Thursday, October 21, 2010


Richard Parkes Bonington 1802-1828 from

The root skill in landscape painting, (and probably all other sorts as well ) is drawing. Almost invariably my experience with workshop students leads me ton believe virtually all of them haven't suffiicient drawing chops to deal with the complexity of nature. That is doubly true as the light moves and that which they were observing the minute before is now illuminated from a new angle. I do get some students, often atelier trained before the cast who are happily able to render that before them with comparative ease. If you would set a goal for yourself to reach first on your journey into landscape, it should be the ability to coldly render the facts of nature before you. In a perfect world (or one that appeared perfect ) that would be enough, you would show up, report, and cash the check. But painting being an interpretive art and all, more is required in the practice of making pictures from nature.

That other thing is design.


Wouldn't that make a fine neck tattoo?

As the root skill of representation is drawing, the root skill of design is simplification. Observed nature is often full of chaos and "noise". Designing a painting is imposing an order on it. The first step to that is to eliminate the nonessential, the complexly random and insistent filigree of endless crap that occludes most painting locations. This is particularly true in my New England landscape. Out in the wide open spaces there is more space, opened widely. A boatyard scene that I showed you last night is a fine example of a good subject but it was occluded with way too much baroque doo-daddery skittering about the image like spider monkeys on meth.

The first tool to getting rid of that is simplifying. The nonessential is jettisoned and the essential is presented simply. A clear statement is the result of refining the dross from a landscape. A landscape simplified into a handful of shapes can then be arranged into an intelligent abstract which is itself beautiful apart from what it represents.


Deborah Paris said...

..."too much baroque doo-daddery skittering about the image like spider monkeys on meth."

I do love the way you use language, Stape,painting a picture as surely as with paint.

Your point about drawing is so well taken and sadly ignored by so many. What I tell students is that drawing will set them free- free to not only paint what they see, but to move stuff around, put things in, take things out,invent things, paint from memory -in other words- to design!

James Gunter said...

"DESIGN IS THAT PART OF A PAINTING THAT IS NEITHER COLOR OR DRAWING,"would make a nice neck tatoo, but "SPIDER MONKEYS ON METH" has a nice ring to it, too!

I spent the summer participating in plein air painting competitions, and finished up the last one a couple weeks ago in Moab. It's taken me this long to catch up on reading this blog, but I enjoyed catching up, and I want to be sure I don't miss anything. I find re-reading your entries again at a later date extremely helpful. Thanks for the work you put into your blog!

Bill said...

Dittos on drawing. Although our painting instruction in my art school was sub-par, thank god they had a solid drawing program. That alone made it worthwhile. I recommend constant drawing. Carry a sketchbook as often as possible. If you can't draw, take a year off of painting and just draw. Even if your work is not going to tend toward the super-realistic, it's worth it to go through the pains of learning those skills.

Robert J. Simone said...

Simplification being the root of good design is as true as it gets!

janice skivington said...

Stape, You use humor to make the most essential points. I love reading your lessons. Yes, drawing is the foundation, and today most students don't see why. And Design, yes, everything is improved by design.
I studied at the Art Center College of Design back in the 70's and the first classes were design and then drawing all day long for the first two years.

Mary Byrom said...

Thanks Stapleton for the great fashion advice! When I come in from the plein air wilds I'm going to look like I was palette wrestling/ wet panel wrestling? a new sport? maybe it will start a trend...

Philip Koch said...

Great post! I see Deborah and Jim G. shared my enthusiasm for Stape's spider monkey reference.

Got to thinking as I read the post that the clutter of the landscape is a lot like the mental and emotional clutter
of our interior lives. There's great richness in there, but it's hard to see. Artists, when we do our job right, take the energy from the outer world and our inner world and make something coherent and solid out of it. When you think about it it's a great accomplishment.

Thanks for the excellent post.

billspaintingmn said...

Doo-daddery! (baroque!) Too much!
Stape! Anyway you say it, it works! Very good design!
Spider monkeys on meth is dessert.
Drawing ia a strength that can transcend to painting.
Design/simplicity ~ you just keep on keeping me rivited! Thanks!

Unknown said...

A timely post. I just decided to focus on improving my drawing skills for now and come back to painting when I really have the foundations down. Your post confirms that I am making a good move. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I'll get in line here to say that "baroque doo-daddery" and "spider monkeys on meth" ( both are good names for a rock band, btw) are two more great "Stape-isms to add to my collection. I don't have any more room for neck tattoos, so maybe will just start scribbling these on the walls of the studio.. does that count as drawing?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hate monkeys. Like your point about drawing setting you free.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Get the tattoo, get back to me.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Of course when I refer to drawing I mean within the context of painting, not necessarily with a pencil, stylus or sharpened strigil.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Simone. Roots, are important. Things without roots, fall over.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Many students of today seem to be allowed to go through art school without learning any drawing at all. At least that is one choice offered them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Painted clothing is a mark of distinction. Sets one apart.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's psychology isn't it? I have baroque doo-dads and spider monkeys on meth in my personal life too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Riveting! Now I am riveting. That's useful.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The basics are always a good place to focus. Particularly if you are not so project driven that you have a choice what you do.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I believe you still have neck left for one more tattoo.

Bill said...

Stape: this is the only blog I've ever commented on where the blogger responds to nearly every comment personally - you're so polite!

My drawing has changed a lot in the past few years as I've concentrated more on painting - I think nearly all of my drawing now is in the context of painting.