Monday, June 21, 2010

Ask Stape

Dear Stape;

A burning questions I had was regarding “design”. When I attempt to paint a landscape in an unfamiliar place for the first time, I start painting with what I think is a good plan with “soaring” inspiration at the beginning but falls flat midway with no plan B or for that matter much interest in really following thru to completing the painting. What is my problem and how do I fix ?


Arduous Normalcy

I am going to load some bullets and begin by trying to diagnose how you got to be in that position in the first place. When that happens to me (it doesn't) it is because I:
  • hurriedly set up and started to paint without really scoping out the location. I just set up anywhere because I had come to paint and now it was time to do it.
  • allowed some joker to pick the location for me and was too nice to say" I am not happy here".
  • chose a location with no foreground.
  • failing to select what you are there to paint, instead filling the canvas with descriptive detail of everything before you with no particular selectivity or emphasis.
  • Chose the scene because I thought it would be "easy"
  • chose a location that was good in a verbal description but not composed of attractive abstract shapes.
  • didn't ask my self "what is the reason I am painting here? What is it that appeals to ME about this place? Why is it special?".
  • Made a matter of fact, literal description rather than a poetic evocation of the location.
  • tried to paint in the style of another artist or make a kind of picture that I thought was commercial, but about which I personally had no feeling or interest.
  • Didn't design the scene in an intriguing way, so the viewer glanced at the painting rather than being hauled in, beguiled.
  • Failed to design interesting shapes that were different from one another and had varied interesting shapes rather merely an accurate but mundane transcription of the scene.
The solution, besides avoiding all of the errors above.........
is to do thumbnail sketches, at least for a while. Do 2" by 2" sketches in a little sketchbook using a pencil. Each one might take two minutes. The first several will probably average, matter of fact descriptions of the view, what you would get if you just plopped your easel down and painted the "usual" thing . But in the subsequent sketches you will get the treatment that you might have used had you done several picture there. Try to do a few sketches emphasizing different aspects of the view. One might emphasize the trees, another the mountains in the background and another just on part of the view. Spending a little time searching for more interesting ways to view the same scene will often pay off when you get a "take" on a scene that is a little more considered and less obvious.

The world is full of average paintings. It doesn't need any more. You need to look for ways to make each one special.

I will return to the Homer history tomorrow or the next day. I felt this question was to good to ignore. Keeep those questions coming. I can serve you all better if I know what it is you want to learn.


willek said...

Just a great post, once again, Stape. The "poetic evocation" really rang a bell with me.

Charlevoix Sax Quartet said...

Great advice! When I go to a spot to paint, the burning question on my mind is always "what is the most amazing thing?". It's got to be something: the patterns of shadow/sunlight, the design of the road, the colors of water reflections, etc. If there's nothing that excites me, then the painting always turns out to be boring -- both for me and the viewer.

Robert J. Simone said...

Margie's point is good and seems to to highlight your point about having something to emphasize. Can I add another one that comes up often in classes? The loss of dark accents or the failure to establish them altogether brings a lot of paintings to grief. said...

Buon Giorno ( a Good Morning to you Stapleton). I am back from the dramatic Liguria (Italy) and poetic Venice (guess where).

All great advice there which goes a long way to diagnosing "the problem".

Thumbnails, Thumbnails, Thumbnails. And if you don't get one that works... move to another location and do..thumbnails. And then do a short hand color study. You give up some "up front" painting time but you'll make it up on the back end when you won't be struggling as much because you'll have a design you like.

Unknown said...

well, dang, this is really good advise. Good enough to print out and tape to the top of my easel whenever I set up. or perhaps, to tattoo on top of my knees.
Yesterday, my goal was to paint close to my truck, rather than hiking in anywhere very far. That limited my options, but also forced me to do exactly what you say here - take some considered time to find an interesting take on some otherwise common roadside scenes. I could here the "Stape tape" playing in my head: "design, design, design" as I set up in the parking lot by the restrooms and looked across the road. It might even turn out to be a nice painting.

Mary Byrom said...

Nice posts Stapleton! I really like the way you indicate the design armature over these great paintings. Can you recommend some books that show more of this ?

Susan McCullough said...

Great post Stape- thank you-- I agree with willek-I need to think more about the poetic in the painting...

willek said...

Susan, I love being agreed with.

But, we should also be cranking in some "magic" into every painting. I find that to be very difficult. Poetry is good for a picture, no question, but magic makes a picture.

billspaintingmn said...

Good common sense! Stape, you take the mystery of painting and break it down into bite size pieces.
When I grow up, I want to be just like you!

Unknown said...

Bill, you will never grow up.. at least I hope not...

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

" most amazing thing" thats a good phrase!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have had that happen to me.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Welcome back. I need a trip to Venice. That's the best city in the world to paint.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I suggested to a student today that they could get a Munsell scale tattooed on the back of their hand, just to have it handy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, no I don't know of a book of them, but I will try to do more of that kind of thing.I like diagramming designs.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The arts are pure as they approach poetry.

Stapleton Kearns said...

When I grow up, I want to be grown up.

Nancy said...

Words to paint by... many thanks Stape !
Also, would like to thank you again for a great workshop this past weekend. The lesson on painting "greens" alone was invaluable and location, stellar company and weather Fabulous !
I will be back !