Monday, March 1, 2010

Balance and intention

Some times when I teach workshops I have noticed that I tell a student to do one thing and I tell the next student to do just the opposite! I often hear a student complain that a noted artist whose work I admire, has recommended exactly the opposite of what I am suggesting. Whats going on? I wonders dumbly.

The answer concerns balance. Artists are constantly balancing opposing ideas. Here are some opposites between which we must select.
  • Tonality, is this painting, or passage, a light one? Or dark ?
  • Color, is this painting going to be in earth colors or chromatic?
  • Transparent or opaque?
  • Tightly rendered or loose?
  • High contrast, or low?
  • Soft edges or hard?
  • Decorative or naturalistic?
  • Highly colored or grave?
  • Will it have an impasto surface or be enamel smooth?
  • Will it have brushwork or no?
You see what I mean. These are not matters of right and wrong but of taste and preference. Answering these questions for ourselves is the first step in artmaking. If you are not making decisions you are not making art. Many times an artist will choose to place his painting somewhere between the two extremes, ie. neither very colored or very gray or neither very tight or very loose. .

The answers to these questions have implications on our methods and materials too. If for instance I want to paint highly colored bright impressionist pictures I would probably use a palette containing cadmiums and a pthalo blue. Is a teacher who recommends that I use earth colors wrong? No, but his palette is not going to help me do what I want to do.

I might want to paint roughly textured landscapes the size of a bedsheet in one shot. I probably wouldn't want to use red sable brushes and real amber medium. Sables and amber mediums aren't wrong, they are just not well suited to the purpose I intend. I would probably want to use big hogs hair brushes and an alkyd medium.

So it is good to weigh a teachers advice against what you are trying to do. When in a class, do it the teachers way and try out what they are suggesting, because that's the best way to learn from them. But when you go home, choose from their method that which suits you. But don't throw the rest away, the art you are making will evolve and you may need it later. Its very handy to know a lot of different ways to do things in painting. You may not need a particular technology today, but you might tomorrow.


barbara b. land of boz said...

Well said Stapleton...Now get that teacher another CIGAR!!
barbara b.



Honor Bradley said...

Excellent advise. I was constantly searching for the perfect was to paint and I have finally given up the search. There is no right or wrong way. Just the way that enables me to express my intent. Thanks again for putting it succinctly.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape, this is understandable. It helps to prepare for a painting.
If my intention is such, than orchestrate that intention to achieve my purpose or result.
This post saves me much time pondering, you cut the mustard every time! Thanks! said...

"Self important tongue swallowers" are right up there with the "Souless Meat Puppets".

All great questions about painting a painting.

There should be a similar set of questions at that a painter could ask about the intent of a painting before it is started. Any ideas? It's too early for me to come up with the first one but I'll be thinking about it all day while I paint a commission.
Do I paint this for me or for the patron?

Roxanne Steed said...

good advice here (looking back, it takes a long time to absorb!)

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

If painting were "one size fits all" we wouldn't need to visit museums or study art history. I feel it is akin to method acting: "What is your motivation?" Then, "how will you show that to the viewer/audience?"

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking of this lately myself. I've gone to a few workshops and taken courses from a few artists that I admire, and sometimes become quite perplexed by the seemingly oposing views and methods. So, I take the things that are mostly in consensus and try to use them as guides. The rest I toy with and file away.
I find that good painting cannot be done without much thought and experience. Ultimately, the decision is the artist's to make.

willek said...

A term that has always bothered me is "En plein air" It is French.We speak English. What is wrong with "Outside" It means the same "I painted it outside". What is wrong with that? or: "It was painted outside." The people who coined it knew that it would be a little too "over the top" and and used the English "Air" intead of the continental "Aire." Any of these foreign language terms, if spoken should be pronounced with the original inflection and accent of the original term, thus it would be pronounced "En Plen Arr." My friends would think I was going nuts if I started talking like that. En Plein Air is a little too elitist for me. From now on I am going with "Outside."

Philip Koch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philip Koch said...

Philip Koch said...
Willek has a really good point. I think that at least among ourselves we landscape painters should strive to be straightforward and as unpretentious as possible. So I will resolve to say to myself " I paint outside" at least once a day.

I think Willek is right about the "elitist" sound of "en plein air." Unfortunately, that's something that seems to excite a certain number of collectors and even art students. It has the sound of romance to it, as if one is traveling to some other realm. I confess I'm a little on the fence about this too though. Part of me loves the exotic sound of the words. I feel like the old time Catholics who were disappointed when they did away with giving the Mass in Latin.

It's a tricky balance walking between trying to intrigue our viewers with what we artists are doing and going too far with trying to put one over on them. I am sure we all have had run ins with some truly dreadful artists who hammed it up way too much to try to impress the public. It can make one wince.

As for Stape's comments on BALANCE, I agree with his point. It is very hard to juggle as many balls in the air all at once as we painters are asked to do. Sometimes there are simple answers that fit the painter's situation. Other times giving a simple answer to an art student does them a disservice.
There is an art to knowing just what sort of advice each student needs. From my own experience as an art student, I a supremely grateful to those times when I had instructors who could match their teaching to what I needed to hear at the time.

Love2paint said...

Thanks Stape for posting this article about balancing decisions about art technique. When I go to paint en plein air in a group, it is very apparent how many different styles or methods of madness people choose to express their art. I have felt very left out when I was following the thick paint approach of so and so`s method and comparing it to another distinguished artist`s method of layering and blended strokes resulting in a thinner look. You clarified how artists/teachers can all be so different. After years of going to painting demonstrations, I have gleaned off many tips and techniques that speak to me, tried all the different ways and now have developed my own way. If I ever teach, I will confuse the heck out of students since my way will be different!

Barbara Carr said...

Concerning "en plein air" (I'd now feel foolish writing "re"): back in the day, we "went sketching," or "painted on site." That eliminates the sometimes crazy rules about whether painting in your car or on the porch is "en plein air" or not. Windows open; windows closed; glassed-in porch, or screens only..... said...

I am your friend and you are nuts.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

sağ olun

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are however better and worse paintings.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Do you have any gray poupon?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Paint it for God.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Don't ever look back,something might be gaining on you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's a good point.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Than I wrote that post for you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I agree, I like to paint outside. Plein air sound so snobbish. That is not what it is like for me, I wear old clothes and get paint in my hair.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You teach a lot so it is interesting to hear your take on this.I am an amateur teacher.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sometimes its like jumping on a horses and having it run in two directions at once!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I avoid those organizations and shows that set those parameters. I tell them I am not a plein air painter.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Your friends evidentally believe you are nuts.

Dean Taylor Drewyer said...

"On site" or 'outside' seem more down-to-earth....I've always found folks who insist on one way of doing things (or using french phrases) usually are trying to exclude someone - not what art is about if you ask me PS really enjoy the animal blog - but don't forget the emerging 30 foot pythons in Fla! Can eat a french easel in one bite!

Dean Taylor Drewyer said...

"On site" or 'outside' seem more down-to-earth....I've always found folks who insist on one way of doing things (or using french phrases) usually are trying to exclude someone - not what art is about if you ask me PS really enjoy the animal blog - but don't forget the emerging 30 foot pythons in Fla! Can eat a french easel in one bite!