Sunday, July 26, 2009

Some things Waugh said

Fredrick Waugh

I am illustrating tonights post with paintings by Fredrick Waugh. 1861 194o. Known almost entirely as a seascape painter and probably the best, Waugh was the son of a Philadelphia portrait painter. His later years were spent in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He was a prolific artist and quite successful. His paintings were made in the studio using sketches done outside and drawing on his long experience observing the sea.

In 191o Waughs thoughts on painting were published in a magazine called Palette and Bench. Here are a few of the things he said.
  • simplify, simplify, simplify as much as possible without losing the essential of what is sought
  • look for the big things, art doesn't begin and end in detail. It rather begins in breadth and ends in more breadth, in what you can do without.
  • I have always held that with a few exceptions, no two spaces in a picture should be of the same area or shape.
  • I find that my most striking pictures of the sea are those strong in contrasts, the shadows as dark as I can get them and everything in between of the proper value all the way up to the highest light I select to use. Walking back to judge the work at a distance preserves its carrying quality and force.I walk back all day long. The carrying quality is given by the accents one puts on the shadows, halftones and highlights. This means full rich painting in proper values.
  • A sense of mystery is often conveyed by certain passages which lack obviousness because left unfinished.

Such things call attention to other passages which are of more import. Make these last your climaxes.

There is a fine Waugh called the Roaring Forties that is 48 x 6o and was in the study rooms of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have been remodeling that for years now. I believe they are beginning to reopen it. I hope they will soon return this Waugh to view as it is spectacular.

I want to touch on a quick handful of other items tonight. First, several readers were concerned that my statement that I saw no design in nature meant that I was disavowing the idea of God as creator. I had not meant to give that impression. It is often hard to write exactly what you mean, no more, and no less and I inadvertently gave an impression that I meant something I did not. What I meant was, that from our perspective as artists, nature is random, and we cannot observe design into a painting, but must install it ourselves. As I wrote that I thought about saying something about intelligent design because I was expecting a question in the comments on that, but I decided I would not take the blog into the province of religion.You can all put down your nautilus shells and relax. I am my self Christian and in no way meant to wade into a discussion on intelligent design. The purpose of this blog is to discuss painting. I have avoided religion and politics, and intend to continue with that. There are many fine blogs on both, written by people who are expert on those subjects. I am only expert on one subject, and that is landscape painting. Forgive me if I gave the wrong impression, which it seems obvious in retrospect I have. Mea culpa.

The sun finally came out today. I set up my big Gloucester easel in the middle of my mother in laws sprawling garden. So I had to stretch a 24 x 3o, one of my favorite sizes. I have become disenchanted with linen. Repeatedly I have returned to a gallery to pick up unsold paintings, and found a painting buckled and hanging loosely on its stretchers. No wonder it didnt sell! Incidentsally no dealer will restretch a painting for you, they will just show it loose or worse put it in a closet, I have closets at home!

I have never had that problem with cotton. I have tried a number of canvasses in the last few years. You will generally hear that pros should always work on linen as it is more archival, and that may be so. But I don't think all of that coming and going of the canvas can be good for a the paint either. Sources I researched seemed to indicate that a top quality cotton canvas was acceptable and I have myself handled many Rocport school paintings now nearly a hundred years old which are on cotton that seemed to be fine. Restores reline, that is, they put new canvas on the back of old paintings routinely. If a hundred years from now my paintings are worth relining, they can do it.
I have never found any cotton canvas that has the silky feel under the brush of Claussens type 12 but I have again returned to using what I think is a very good cotton canvas. It is made by Fredricks and is called Scarlett OHara. It is an OIL PRIMED COTTON, so far as I know it is the only one made. I like an oil priming much better than an acrylic. So after a lot of experimentation I believe that will be my standard canvas for now. the big mail order firms like Jerrys sell it.

I will soon start the next reader critique so if you have a painting for that please email it to me at


Unknown said...

I am actually enjoying the Red Lion Polyflax that you recommended a long while back. For a amateur who needs practice, it seems to be a nice and inexpensive surface.

By the way, Malcom Liepke seems a lot like Milt Kobayashi to me, perhaps a little more pleasing.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I decided the surface on the red lion too hard. I did use up the roll. The Scarlett O'Hara is an old favorite.
Milt, what kind of parent names their son after fish sperm.
Malcolm and Milt worked together for years., Malcolm is the original of the two I THINK.

Rae O'Shea said...

The Waugh at the Met was gone the last time I was there and the docent said it was in storage. I offered to store it for them but they declined. I miss seeing it. I wish I could find a book with all his seascapes-are you aware of any book with his work in it?

Gregory Becker said...

I love these paintings. I want to paint that well.
I have a question...
When working pleine aire, what kind of value range is the most useful to capture a good sense of light.
I try to use 4 out of 10 values. I use 1-4-7-10. 1 being the lightest and 10 being the darkest.
I judge a value by determining wether it is a 4 or a 7 etc... If it is a value between these I assign it to the one it is closest to. Once I get that I can modulate the values to create a sense of light and dark.
Do you think that is a good way to simplify to capture light or is there a better way?

Robert J. Simone said...

Stapleton, Thanks for posting the Waugh's. We have one here at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts (Florida). It is very understated by comparison. Backlit waves with pure ultramarine accents in the shadows and cool pinks in the lights. Crude drawing by his standards. Still it is beautiful.

By the way, I am serious about my faith and I did NOT take your comments on design as a slight towards God. Nature is nature and painting is painting, so naturally their design premises are not the same. Randomness is central to the design of nature but not painting (unless you are Pollack). I think God endowed nature with randomness so that artists would have to work at making pictures. If everything was handed over where would the "fine art" in painting be? The more I observe and paint the more I become aware of how much smarter God is than me.

armandcabrera said...


Great post. Those first three Waugh's are stunners.
For Rae,
There is a Walter Foster book with 60 color reproductions of Waughs paintings, number 153 in the series of Foster books.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I looked on Amazon and their are about 1o copies of the book that Armand suggests below. Its kind of a cheezy little book, but it shows a great collection of Waughs work. There is no other book.So many of the artists I like have no book written about them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I dont do that consciously, but I think in practice I probably end up there. The danger is in trying to paint with too few values for most people. In would think you might want 5 or 6 values though 4 seems too few.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks Simone
there are not that many out there you can go and see. I think most of them are in private collections.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I am glad you thought of that. Armand has a great blog,check it out at

willek said...

Boy, those first three Waughs are scrumcious. WillEK

Steve Pero said...

Those Waugh's are just fabulous.
Since we are moving to New Mexico (eventually) I can probably get by without learning to paint ocean, and I could never do it that well anyway, so just as well...
I didn't know Fredricks made an oil primed canvas. Our little mom and pop art supply/frame shop here sells rolls of either double or triple oil primed canvas.. or maybe its linen. I'll have to go check it out.
ps. I'm posting from hubby Steve's blog account. deb
"aptarbil" Milt's middle name.

Stapleton Kearns said...

All seascape painters since Waugh have studied him closely.One of the anmazing things about Waugh is that he did it without Waugh to look at!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Fredrix makes a number of very nice oil primed linens. So far as I know this is the only oil primed cotton.
aptarbil, invoice for a new aptar