Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advice to a student

Here is a letter I received from one of the students in the Charleston workshop.

Hi Stape,

Thanks for an incredible workshop~ now that I’ve thawed out a bit, my brain is just swimming with all sorts of new ideas and information.

Anyhow, you managed to give me more to think about in three short days than anyone else has given me in the past five years. So, for that, thank you…I’m very grateful.

I have a couple questions for you, and I’ll try to make them plain and simple so they might be easily answered:

>For someone like me, what would be the best way to continue to improve and study? I checked out ateliers and the closest seems to be 4 hours from where I live. Short of moving there, which really isn’t a possibility, it seems unlikely that it would be a good option for me. Can I possibly learn more of what I need to know from books??

>What is your feeling about pastels? I’ve had people say to me “ya know, if you made these in oils, you could get more respect...better prices…etc” However, I love working with the pastels and understand them pretty well. Would it be smart to be proficient in both mediums or should I attempt to make the switch to oils? My feeling is that I should stick to what I know and continue to try to do good work with the pastels.

>What kind of lights do you suggest for a studio?

Again, thanks so much for the workshop. You’re a generous teacher….wicked nice…

Florida Girl



Thanks, I had a great time teaching it, but it was COLD. One guy said I worked you all like borrowed mules. Here are answers to your questions.
  • I always recommend the atelier system as the first choice for training artists. But it sounds as if there isn't one close enough to you, so you do what you can. Perhaps you can do a part time program there? Are any of the grads of that atelier living in your area? A good atelier can save you a lot of time, really accelerate your learning. You need to do these things.
  1. Work every day, all day if possible.
  2. Read all of the books, there are many listed in the archives under book reports.
  3. Go to the museum and study from the great masters.
  4. Find artists to teach you, take workshops ,and try to befriend a pro in your area who will help you.
  5. Join the best local art association and try to find a community of artists. If you have a few people around you doing the same thing you can be a support mechanism for each other and share discoveries and ideas.
  6. Start showing you art locally. If you were studying piano you would play recitals, if you are studying painting you should be showing your art. That is part of the process. Particularly considering the high level at which you are doing pastels now.

I like the idea of doing both, like cross training. You mentioned getting paid for your art, so that might be important to you. You will encounter less resistance when selling oils. However as you have worked at developing your skills as a pastelist I wouldn't recommend walking away from that either.

The root skills of drawing, color, and design are the same no matter what the medium. Oil is probably the most efficient medium, it will do the greatest variety of things in the shortest period of time. Oil is the king of mediums and our art history was written in it.

I have been in some studios with great artificial lighting. Mine is pretty rudimentary. I have big north windows and almost always work by natural light. But I am set up with lights so I can work at night. I have a fluorescent shop light hung on chains about three feet above my easel. It has color balanced tubes in it. They are commonly available now. Next to that is a set of halogen track lights. These lights are like those my galleries use and I can see the painting under the same light in which it will be displayed in the galleries.

You will receive exactly the equal of the effort you put in. If you work towards your goal in an orderly and rational way you are assured progress. It takes a fabulous amount of work to be good at painting. It is the equivalent of playing the piano or a violin well. With constant effort it can be done though. The overwhelming number of people will not work hard enough or long enough to get there.



Erika Lee @ A Tiny Rocket said...

Stape, I am a long time reader of your blog and always find your advice extremely helpful.

I agree that hardwork and heart is the key to success. :)

Unknown said...

Liberace once said (I think it was him) "When I miss one day's practice, I know it. When I miss two day's practice, my audience knows it" There is no substitute for working every day, or as close to that as you can.
But even painting miles of canvas doesn't do it alone - and resources like this blog are key to painting intelligently. With the information and tips you so generously provide, we can maybe avoid years of doing it wrong.

My paints came today!!! I primed some panels... anxiously waiting for them to dry!!!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
barbara b. land of boz said...

My My how you have soften in your older years Stape....I rather like the new approach. There seems to be a theme going work work, AND how bad do you really want it!!!!!!!!!!
I can only encourage others to take JUST one of your will be a mind bloweing experience for you that you will not soon forget!

Hope to see you in Rolling Fork in the early spring....I will be sure to bring my hip waders!

jeff said...

If I may add a suggestion.
Buy the Charles Bargue Drawing course.
It's a little expensive at about $86.
However this is the foundation of most ateliers.

Also buy some good plaster casts.

Find a good long pose life drawing class.

Study a lot of anatomy.
Study perspective, a lot.
Study color theory.

Join a forum like Rational Painting to get crits and to find like minded people. said...

A great pastel is better than a mediocre oil painting. I take a different view than cross training in mediums because I have seen a lot of people start out jumping from one medium to another hoping the medium gives them proficiency. If you aren't totally one of the best pastelist in Florida, then I don't see why you would jump into oils.

There is no hocus pocus that takes the place of focus.

Unknown said...

that's a great quote Marian.
It is tattoo worthy!! :-)

Philip Koch said...

I like the advice to keep working in pastels along side painting with oils. In fact, I'd recommend trying an oil version and a pastel version of the same source- one learns a ton that way about the relative qualities of each of these media.

I myself often do vine charcoal drawings out on location, do a pastel color study from that drawing back in the studio, and then do an oil version from that. The three media can work together to help one find the color & shape ideas one needs.

Also meet and get to know other artists. Lots of them have great ideas to share. Stape's experience with an atelier schooling was very positive, which is good. I myself came out of the college/university art department system. If you look carefully, you can find good artists in both camps.

Pati Springmeyer said...

I agree with the advice of working everyday and getting your foundational training at an atelier...I had to move my entire family of five half way across the country to study with the teacher I wanted to mentor was worth it. As a beginner, I just couldn't get the character development I needed to push through all the days of bad painting by just going to workshops and then practicing on my own. But take heart, since you are advanced, workshops can be a just the ticket if you are serious about practicing what you learn in between each one ( just showing up is 99% per cent of the battle). Stick with one teacher though, otherwise it gets pretty confusing.

Lyn A said...

Thanks All! I appreciate the good advice. I hadn't heard of the Bargue course, but will now look into it. It's the everyday inspiration and the positive nudges in better directions that keep us on the path to the next level and keep us motivated to do the everyday work.
For those of us who live in areas that have fairly limited resources, the advice and experiences of other artists are invaluable to the learning process.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stape,
This is a quicky, the reason you have not heard much from me is this quarter I have redoubled my efforts at the Watts Atelier near San Diego. I have to leave by 7am to get their by 10am for long pose life drawing,than long pose life oil painting, overnight at a motel nearby and 4hr plein aire on Sun. I joined you blog shortly after you started it (yes, I have read it all more than once!) Being so far from you and a greatgrandmother w/limited means,I took your advice,found the Watts Atelier about 200m away and started driving round trip on Sundays to paint plein aire w/Bob Watts,last Jan. Jeff Watts told me last week he was amazed at my progress and I am amazed ,too!! Life is short go for it, I cannot believe where I am after a year with your great guidance. Thank you...thank you, Terry

Lucy said...

Looking at great art fuels the fire. In front of a masterpiece you receive a silent lesson that lasts forever.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape, this is encouraging to read. You have brought so much to our attention. God bless you Tiny Tim ")

Billy Guffey said...

Great advice. In fact, the entire weekend in Charleston was full of great stuff. Lyn, your pastel work is awesome. Stape, thanks for the effort. Good to have knowledgeable teachers willing to work hard for their students. Hope to get up north in February.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am traveling tonight and cannot answer your comments. Thank you for leaving them and I will get back to you tomorrow.

JT Harding said...

Great advice Stape,
I couldn't afford a full-time atelier but I could take classes at the atelier and privately with graduating students of that atelier. What I found important was to learn a system I could perfect with practice. I think it was Hensche who said something like you are never done with color studies. As far as the medium thing, I think it important to become known and proficient in one medium first. Benson was known for his oils before he started dabbling with etching eah?