Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Berry Pickers

I posted this little watercolor the other night and I want to back track a little and pick apart its design a little. I think it very clever and charming, but beneath its subject is an abstract arrangement that is very calculated. Here is some of that.

The young girl in the foreground wearing the ocher colored dress is the fulcrum of the painting. The other children are balanced on either side of her position as a central pylon. Those to the left are placed further away from the fulcrum to counterbalance the more interesting figures on the left. Like on a child's see-saw placing a weight further from the fulcrum will balance a heavier weight placed nearer that pivot point. This picture has formal balance.

The most commanding figure in the picture is the girl leaning back against the rock on the left. The angle at which she leans back is countered by the line implied through the forms of the bush on the right. The two are balanced, like a visual equation. This, of course, didn't just happen, it was installed.

But the thing I liked most about the composition was the pattern of bright whites and black shapes arrayed on a line across the middle of the painting. It begins with reclino girl's white bucket, placed against the dark shape of her skirt. Just to the right of that, the boy with his back to us has a white shirt placed against the black shape of his pants. Fulcrum girl has three white accents the most dominant of which is her collar that Homer has contrived to place against the black notes of the boys pants behind her to achieve maximum contrast. The boys to the right are really just hats sitting on dark accents. This is a device which I have pointed out before and called value stacking. I made that name up because I couldn't find an existing term.

The girl holding the bucket and leaning against the rock is the only figure with a face. She is allowed this because she is the main actor on the stage. The ribbon billowing from her hat is a jarring, eye catching shape that makes sure we see her and take notice of that face.

I know that watercolorists like to preserve the white of their paper but this watercolor really harnesses that effect, it has a bit of what is sometimes called the glare aesthetic. That is the lighter colored items are "blown out" by the light. The big rock on the left and the white accents I mentioned above are all pushed to a high key that is as white as the paper. That gives a sparkling, sun blasted look that is typical of the coastal moors along the north shore above Boston. It is also major key and all of that contrast gives a joyous, weightless look to this happy painting of children. Homers design and value scheme carry the feeling of the painting more than its subject matter.


barbara b. land of boz said...

Stapleton, I like the story that Homer tells in this work. His colors are quiet beautiful. I do like the softness of them, and the children.

I hope all is going well in the workshop. It looks like a great place to paint. (be gentle on the
You are one hard working artist who can also walk the walk. Thank you for your time.
barbara b.

billspaintingmn said...

Was he a genius because he worked his butt off, or did he work his butt off because he was genius? There had to be inspiration, passion, and drive. Not to mention skill and the love for his craft.
Did they drink Moxie back then?
Someone should make a movie on Winslow, or is there one already?
Thanks for bringing this information to our attention. I'd been so attracted to Rockwell that I was'nt looking to other founding Fathers of American Art.

billspaintingmn said...

And Happy Fathers Day!

Mike Thompson said...

Many of Homer's early watercolors have a lot of opaque pigments and he used Chinese white for highlights rather than reserving the white of the paper. I suspect this came from his background in oils where this makes a lot of sense when painting indirectly- mainly opaque pigments and working dark to light. But as Homer became more adept at watercolors, his paintings begin to look ''modern'' - mainly transparent pigments, reserving of whites, several glazed layers, working light to dark, etc. He could have stepped into a time machine and held state of the art watercolor workshops today.

Unknown said...

so interesting seeing the geometry behind this lovely painting. Thank you for breaking it down, so we can see the structure that holds the thing together. He WAS a genius.
I finally got out to paint today for the first time.. and, contrary to painting in New England, the sun is so intense, and the humidity so low that paints were drying amazingly fast as I worked. I had to sit down to paint just because I don't have a good easel here with a place for palette and paints, and my knees, what stuck out from under my painting apron, got a nice sunburn. It looks rather funny, just the top of my knees, not the front of them, like I have a red stripe on my legs. So charming.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Workshop is as usual, full of great people and I am driving them mercilessly.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I think he was a worker, perhaps he was a genius. He could have been a moxie drinker it was around for his later life. I am betting he enjoyed a bottle frequently. I have never seen a movie on Homer, but I bet there is a documentary out there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I didn't notice it in these although other picture of the era do seem to have it.'


Stapleton Kearns said...

Please send descriptive photo of those knees for me to post on the blog.

Linda Crank said...

There was a PBS special called Winslow Homer: Society and Solitude a few years ago. Here is a nice bit from another documentary American Visions (from YouTube) including a short visit to his studio with his grand niece, Doris Homer.