Saturday, August 29, 2009

A demo and some philosophy

Above is a location that I painted last week. It is near the village of Sugar Hill in the whiote Mountains of New Hampshire. I painted here because Banks gallery of New London is doing a show in Sugar hill at one of those big old wooden resort hotels from the 19th century and wanted some local images.

The first thing I did was to throw a little tone on the white panel to back off the white a little bit. Then I began drawing with my brush.

I knew that the problem facing me was that the landscape was so broad and I wanted as much of it as I could get. Placement of the various elements on the canvas was going to be tricky and I wanted to be sure to get that right before going on. I knew I was going to have to simplify and decrease the breadth of almost every passage because my canvas was 18 x 24. If I was working 18 x 54 I would not have had to do that, but then I would have needed to lay down to paint it.

Here I am putting down the mass drawing in raw umber and a little thinner. I don't want to use any white as that will end my ability to shove it around with a rag on the canvas. It was pretty warm and the paint was very thin and my panel somewhat absorbent, so it was flash drying, which I like.

I am starting to add some color now with a number 12 (thats big) nylon brush. I have been fooling around with some nylon brushes lately. They are softer than the bristle and give a different sort of a mark. I think I like them for lay ins as I can draw with their edges and they lay very thin paint nicely too. I am moving fairly quickly here. I have a pretty complete monochrome drawing so it is easier to work it up in color now.

I am dtill doing all of this with that one big #12 brush. Well almost all anyway, I used a #4 bristle here and there, such as in the drawing of those birch trees and to lay the color on them in the next stage below.

Here is what I brought home, after an hour or so refining it in the studio. I made a few improvements, for instance the birches along that pathway on the left were dead, so I resurrected them by putting some wispy leaves art there top. I was thinking about Corot as I did that. I emphasized the golden rod because I love that stuff. It has a great color and takes the painting into late summer as that is when it blooms. I was still unhappy with the water and the negative shape at 6 o clock formed to the left of that little bush. It seemed too regular and geometric.

Here is the painting after I have reworked the water to get a different and I hope more refined reflection and ripple pattern. I also reworked that little foreground bush. Since the deadline for the show isn't till next week, I will stick the painting onto the shelf that runs along one side of my studio and look at it for a few days to see if anything about it bugs me. If not, its done and off to the show it goes!

Deb asked me this is the comments.

How do you balance the need to sell a few paintings here and there and thus to "produce", with the burning conviction that nothing you "produce" is really worthwhile, and the time would be better spent studying and practicing? Its almost like my artistic life is divided into the financial constraints of needing to have stuff "out there" to sell on one hand, and the need for personal growth and spiritual connection with the art on the other.
Is it better to disappear from the gallery scene for awhile and retreat to learn and grow? And then, what do we do for groceries?

Well first of all, Ya gotta eat! I have had the good fortune of being able to paint what I wanted and for the most part people wanted to buy it. Of course I always wanted to be a landscape painter. If I had wanted to float sharks in formalin, I would have starved. Who'd want that?
There have been periods in my life where I got to go to figure drawing groups routinely and that is what I recommend you do. Find or start a figure group at the local art center and draw figures one or two nights a week. There is no better training.

If you can leave the gallery scene and just study and not have to eat snowballs all winter it might be good to do some workshops or find a good atelier nearby (for you its Ingebretson studios) and do some additional study. I have had a few times in my life when I took some time out for that. I took several months off and studied anatomy at the Art Students League one winter.

But, for me the need to make a living has been a force for the good in my art. All of my heroes painted for a living. Virtually all of my life I have been doing one landscape after another, always trying to make them better. Tying my survival to that result has made me a very motivated worker. I don't buy that idea of the artist being ruined by the need to make money at their art. That is a romantic notion best left behind when leaving art school. You don't have a problem with the Rolling Stones making a living do you? How about Frank Loyd Wright, Kathryn Hepburn or Mark Twain?

I have known very few painters who became REALLY good who were wealthy. Fredrick Leighton and a few others come to mind, but more often the wealthy become dabblers and self indulgent purveyors of obscure claptrap that no one finds enjoyable or interesting. Almost all of them are spared the nasty and unpleasant feedback the real world offers to an artist. That feedback is useful and corrective though unpleasant.

Many of the artists I have known worked their entire careers until retirement in the graphic arts, when they retired, sometimes as early as 55, they were never the equal of their brothers who had done it every day since high school. They just never caught up on that 30 year head start their competition had. I am not saying that retiring to paint is wrong or will be unfruitful or unfulfilling, but you don't think you could retire at that age and learn to be a concert violinist or a thoracic surgeon do you? Painting is just as hard as those things. People take it way to lightly. When I am working and some well meaning passer by says, ""that looks so relaxing", I want to tear their arms and legs off.

I guess I have done it again, I try to be so nice, and then I end up exposing the harsh truths that are perhaps usually unspoken as they are.......harsh. Tomorrow I will do a post about two cuddly, heartwarming cartoon bunnys with big happy smiles and little calico aprons. Maybe I can find a picture of some nice wax fruit.


Unknown said...

I like that painting quite a bit. Great to see your process on it.I hope you will do many more like this, as its really educational to see how you are building the composition. When will you make a video demo and sell it for big bucks?
I looked up Ingebretson studio, but could not find anything. Any further info on that? Location?
I appreciate your answering the question. Unfortunately, since I only started painting at about retirement age, I know I'll never catch up with what "could have been" had I been a painter for all those years. But honestly, sometimes I feel like I'm close to a breakthrough, and I just want to
spend the time working it out on canvas, and not worrying about getting something to this or that gallery by a particular date.

Enough whining,... Anecdote: Earlier this week,I had lugged all my gear up to the top of a nearby peak, and hiked around and found a spot on a piece of ledge with a nice view I wanted to paint. Not much room on my boulder, so I simply sat with the canvas propped in front of me and my backpack and palette and paints sitting beside me. Some hikers came by with a (cute) Boston Terrier with a little backpack on, who ambled over to say hi. I turned and reached down from my perch to pat him, and lo and behold, they had another STEALTH Boston Terrier who crept in behind me through the shrubbery and commenced walking all over the palette, on my paint tubes, on my back pack and across my lap before I could twist around and grab him and lift him up and off the rock. It was a huge mess. I can't even begin to describe the devastation. The hikers, while nice guys, seemed clueless as to the havoc their doggy had just wreaked and went their way. It took me more than an hour to try to clean up. and more than that after I got back to the studio. I am certain there will be highly colored doggy pawprints all over the rocks on N. Pack Monadnock now. And my backpack and shorts will never be the same again either. Somehow the painting only received minor smears.
"snokupec" past tense for "sneak a peek".

Anonymous said...

Stapleton, Hello. I do enjoy reading your blog. Your wisdom is enlightening. And...the HARSH truth needs to be told just to keep everyone in check with reality and on the right track.

Gregory Becker said...

Stape, the most important thing I have learned is the value of harsh truths and artists need to hear it. I am one of them and I am getting better because of it.
That demo is enthralling. I love it.
I am going to come back to this post often.

Unknown said...

Hi Stape, I have been our for a while because we just had our first child. It has been tiring but exciting.

I looks like I can back just in time to be shocked by the harsh realities of art! In all seriousness, thanks for the copious posts on Inness. I am just catching up on them all, and as usual, am blown away.

Tom said...

hi Stapleton

Wow nice painting. Like Deb says very educational. Why did you start with raw umber, because it dries so fast? I also came across a quote in my sketchbook that fits in quite well with your ideas about painting with purpose and painting by design. The quote is in regards to the military "neglect of the principle of concentration-simplest mistake in warfare."

Philip Koch said...

Fun to see the work in progression. I was all set to make some thoughtful comments when I heard a scream from my basement. Turns out the seal on the basement bathroom toilet leaked and had given us a flood. So two hours later of frantic painting-moving and many passes with a wet-vac, things are calming down. Does this fit under the "harsh realities" Stape is talking about?

It does, I think. Deb's story about the Boston Terrier (I had that happen with a Golden Retriever) serves as a reminder that reality will throw curve balls at us while we pursue the quest to paint that perfect painting.

Along with a good eye, painters need the talent to endure. A sense of humor about it all helps.

Tom said...

Ps I really like looking at the sequnce of the demo because in each stage you feel more and more light.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Paul Ingbretsen runs a painting atelier in Manchester in the mill buildings along the river. I can't find a web site. I will get back to you with more info.
I certainly hope you painted the dog.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you, more of that demo is coming.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Welcome back and congratulations.
Mail me a cigar. A maduro, preferably a large ring size. Onyx is a nice one.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I am continuing that demo tonight and will address that question there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It would have been harsh if you had not been at home and it was winter and the water rose until it extinguished the pilot light in your furnace.Then your pipes would have frozen, filling the walls with water freezing into heavy ice and collapsing the floors into the cellar. What you got was inconvenient.
Artists need to be enduring, you got that right!

Unknown said...

No Stape. The dog painted ME!

Unknown said...

For profit or practice? Seems to me the answer lies in a focus on the Practice, the Process, and trust it will result in growth and improvement in the Product! For visual artists, all our practice marks are in evidence, unlike playing musical scales, or kicking a soccer ball around. . . it is important to edit these "practice paintings" for exhibits and understand a few jewels will be found, and some efforts deserve to be disguarded as part of the learning process.