romny's pictures of her.

Born Amy Hart the daughter of a blacksmith, she worked as a nursemaid until she was about sixteen and then found employment in a brothel. Her second job was working for an institution called the Temple of Health and Hymen, run by an alternative healer who had a special bed ( called the great celestial state bed) through which a mild electric current was run. Couples paid a fee to couple on this bed and evidently this allowed them to produce perfect children. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

The attractive young Amy was hired to entertain at a long running party by one Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh where she evidently danced naked on a table. One of the friends of Sir Harry , Charles Greville was so impressed with her terpsichorean skills that he hired Romney to do a series of paintings of her. When Greville grew tired of her and under pressure from a woman he wanted to marry, he sent her off to Sir William Hamilton, an older cat, who was the British envoy to Naples. She assumed she was being sent on holiday but gradually became aware that she had been sent to entertain Mr Hamilton in much the same way that she had the nice misters Greville and Featherstonehaugh.

Oddly enough sixty two year old Mr. Hamilton turned out to be a pretty good fellow, and smitten with ms. Amy, they returned to England and he married her, making her Lady Hamilton. She was by this time using the name Emma Hart. Emma developed a number of skills as an entertainer, she developed a set of what she called attitudes, where she would pose silently as various classical heroines, and she was an excellent singer. She became very famous. Emma also became close to Queen Caroline of Naples and advised hers as a personal friend. Carolina's sister Antoinette, in the French court, had experienced some unpleasantness at the hands of the revolutionary mob and Caroline hoped to avoid the same treatment at the hands of her own subjects. Now the story gets weirder still.

Lady Hamilton was introduced to the victorious Lord Nelson, Britain's greatest naval hero. She threw a little party for him with some 1,800 guests. The two fell in love and became lovers, something the patient Mr. Hamilton evidently tolerated and encouraged. Nelson was married of course. They lived together openly and were a scandal throughout England and probably it's two most famous people. Emma was a trendsetter in fashion and just about everything else.

Nelson returned to sea for the Napoleonic wars and Mr. Hamilton died leaving her free to marry Nelson should he find a way to obtain a divorce. At the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson was killed, leaving a distraught Emma to mourn and grow morbidly obese.
Emma was given the house that she and Nelson had occupied. Although Nelson had asked the state for support for her, it never happened. Soon her lavish spending on the home bankrupted Emma and she was threatened with debtors prison. Her looks and figure gone, she found it impossible to secure another noble protector and Emma escaped to France where she was willing to take a drink under social pressure and died of amoebic dysentery, penniless and forgotten in 1815.