Friday, April 24, 2009

Endless information on edges, pt. 3, continued

© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery

Above is an example of a painting by another great landscape painter, Edward Seago. 1910-1974 I apologize for having cropped the right hand side of the picture slightly, although for our purposes here it shouldn't matter too much.As I am sure you have noticed I champion a lot of lesser known 20th century artists. I have every book on him I can find. They are all British and till now, out of print.

Seago used to be absolutely unknown in America but that is evidently changing. He was very well known in England, and was collected by the royal family. Seago sold out shows routinely. Although he was very successful financially, Seago was ignored or dismissed by the art press of his day. Perhaps a little like Norman Rockwell, he was thought of as lowbrow, I guess. Time has raised our brows some. He lived and worked at the low ebb of traditional painting. I will tell you the story of his somewhat tragic life tomorrow.

There are now two available books on Seago,
Both are full of excellent color reproductions.

Edward Seago by Ron Ranson (Paperback - Jan 28, 2002)
Buy new: $29.74
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Other Editions: Hardcover

Edward Seago: The Vintage Years by Ron Ranson (Paperback - Aug 28, 2003)
15 Used & new from $24.70
Other Editions: Hardcover

They may be had through Amazon .I wouldn't be surprised if studying these books radically changed how you approach landscape painting. Ron Ransom is himself a painter and has spent many years studying Seago, so his notes on the paintings are useful in contrast to so many art books with good plates and dim commentary.

Seago was a master of handling and edges, and design, he could do it all. However I will begin by talking about his edges, because that is the subject at hand, isn't it? Lets look at this detail of the piece.

Seago has done something I briefly mentioned a post or so back. You see it done with the branches of trees, by a lot of landscape painters but Seago uses it all over his paintings. That is the dragged paint application you see in the branches on the right hand side of this detail. Now this painting is 22 by 36 so what you are seeing is pretty big, so Seago is a loose painter. Real brushy too.

Look closely at the branches there and notice something else. They are dragged over a texture already existing on the canvas. That texture is not part of the brushwork or impasto of the day that Seago painted that branch over it. He has pre-textured the canvas. In a future post I will describe several ways of doing that. What this does for Seago is it gives him a way to soften or obliterate his edges and he uses it everywhere. It is one of the "secrets" of his technique.

If you click on the top image you will get a larger view of the painting and can see this crumbled brush stroke is all over the painting. So long as he kept out of his medium, this edge was automatically "softened". He had to thin his paint to get a hard edge such as that on the houses in the middle of the painting. Notice how the bright one with its gable end facing us, is layed in with a knife. Crisp.

The whole foreground is just big overlapping brushstrokes of different colors but the same value. That also gives edge control. He throws in a couple of accents and the viewer does the rest. You can almost watch this picture painting itself.
Tomorrow I will dissect this painting some more, particularly how the various means of controlling edges have aided Seago in controlling the viewers eye.


Bob Carter said...

This is the best exposition on edges I have seen anywhere. This topic is often mentioned in passing (usually little more than an admonition to watch edges), but this is the most explicit explanation of why one should care about controlling edges. Great post, as always.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Thank you,
But wait! There's more!(Several days more).I am trying to take and each subject I approach, and break it down completely. Someone wrote me that said I was going deep, I like that phrase. The hard part is that I end up presenting both the basics and the grad school info to a group of people who are themselves spread out across the ability scale.

Controlling edges is a very important part of painting.You can tell a whole lot about a painter at a glance by looking at their handling of edges.

Mike Thompson said...


Edges are the bane of my existence. Please keep talking about them. I once observed that everyone talks about edges but almost no one says what you need to know to actually do them. There must be an unwritten code among the priestly class of art magazine writers to keep this particular incantation a secret.

I picked up one of the Rockwell books at the Rockwell Museum on my way home last year and there is a picture of Norman sweeping one of his canvases with a broom to texture it before he painted it. Apparently he put some sort of base material down and swept it and let it dry. Since I didn't read about this until I got home, I failed to look for it in the paintings hanging on the walls at the museum.

Unknown said...

Amazing. I am glad you bring to light lesser known partists. This guy is a treasure. His edges are wonderful - think I will pick up one of those books and study them in depth. I would have never thought that texturing a canvas would help with edges. I would have guessed it would only help with texture.

I am looking forward to the rest of your edge postings. I would buy a book too if you wrote one. This blog is a wonderful preliminary.

JAMES A. COOK said...

I have already ordered those books on seago. I have never studied so much as I have been with your blog. Edges are tough for me to know when I should put them down. I know they are important, I have been reading books on them but nobody has explained it the way you do. I am getting it stape, keep it comming , go deeper.
Thank you for your commitment and passion to this blog. You help so many people. God Bless You.


Stapleton Kearns said...


I would guess, and I am only guessing that it would be onr of several things under that broom

Either sani- flat which was a white paint that the old guys liked to use as a primer. now unavailable. I believe it was lead of course.

White lead oil paint. or

A mixture of white lead oil paint and real gesso which believe it or no,t can be mixed and used together. This is in fact how Seago textured his canvas. I will describe that to you soon.

Art magazine writers often don't know what the hell they are talking about. They know the right noises to make but haven't used the information on a continual day to day basis. The "how to"
art magazines make me furious, I can't let them in the house. I stomp around and mutter until my wife gets impatient with me.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Thank you.

I have a few more up my sleeve. But none are as cool as Seago.....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you there are some strange things about doing this,one is that I can't see peoples faces or their body language ao I don't have any idea if I am overemphasizing things or if I haven't fully explained them. I f I writ e something that leaves you scratching your head let me know. I will try to say it in a different way..... Stape

willek said...

Hi, Stape. There was, at the Painting Summer exhibet at the Peabody Essex Museum a year or two ago, the Rockwell of the family going to and from vacation.
It was oil on canvas. The great job he did on the side of the auto caused me to take a closer look. I was amazed that it was just some cool color scumbled over the warm toned canvas (Maybe Linen)that was still very obvious underneath. I was awed by his choice of that usually considered rough technique to give the effect of smooth, cold rolled enameled, steel. Have you seen similar passages? I've got to get out to stockbridge, I guess. WillEK

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Amazingly, my library has 4 books on this guy.
I will get them as soon as I pay my library fines down enough to be allowed to check them out.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I too am a library criminal. If they have four books on Seago they have got as many as they could have, There are more but they are illustrated by Seago or are of less interest I think. There is a lot out of print on Seago

Stapleton Kearns said...


Pull out your Rembrandt book and you will see the same thing.Norman is still underrated. In a generation he will really come into his own in terms of reputation I thjink. Like Hogarth we will stop calling him an illustrator and just go on what the paintings actually look like.

Gia aka Miato! said...

Reading the comments I couldn't avoid noting that Rockwell appeared as discussion topic. And I agree with you: Rockwell is a master painter and an illustrator, but the latter just because his paintings were for those kind of purposes. He uses a lot of really advance techniques, and has a deep grasp of several (if not almost every) key priciples of painting. So, I believe he should be equiparated to other great contemporary artists. I actually despise the way a big portion art world dismisses illustration like it was a bastard child, worthless, just because you get commisioned to paint something for a specfic subject o purpose. Then all those commision paintings done by fine artists are illustrations isn't it?, and thus their absurd point is proved as biased. And I believe those are the same people that dismissed Bouguereau, Sargent and all of those great british victorian painters.

Well, I guess I've talked too much. I really Like this blog, it's really helpful for my self-education process.