Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Some questions and answers.

Here I am working in the restored village of Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Its my blog, I can put my picture in it if I want to. Besides, some of you may be wondering if I look like a junk yard dog or not.

When I opened the comments page tonight there were six posts, each with an excellent question. I think I will answer those questions in the post tonight as I hope to make their answers useful to the larger audience of this blog.

I was also asked if we were aware of what was going on at the official art schools, and how we felt about the popularity of gesture drawing. I am a little embarrassed to say we were pretty contemptuous of the art schools of that day, but we had all fled them to the atelier, and those schools we had left behind were pretty bad.


I think we would have been wise to do some more short poses, if not "gesture drawings", but not at the expense of the longer poses. I have always enjoyed twenty minute poses when I am working in pencil.

I was asked if I look back on those times fondly, I do not. It was a time of endless labor and not enough to eat. I had no contact with anyone outside the studios, so I was deprived of the company of women which I have always enjoyed. It was a monkish sort of existence. I guess it is like asking someone if they miss boot camp. They are glad they did it, and wouldn't give up what they learned there, but wouldn't want to go back either. After a year or so in the studio's I was really tired of the shower trail, and not having a kitchen or a bathroom, or "real electricity", decent heat, and clean floors.

Another question was whether there were any women artists in the atelier. There were not. Ives didn't want to teach women. He was a bit of a misogynist. He put so much work into a student, I think he was afraid that a woman would leave the profession to have a family at exactly the most critical years in her artistic development. To Ives credit though, after my time there, he changed his mind. I think it remarkable that a man his age and from the Edwardian era still could radically revise his attitudes, but he could. I think the rise of feminism provided him with a new kind of female student and he recognized that when he saw it. A woman named Susan Stokes, a former fashion model from the Carnaby street era in England convince him to allow her to study under him.

Another reader asked : Gammell seemed pretty committed to developing imaginative/narrative paintings in his own oeuvre...did he ever have you guys do inventive composition exercises or memory drawing?
I didn't do much designing of imaginative and narrative paintings because I was so involved in learning the basics below that level. I did some of that on my own but I don't think I showed them to Ives. He would have said I was getting ahead of myself. I remember some other students doing some of that . We did do memory drawing. Ives was interested in Lecoq de Boisboudran who was a 19th century writer on the training of the visual memory. There was a period of time where I did that as a regular discipline. I guess I should do a post on memory drawing.

I was asked to do a post on going from student to professional and I will get to that as my autobiographical posts continue. I am spacing them pretty far apart as I don't intend to make this blog about me. It is a tutorial , and I want to stay mostly on that track. The personal history does have an instructive value in that it gives a picture of how I got here , things and people I have seen along the way and so that you will know who it is you are reading .The transition to professional is a chapter or two out, but I think you will find it interesting if not harrowing.

I was asked what Gammell thought of Dean Cornwell the American illustrator. I remember him speaking warmly about Rockwell and I am sure he knew who Cornwell was, but I didn't. The early drawings he showed me when we first met had the look of Howard Pyle to them. I have said this repeatedly, but it is instructive to remember that there were no books on any of the artists of the 19th and early 20th century who were not part of the modern camp. Even Sargent was reviled and ignored until the Ormond book came out in the mid 70's there wasn't even a book in print on him. We spent our time looking at old prints of French academic painting and looked at a lot more old master art

Another reader asked , do you find sight size valuable enough for amateurs to learn? I have done it a little, but it is hard for me to see how it applies to painting outdoors. It seems to me like relative measuring is usually good enough.

I do think that sight size is a good thing to know how to do, all knowledge is useful at one time or another. It is most useful in a master pupil; situation where the teacher is making corrections that can be readily pointed out and justified. It is also useful for painting portraits. I will do a post on how to set up a still life in sight size soon. There is a danger for the landscape painter in working sight size, in my opinion. It encourages the selection and copying of a "window" selected from nature rather than a design using the landscape in front of you as a opportunity to select and arrange your design.

I was also asked if we talked about the value of doing the "grueling" sight size training, I don't remember any of that, in the studios. As I became more of a landscape painter I came to question its value outside, and then became uncomfortable with it in general. It is a wonderful teaching method but I think it carries some danger of the aritst falling into purely visual draftsmanship. I discussed that here.

One of you asked if I had any of my old figure drawings to show. I have nothing from the Ives Gammell era. I worked so hard during that time, but I have moved repeatedly and it has long ago been lost or destroyed.
I have been invited recently to join a group of artists drawing figures up in Manchester and if I do , I might show you what comes from that. As I am a professional landscape painter, I feel like I should show what I do best .

One of you e mailed me and asked me what I do about health insurance, They are on their wife's policy now as she is employed .That is often how artists are able to deal with that problem. I do carry health insurance. As I have a family I must. It costs a fortune and I have a high deductible. This is one of the things that crushes small businesses. But you must have health insurance. After my mortgage health insurance is my greatest expense.

I have been speaking with some people who would like me to do a workshop later this summer over in Western New Hampshire. If you have an interest in being a part of that, e mail me and let me know. stapletonkearns@gmail.com

I think I will start the great reader critique either tomorrow or the next day.


Ramon said...

Wow, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! These posts are fascinating!

I don't want to get too far into it, but the discussion regarding sight size is also interesting for me, since I just started my training 2 years ago, under teachers from a very different point of view.

We're basically learning a kind of tactile draftsmanship that is primarily concerned with volume, gesture and anatomy, and tone as it helps to clarify the form. We're also instructed to feel every change of direction on the model, and we're expected to know what causes each bump or hollow. To grossly oversimplify, the aim is to draw like Michelangelo or Raphael, not like say...a 19th century academic draftsman doing a primarily tonal drawing

However, as you mentioned, I feel like it's impossible to know too much, and I've been studying a more visual kind of draftsmanship in varying capacities on my own. I see these skills as different tools, on day I might need a hammer, the next a screwdriver'll do the trick.

Anyway, I appreciate your level-headed approach to the issue of training, it's refreshing to read something so free of dogma.



Stapleton Kearns said...


I have been to your blog


and seen the drawings you are doing. They are excellent. Whoever is teaching you is doing a great job. I truly wish I could go to school next to you for a semester.I think it is Will? I have worked at learning the same things from Bridgeman and Hale,and Vanderpoel but always on my own. My training was so geared towards the visual draftsmanship method and I have always wished I had more of the kind of training you are doing.
There are periods in my life when I have been able to draw lots of figures. But now the pressure to support my family is so great that I never feel I can take any time off to do it.
Its funny to hear someone say I am not dogmatic, that's a new phenomenon.My rejection of the modern always got me labeled as that by the people who believed that only modern had any value.

Ramon said...

Thanks for the kind words Stape, I really appreciate it. My two main teachers have been Glenn Vilppu (he was 71 when I started!) and Will Weston.



I have to say I feel incredibly fortunate to have found such great teachers, especially since very few people teach this kind of drawing. The interesting part is that our lineage goes back to Gerome too, through Bridgman (who taught Glenn's teacher)....yet the approach is different from that of the ateliers. Also cool is that Will's ideas regarding landscape, and design for picture-making are very similar to your own.

In the fall I hope to also begin studying painting under Adrian Gottlieb, to get part of the visual point of view as well.


Regarding dogma, well, that's the irony of the modernist program isn't it? I look forward to your next post!


Unknown said...

Stape, thanks for answering some of those questions. Maybe I will practice sight size on some still-life's to better train my eye. I have a book on sight-size, but my last attempts weren't so good.

Painting from the imagination seems a great way to simplify and capture mood. I just read about it in Carlson's book, and I know that guys like Constable and Seago did it too. I know that I shouldn't do it yet (getting ahead of myself), but I wonder, does a professional like you find use for it? You seem adept at simplifying what is in front of you. I am assuming that starts outdoors but continues as you finish it in the studio?

Unknown said...

After reading all this, and checking out Ramon's blog (FANTASTIC! Ramon!) I feel like such a kindergartener. It is depressing and frustrating and inspiring all at the same time.
I am learning, though, Stape, and again, very much appreciate the
instruction and information that you so generously share in these blogs.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I often will start a studio version of a painting I have done outside from memory. It simplifies things and frees me up o design more. The whole last chapter of Carlson address working from memory.I was told once by Tom Nicholas N.A. that was the most important chapter in the book.

I am always trying to simplify things both outside and in the studio. I feel that outside, nature is unpaintable without simplification. There is just too much going on and most of it is unneeded.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, We are all kindergartners next to a Rubens, a Constable or a Metcalf, Inness or Bouguereau. That never goes away.

jeff said...

Thanks for your honesty and candor Stap, it's refreshing.