Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Juxtaposing different values and counterchange

© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery www.portlandgallery.com

Here's the first Seago I showed you again. I want to point out to you a design tool that Seago is using in this painting, juxtaposing different values. It is the practice of deliberately relieving objects on top of dark ones and and dark shapes on top of bright ones. This gives a "snap" and visual excitement to the piece. Look at this detail;

Sometimes an artist wil modify the value os an object so that it is light as it passes infront of a dark object and light as it passes in front of a dark object. This is called counterchange. It is a means of juxtaposing your values. See how Seago has arranged this passage so that the trunk of the important tree sits in front of the dark grouping of trees behind it. That makes it jump. A little further up the trunk is dark and the landscape is now light behind it. Then several of the branches above that are counterchanged against where the trunk itself becomes dark.

Here is that little grouping of houses out to the right of the trees, look how they are juxtaposed against the dark copse of trees behind them.Then there is a dark in front of them. Below is another Seago that is full of the same techniques.

© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery www.portlandgallery.com

Every shape in this painting is silhouetted against its opposite value. But notice another thing, if you squint at this painting, there is really just one big light, which cover 3/4 of the painting. The darks are arranged in a decorative pattern over that large light. It is almost like one of those cut out black paper silhouette portraits, of which our colonial ancestors were so fond. Here is a detail from the center of this painting.

The trunk is counterchanged it is light against the darks behind it, but as it rises into the sky it becomes light against the sky.Seago is using stacked lights and darks or value juxtaposition in the picture in many places. For instance the branches on the left side of the tree are dark against the bright sky, while those on the right side of the trunk are light against the darks behind them. The front wall of the house is bright, behind it the roof is dark and the sky behind that is light again.

Now I know you are still spinning from the confrontation with these new ideas, counterchange and stacking or juxtaposing values.. These are important because they have an enormous implication about the artistic thought process.


That is an absolutely huge idea. Now think about that, even his values are subject to the machinery of design. All of the effort you put in as a student to learn to record values accurately, while essential and useful, is only the default way of doing things. Values are, like any other element in painting, just another tool for the designer.

Now that is one of the things that thrills me most about landscape painting. I don't mean to say that portrait painters or figure painters don't have these opportunities, but landscape painters do have the leeway to do more of these things because of the nature of the genre.

Pity the tyro landscape painter, fresh from still life class or naively clutching a promising photograph who tries to compete with a designer who will ruthlessly use his values just as he pleases, rather than respecting the capricious arrangements of styleless nature.

If you don't learn how to arrange the landscapes values yourself, that man will eat your lunch, every, single, goddamn, day.

Seago images: Edward Seago the landscape art by James W. Reid published by Sothebys 1991

I am going to do another critique of a readers image, so please send me an image of something you have made, I will probably choose a landscape, but not necessarily, lets see what you've got. You can send it to me at stapletonkearns@gmail.com. I will photoshop your signature off of the piece and I will tell no one whose work I am critiquing.


JAMES A. COOK said...

Another great insight to landscape painting, COUNTERCHANGE. A great design tool along with the use of value change. Makes perfect sence.
I had to read the paragraph beginning with " pitty the tyro landscape painter" a few times before I got it. Your comand of language reminds me of CARLSON and that is a complement.
Thanks again STAPE.


a Nantucket blog. said...


Unknown said...

Every time you show a new Seago painting I am blown away. I'm glad that book's in the mail.

By the way, I went back and read your past reader submitted critique and learned a ton. I am looking forward to the upcoming one.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Short reply tonight. I have a computer problem. It is overheating and shutting down.I hope it stays together enough for me to get the post out

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you Nantucket.
Check out the Century House link on my sidebar. Its where the artists stay. You should too.They have a LOT of art on the walls of the inn. It is the oldest operating inn on Nantucket.
Old friends of mine.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are several of those critiques back there. It has been a regular feature of this blog. There is a sort of revolving plan to the subject matter.
I think you will really enjoy that Seago book. He is a really unique and inspirational artist. There are a lot of ideas going on in his work.