Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ask Stape, about broader handling

Nice old Mr. Stape

Dear Stape,
I was wondering if you had any suggestions of things to do to make descriptive brushwork in paintings? I have the tendency to blend the paint to death, or make a sloppy mess of things. I generally paint outside for an hour or so and then bring it into the studio for another hour to touch things up.

Up tight

Dear up;

Getting brushwork is a step away from exacting reproduction and toward art. Just transferring an image accurately from nature or a photo is like journalism, and using visible brushwork is more like poetry. It requires the artist to make decisions other than this goes here and that goes there. It is a visual language in which nature can be expressed. It is also individual and created.

I have written around this subject before, however there are some 470 posts on this blog now and I don't think there are too many people who have read them all. If I were writing a book I could assume you had read chapter three, but in a blog it is more like a magazine, you might have read an early edition and you might not. Here are three links to some relevant posts from the archives, there are more, but I thought these were useful. Every Brushstroke
Every Brushstroke5, Every Brushstroke 3

Below is a bulletted list of some tips for getting better handling-brushwork.
  • Work from nature, I think an hour is not long enough, I advise three or four, followed by some studio time.
  • Work 16 by 20 or larger, that will get those marks up to a size where you can see them and help cut down on niggeling.
  • Use a #12 brush, take the little brushes off your palette and put them in your bag where you won't be tempted to use them.
  • Work with flats, you will learn to get fine lines with their tips and edges. They must be new, clean, and sharp. Throw them away when they get broommy.
  • Learn to simplify. If the detail is smaller than your brush can render, leave it out! This is the root skill in handling and often design. The enormous complexity of nature needs to be presented in a spare and eloquent fashion. Paint trees and branches, not leaves. Summarize. More magic, less accounting!
  • Think in form, build stuff out of the brushstrokes by describing its structure. Usually that means planes, but there are indeterminate areas too that you might do with a dryer brush or a dragged stroke.
  • Try to put a stroke down and leave it alone, don't go back into passages and complicate them.
  • Make your brushstrokes tell. Don't use eight when one will do.

  • Pretend you are laying tile. Make the tile on your palette and set it in place on your canvas.
  • Use less thinner and more paint. If you use a medium, try to use a little less, and if you can use very little. That gives juicier paint, a better surface, and makes for more attractive handling.
  • Learn to pull a stroke in any direction. You should be able to pull or push your brush at any angle from a point where it touches the canvas.
  • Study the work of artists who have great brushwork . Here are a few suggestions. John Sargent, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Franz Hals, Rembrandt, for landscapes there are my favorites, Edward Seago, Aldro Hibbard, Emile Gruppe and Willard Metcalf. Every generation of painters has produced men who use the brush well and with a little digging you will find a list that appeals to you.
  • Think in chunks, slabs and dots, Never blend your marks together, place them on the canvas crisply and go on to the next thing. Don't make little marks either, be broad.
  • Learn the descriptive strokes that best describe the elements you repeatedly see, rough grass lends itself to rendering with one sort of stroke, and clouds another.
  • Put butter in your shoes.

Paintings from the top; Me, Eduard Manet (from, Aldro Hibbard, Carl Peters, me, Edward Potthast.

I wanted to remind you of the workshops that are coming up.

Marshfield,Massachusetts at the North River art association. April 30n to May 2nd.

Lupineworld, at The Inn on Sunset Hill, Franconia New Hampshire

, LUPINEWORLD, to be held June 19th, 20th, 21st at the Sunset Hill house, the now somewhat famous location of Snow Camp. This will be the week of Lupinefest in Sugar Hill. Landscape painters go there every year to paint immense fields of Lupine, a beautiful naturalized flower in front of dramatic mountain vistas. This will be, like Snowcamp, a total immersion experience. We will meet in the morning and paint until dinner together at the inn. Because this is a co operative venture with myself and the inn, it will be necessary for you to stay there for those two nights. They will provide a discount rate for the workshop attendees and the food is excellent. I will arrive the night before and you are welcome to join me then at the same reduced rate from the inn.

The workshop will begin Saturday morning and end Monday evening. That's three days. I am charging $300.00 per person, a $150.00 down payment and $150.00 paid at the event, and the class is limited to ten so every one gets plenty of personal attention.


willek said...

I read them all, Stape. .. and I re-read them on occasion. WillEK

MCG said...

What KIND of butter?

barbara b. land of boz said...

I too, have read them all, but I like a hard copy for quick and easy reading. Hummmm... If you only
had one more hour in the day!

Love the Dear Stape, brushwork is
really, really, really hard to leave alone sometimes. I should maybe tie both hands behind my back. I believe it was Manet who said, An artist spends 90% of the time without a brush in hand. (With only 10% left to brushwork, you have to make everyone count)ouch!!!
Thank you once again for an eye opening post.

Gregory Becker said...

Stape, that second painting of yours is unbelievably beautiful and the rhythms in the first one are incredible. Good stuff.

DennyHollandStudio said...

...more magic, less accounting...great advice for tax season!

Anonymous said...

Now that's some useful information. Thanks, Mr. Stape!

Mary Bullock said...

I've read every one, Stape. But I never understood your last bullet about putting butter in my shoe. What exactly does that mean?

Manatee Writers said...

A whole book of your bulletted lists would be great.

I love the more magic less accounting line too!

alotter said...

"Every generation of painters has produced MEN who use the brush well. . . ." [emphasis added]

And thank God for all those women painters who take the workshops that keep the men going.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! Can't I fiddle or manipulate
the brushstroke some?
We talked about this awhile back, and I thought it was ok.
I dont mean target practice with a machine gun,so I guess it's back to the drawing board!
Practice, practice, practice!
(good post on this topic! Thanks!)

Judy P. said...

I've pretty much caught up, and have read all your blogs, and re-read quite a few.
I've not commented for awhile, being in a 'shut up and learn!' period, but that's a good point about painting too small. I'm attracted to 'a painting a day' but I'm always noodling and poking at that little 5x7 - that eats up a lot of time, and then it's neither nicely detailed nor expressively rendered,just something in the blah middling.

Unknown said...

As a broad myself, I'm all for broad brush handling.

and speaking of keeping those brushes nice and clean and soft, one cheap thing I've found works really well...
Fells Naptha soap - found in the laundry aisle of the grocery store. About a buck a bar, and a bar lasts a pretty long while.

Rae O'Shea said...

Michael-The best butter, of course!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am, glad somebody reads em.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Any good quality dairy butter will do. No margarine or synthetics seem to work.

Stapleton Kearns said...

If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Today is the big day.Does it bother you that the animals get a pass?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you

Stapleton Kearns said...

It will be revealed only at my workshops. Sign up, find out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I could call it the minigun book as it sprayed bullets.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Men is common English usage for mankind. No sex specific slur implied.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I suppose there is a nice middle ground. But fiddling ruins your handling.

Stapleton Kearns said...

If I had my druthers I would do no small paintings.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I like to use Goop, works good on brushes. If I had used that pun myself there would have been repercussions.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hey there, I guess you are home from your travels. I think any fine butter product will do. Although Land o Lakes is very fine. Its the old Holland of butter.