Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beware of Beaks

Above is a view I shot at Cathedral ledges in Rockport Massachusetts yesterday. Skin divers come here to drown. I lived about a block away from here for several years and they were forever being lost off this shore. I show this view to describe another point of view problem, THE BEAK!

In a verbal description this sounds like a great view, and in a way it is. BUT it has a big problem. That pointy shape of the distance makes for a lousey design. Yes, there are some Hudson river paintings that successfully use beaks, but it is still good to be forewarned.When you paint along the shore you see beaks everywhere. It is possible to finesse a beak in a painting by arranging the water to downplay it, say, with streaks of foam, but generally in seascape painting they are an enemy waiting to pounce on your design. You might get away with one in a show, but a whole roomful of them would be like a cutlery store fired at you from a canon.

The beak above is dangerously symmetrical top and bottom also. Notice also that the shape of the water below repeats that of the beak above. Truly evil! When I painted for years up on the coast of Maine, over and over I would make paintings with beaks in them and then one day I had had it and I swore I would never paint another beak.

Here is a wave I shot the other day at Halibut point, tomorrow I will begin pointing out some of its anatomy.


DennyHollandStudio said...

I'm glad you talk a lot about design in painting- so important. The beak issue must be wrestled to the ground, dealt with properly, and sent on its way. I've ordered several of the seascape books you referenced to bone up, then it's off to hit the shore. BTW, Galkyd is top shelf stuff, reserved for special occasions only!

Tim said...

Ahh I did a beak last week! Is it weak?


Seriously though, I think that the beak is something that I as a relatively unexperienced composer jumps on. It feels at the time as an easy fix, "a painting" if you know what I mean. It becomes an easy way out. Need to think more when Im out there! The more I read John Carlson, the more I know what to look for when Im out there. And your blog too, bien sur. I got the lovely Schmid landscape book, and he has some very interesting compositions, that are cropped quite boldly, its food for thought.

Mary Bullock said...

I agree with Tim - a beak seems like a painting just waiting to be painted - an easy way out I guess.

Philip Koch said...

I love it, calling the peninsulas "beaks." Actually when I first read mighty Stape's post I wasn't too sure what to think, as I immediately thought of all the wonderful John Frederick Kensett seascapes that work successfully with "the beak" problem (and I know Stape did tip his hat to certain Hudson River School painters on this issue).

Personally I've always put Winslow Homer at the top of my pantheon of American seascape painters, and though he did do a couple of "beak" paintings, they were rather atypical of him. Generally he seemed to take Stapleton's advice and went on to produce some of the real classics of our collective painting history.

There are a few paintings of the famous Blackhead point on Monhegan Island by Rockwell Kent and Edward Hopper that are pretty good too, but Stape's general point is very sound. It is funny, but when you see on of these beak-like peninsulas out in nature they look so good and try to lure you into painting them. I've struggled with this compositional problem myself many many times.
Be warned all who venture here...

Unknown said...

Thanks for the warning.

By the way, Amazon is in your debt. I went to order some of your recommended seascape books and they are all gone. Your blog readers bought them all no doubt! Soon you will be like Oprah's book club. ;)

CM said...

Oh m'gosh Those beaks! I call them alligators because if your not careful they will really look like alligators! I struggle with this constantly. Living and painting by the ocean as I do I am surrounded by them. Your teachings are so valuable. I wonder if you realize the outstanding contribution you are making to us artists and the art world? We all so appreciate it.
Corinne McIntyre

Love2paint said...

Stape, I walked around my living room where many of my personal seascapes live and thankfully, I naturally avoid the beak. Squawk! I will utter that anytime I am out on the coast ready to paint to remind myself not to enter the deadly beak syndrome!

willek said...

So is a beak OK if it is assummetrical top and bottom?

billspaintingmn said...

Good point Stape! (No pun intended)
Seems like they are everywhere the
water is!
The lakes and bay areas set them out like mail boxes on a country road.
I will beware of beaks! Thanks!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. The more I paint, the more it is about design!

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is a little beaky. Go forth and beak no more!

Stapleton Kearns said...

They whisper appetizingly and then flay you with a cheese grater.They can be painted but you need to be aware of the ever present malice they carry for your design.

Stapleton Kearns said...

They whisper appetizingly and then flay you with a cheese grater.They can be painted but you need to be aware of the ever present malice they carry for your design.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Headlands like on Monhegan are not so dangerous, as they present an oblique face out on the beaking end.
They are tricky but not malicious.I don't remember giving any advice to Homer, I bet he would have chucked me out on my ear, I would have to get Hopper and to whup him.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Wow: I wonder how many of those really came from my blog. I think that may have happened with the Seago book too. I will have about 15,000 readers this month. How many individual folks that is,I don't know,that's log ins.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you so much. It is great to hear that you are enjoying the blog.It is a fair amount of work, but I do like the response from people who read it. I am used, therefore I am useful!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am glad you have avoided the beak thing. All of the mistakes are out there just waiting to be made.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The headlands like on Monhegan sre fine, but most beak situations are dangerous, not unpaintable but dangerous. Now that you know about them you won't be wicked beaky!

Stapleton Kearns said...


The lakes and bay areas set them out like mail boxes on a country road.

I wish I said said that.