Saturday, April 4, 2009

John Carlson, Cheerleaders and Downloaders

Above is a new painting, another one of the starts from the Charleston trip ready to go to the Ella Walton Richardson Gallery there. This was painted with several earth colors and Prussian blue. No cadmiums, ultramarine, cobalt, alizirin or viridian. The last painting I posted was so dreadful I am hoping this will help me redeem myself somewhat.

This is the landscape painters bible, and has been reprinted over and over. The edition currently available is from Dover and can be had from for an extremely reasonable price. If you are painting landscapes and you don't have this book, you need it. If I could only recommend one book on learning to paint landscapes this would be it. I put alink to it at the bottom of the page.

John Carlson 1875-1947 was a legendary painting teacher associated with the Woodstock School of Art in Woodstock, New York.

I have this theory;


John Carlsons' book is so good because he was an excellent painter. Sometimes I look through the art sections of the local mega-bookstore and I see many yards of shelves that are laden with "how to" art books. When I pick them up I am usually disappointed because they are written by light weight painters, and often they are aimed at people who are only interested in the most general information and a soothing manner.These books never really confront their readers with the vast amount of arcane information it takes to paint even passably well . ( I am however willing to do just that, please stick around and I will, gleefully .)

Carlsons book touches at least briefly, on nearly every important concept in landscape painting. This is a book that must be studied, line by line sometimes. I have read it many times and every time I do, I see something new in it that I missed before. I have recommended this book many times and have had students come back to me saying they found it "too hard" to understand. This book does have to be studied, but it will reward the painter who does. The book tackles difficult ideas and explains them carefully, but they are difficult ideas just the same.

Above is an example of one of Carlsons paintings. Here area few of the chapters' titles to give you an idea of this books depth and scope.

The mechanics of painting

Angles and consequent values

Design, a pattern of differing values



The extraordinary and the bizarre

Linear perspective

Aerial perspective

As you can see this is serious stuff. There are so many books out there with titles incorporating the phrase "Free and Easy" . The last thing painting has been in my experience, is easy. I have however lived a life of exceptional freedom, but I am guessing that's not what they mean.

I have identified several different kinds of teachers. There are the cheerleaders and the downloaders. I am obviously the latter. Cheerleaders get you up and feeling good, they get you out of your lethargy. They will tell you your art is great. The best of them mean it too. There is an enormous market for such teachers and for many folks they are just fine.Cheerleaders don't need to be fine painters, and they don't need to impart much knowledge. They do need some other qualities, they need to be kind, nurturing and loving.
Those qualities aren't a dime a dozen either, I am not denigrating the cheerleaders, for the overwhelming number of students this sort of teacher is best. And I sure can't do it.

The downloaders are a far smaller group. They" download" lots of information because they value it, have it and think their students need to know it. They value this information for its utility and not the ease with which it can be learned. Downloaders are best for serious students. They produce pretty much all of the really capable painters and the most driven students seek them out. That's why when I meet a professional painter, they were usually, but not always, trained by one of a handful of teachers in a small number of ateliers or institutions. The names of those teachers and places keep cropping up in the resumes of successful painters.

Downloaders are often quirky or difficult and idiosyncratic. Many are legendary for their thornyness, my own teacher Gammell comes to mind. ( I am actually wicked nice by the way.) If you need some one to inspire you to work at your art, the downloader type is not for you. They take it as a given that you are working at your art. They usually teach fewer students, more things, and have art careers of their own to attend to, so they a will limit their teaching to the motivated .

John Carlson was a downloader and you will have to work, to take on what he is teaching. Now you could find, I suppose all of the information in bits and pieces and stated in other ways in other places. But it would be lots of other places. You might also need to have discussions with a number of artists now long dead. This is hard won information from the generations already in their graves given to us breathers. Did you imagine it would be like reading an Archie and Jughead comic?

Tomorrow I will be soothing and reassuring, maybe I can find one of those baby animal pictures that Linda likes so much.......Stape


Bob Carter said...

Carlson's book is, indeed, the bible. (One of these days I'll replace my dog-eared copy with a new one.) Gruppe's three books are also must reading, particularly Brushstrokes and Color, if you can find them. From all accounts, Gruppe could be brutally blunt, but serious painters sought him out in droves. He was definitely a downloader. Of living artists, Don Stone (also a downloader) is one of the last of that crowd. Taking a workshop with him is like channelling the old Gloucester painters.
Great post, as always.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanx Bob,

I intend to do a post on the Gruppe books.I know where a reprinted copy of one of the long out of print volumes may be found. I guess now that you have brought it up I should do it soon....Stape

willek said...

Hi, Stape. I found your comments on your terrific new painting to be interesting. I have been trying limited pallets lately. Can I guess what your pallet might have been?

Could it be white, Yellow Ochre, Red Earth, Prussian Blue, Black ?? Was it this limited? Willek

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanx Willlek;

That's about it. The thing is that it is a limited EARTH COLOR palette. There are a lot of folks out there using limited chromatic palettes. It was as I remember White Golden ocher, Prussian blue, ivory black,burnt sienna and Indian red.
If you go to the sidebar and click on my paintings and then scroll back to Jan 23 my palette 2 there is a painting done with the same palette. I have been using it more and more lately.I think I will direct a post at why tonight....Stape

Richard J. Luschek II said...

I agree, going to college for painting for me was a miserable experience artistically. Not a single downloader in the bunch.

That said, I see a lot of painters that put in their reading list The 'Art Spirit' by Robert Henri. I tried to read that book, but I was just puzzled. It reminded me of the act going to a high school pep rally for what ever sports team was about to lose, and I hated going to those. Complete waste of time.

I am being a bit harsh (plus I don't care for much of Henri's work either), as some folks need that warm hug like view of art making, but I would rather have the hard slap across the face from a skilled painter who looks at my work and says, "this is a terrible painting, and here is why.
Oh, and that outfit makes you look fat."

Now that is something I can use to not only get better in my work and to look better doing it. I should probably lose some weight too. For that I could use a cheerleader.