Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here is a Sargent self portrait. I am going to point out a few things about Sargent's handling of the form and his light and shadow. I think I will do it as a bulletted list, I do like those.
  • Notice that Sargent's lights and shadows are kept scrupulously separate. I mean by this that everything in the shadow is clearly a lower value than anything in the light. Even where the shadow edge is soft, Sargent is particularly fastidious about this. It gives his paintings a real "crisp" look. As you have heard me say time and again in this blog. "

  • Look at the shadowed side of the sphere of the right eye, there is an example of his clean definition of the shadow edge, even in this tiny passage the transition from the light to the shadow is crisply noted. The shadows in the folds of the sleeve are differentiated with the same precision. One of the most important thing for a draftsman is to always know exactly what is in the light, and what is in the shadow. Sargent "sorts" his lights and shadows with great precision. That keeps his heads and figures from having an overly rounded, foppish or tentative finish. The clean portrayal of the shadow edge makes his work look authoritative and powerful.
  • Over on the side of the light, Sargent's halftones and highlights are as cleanly sorted too. Notice the precision with which he has shown the structure between the right eye and his mustache. The planes are simplified and presented as slablike geometric shapes.A weaker draftsman would pull all of those together in a softly blended but less expressive presentation. Sargent chops the forms out like a woodcarver with a sharp knife. It is harder to understand form in a cylinder than it is in a faceted structure. Sargent's modeling is faceted. Those edges and sharp transitions express the form far better than a blended more vapid statement might.
  • Sargent's halftones are simple, one value, maybe two at the most. His faceted and simplified values give a directness and simplicity that is had by uniting varying modulations of observed tone into larger generalized shapes. This keeps his paintings from looking fussy or overworked although he worked and reworked them until he was satisfied.
Below is another Sargent head bearing the same simplified and planar handling.

Notice how Sargent throws in a few crisp edges to keep the head from looking too soft and gelatinous. The hard edge above the left eyebrow is an example, another is the demarcation of the shadow under the right side of the nose. The collar serves the same purpose. Sargents painting is an arrangement of artfuly placed and contrasting hard and soft edges. Edge variety is designed into this piece and while based on observation it is, like most good things in painting, installed.



Announcing a three day workshop to be held in Charleston, South Carolina. It will be fun to meet those of you who read this blog from the low country. As usual the workshop is open to all levels of experience and will run from Saturday, December 11 until Monday the 13th. I will teach outside and will demonstrate in the morning and then run from easel to easel teaching for the afternoon. I can save you years of screwing around learning to paint outside.
Here is the link to sign up. Class size is limited to 10 and given the short notice on this one might be very small indeed. People are starting to sign up, so reserve your spot.


Steven Zapata said...

I am honored to be the first to comment- This rocks.

billspaintingmn said...

I thought we were clowning around Stape! I"m sorry!

I will think twice before I make any commments. I apologize to your wife, mother in law and you.
I also apologize to the readers that may have beeen affended by my gross remarks.

I will sit out and remain a spectator~

Karla said...

Another great post! I'm just a beginner but I can tell I will always fight over-thinking and over-working my art. *sigh*

Philip Koch said...

Dern, another great post! I really like the way you talk about the facets v.s. overly blended softness. The Sargent self portrait is the perfect illustration for your idea.

It is hard to put these issues into words, but mighty Stapleton does it well indeed.

Stapleton Kearns said...

No, you are OK. If I have given you offense I am sorry. I was clowning around. I refuse to use emoticons, I think they are dorky, so perhaps you misunderstood me. No sitting out,

billspaintingmn said...

That portrait of Sargent just glared at me as if to say, "How dare you speak like that on this blog!?"
Actually hit me pretty good, ouch!
anyway I'm not as funny as I look:)

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Only work will efface the footsteps of work. -Degas
You can continue to work a painting as long as you can continue making good decisions.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

Kyle V Thomas said...

I like you comment "You can continue to work a painting as long as you can continue making good decisions."

I do find that when I'm floundering around with indecisiveness, the painting looks weak and purposeless. It also usually means that I've lost my original idea, or I never had one in the the first place.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts