Friday, December 10, 2010

Stape attacks!!

Above is an image sent to me by a reader. I like that they have studied French Impressionist painting well enough to work in that genre. I think it is really valuable in training to choose an artist or school that interests you, and study it so thoroughly that you can work in that technique, Whether or not you remain in that method, it gives you a baseline. You will have at least one way of doing things, which is infinitely superior to no way of doing things. Before you reinvent the wheel, it is good practice to build a wheel or two in the way it has been done historically. My guess is that this is a studio piece, although I do not know that, and it must be closely based on a French 19th century example. I would suggest to this painter that the next step would be to go out on location and try applying this system on location. There is a lot right with this painting, and it has some charm, however I am here to criticize (find fault) with it. It is most useful to know what is wrong with your painting, that is where you will need to study. I would suggest to the painter that they not touch, or revisit this painting, rather apply my criticism to the next thing they make. It is easy to just make another picture, if you rework criticised paintings you lose the notes from class.

I think the painting has a problem with all of those receding lines that take you forcibly and deeply into the picture yet don't provide a "thingy" to look at when you get there. The house seems to be more of the pointing system, rather than pointed to.

There are repeated intervals in this picture too. Here is a set. It is best to form a variety of shapes, with irregular and varied intervals. The repeating of the same interval or distance from one thing to the next is static and looks mechanical.

There are things here which don't explain well. In a painting it is problematic to have the viewer stop and wonder, "what's that?" Number one must be a little tree, but I can't really tell. It may have looked exactly like that in nature, in which case the artist needs to modify the thing so as to explain itself. Number two might be a rock, or maybe a loaf of bread, I want to know. Number three is the head of a figure, but it looks too like a ripe olive. That needs to be more head-like. Number four is in the trunk of the tree, usually trees obey "constant taper" very seldom is there more volume above the trunk than below. If you search "constant taper" in the box at the upper left I have written more about that.

The picture is cut in half by the implied horizon line. The artist would be better moving this line up or down. This would require a decision, is the snow the thing? or is it the sky? Again this is a repeated interval problem.

The notes with the crude arrows pointing to them are all about the same, yet some are in the light and some are in the shadow. They are too much the same, both in value and color temperature.

The passage at the lower left is either in the light, or in the shadow, maybe both! The two worlds must be kept separate. Either the light hits something or it does not. There is no other location for a note than in the light or in the shadow. The rest of the passage is clear enough, I suspect that there was either more color there, or reflected light and that confused the painter enough that they split the difference. Every time your brush hits the painting you must know, "is this passage in the light or is it in the shadow?". ( I wonder if I am supposed to use a period in this place, please advise style editors pout there? it sure looks wrong).

Tomorrow I will rework the victim in photoshop and talk about what I did to it and why.


T Arthur Smith said...

The question in quotations doesn't need a period at the end, and you wrote "it it" instead of "is it".

The problem I have with the horizon line isn't so much that it's in the middle, as with the viewer's angle of perspective. I feel I'm standing on a ladder, looking at the scene. Perhaps I'm riding a carriage, high above the road? In which case, I'd like to see a bit of the horse in front of me. It's that high vantage that makes us split the horizon down the middle, as we look straight forward. If I were standing on the ground, I'd probably see more of the ground around me. I think people typically look slightly lower, not higher.

Erik van Elven said...

Hi Stape,very interesting read. These critiques are so helpful.

A question, I want to do a Sargent study soon to see what I can pick up from that, I've got some good references. Do you have pointers what to look out for, or do I just try to duplicate the painting as good as I can?

Stapleton Kearns said...

T Artur:

I fixed the it it, typos just seem to breed on their own. I guess that's why there are editors. I go over what I have written and spell check it. They still slip by. I guess that is the nature of the blog, homemade!
I believe the artist has their eyes on stalks.
Vantage point is the horizon, the figure in the mid ground would hang on that horizon unless they are below the eye level of the artist.

Stapleton Kearns said...

If you can. I suggest you go to your miseum or an online poster store and get a larger image of the subject you are copying. The closer your repro is the the size of the original subject the better. Copying a Sargent print that is too small to give you the brushwork is less useful.
Use a ruler to find points within it to get some help in the drawing and then reproduce it as EXACTLY as you can, then make it more EXACT.

Martha said...

I'm wondering about your comment that something is either in light or shadow, one or the other. But what about penumbras?

I often see shadows with variations of darkness. There isn't always a clear bedbug line between shadow and not shadow, there is a penumbra, depending on the light conditions.

Do you mean that this is one of those things that are in nature, but do not translate into 2D painting to the point that they must be ignored? I might have thought I was seeing things, except there is a word to describe the phenomenon, used by astronomers and lawyers.

billspaintingmn said...

"Before you reinvent the wheel, it is good to build one or two the way they did historically"
And, "better to have one way of doing things than no way of doing things"
I understand these two statements well.
(It can be a bumpy ride sometimes.)

Bob Carter said...

Hi Stape-

Spot on critique, as always. Now about your punctuation question, T. Arthur Smith is correct – you don’t need the period. There should be no period outside a closing quotation mark. But, actually, you don’t need the quotes if you change “is” to “if” and recast as follows. Every time your brush hits the painting you must know if this passage is in the light or in the shadow.

Alternately, if you want to cast it as a quotation, it could read as follows.

Every time your brush hits the painting you must ask "Is this passage in the light, or is it in the shadow?"

Note that “Is” needs to be capitalized. There needs to be a comma after “light”, because the imbedded question is a compound sentence. The question mark is within the quote mark, even though this is a declarative sentence.

In case you’re wondering, I’m applying to be your editor if you ever get down to writing that book. :-)

-Bob (aka “The Grammar Slammer”)

Antonin Passemard said...

Great critique ! Thanks Stape ! I can't wait for the next post.

M said...

Stape, your critiques are my favorite posts! I learn SO SO much from them. Thanks to the brave painter who submitted this picture!

Philip Koch said...

I too love Stape's comment about not re-inventing the wheel all the time. When one is starting out in painting, there's nothing better than picking a school or movement and studying and imitating in depth. Then when you feel it's time to move on, do it.

I myself started out imitating Rothko and Frank Stella, and then moved on to the great masters of classical figure drawing, and finally became for a while the last living disciple of John Constable. It was all good!

tom martino said...

Hi Stape, The direction of the figure's gaze tends to move the viewer off to the right and not toward any focus. It seems that any time a lone figure is used in a landscape painting, the landscape painter must be aware of (1) scale (relative proportion),(2) believable proportions within the figure (within the bounds of (1)), and (3) any vector of direction suggested by the orientation of the figure. Does that sound right?

T Arthur Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T Arthur Smith said...

"Vantage point is the horizon, the figure in the mid ground would hang on that horizon unless they are below the eye level of the artist."

Yes, and the head of the figure in the midground is below the horizon, reinforcing the feeling that I, the viewer, am standing on a ladder in the street. Or perhaps I'm on a hill, farther back, and the road somehow turns to the side in a way that isn't implied in the painting.

Martha said...

More on the penumbra:

I looked at shadows as I was driving around today, and outdoors, it's bedbug lines all around, even in the tiny shadows of leafy branches.

So, could penumbra be caused when there is light from another source that is reflected into the shadow, making it just seem like the shadow is shaded? But who cares -why- it is the way it is, except to know when to put it in (or not, if I'm imagining things), right?

MCG said...

It might be true that in New England the penumbra is known as the "penumbah", and is best painted with buhnt umbah. Then again it might not be.

Steve said...

@Bob Carter (a.k.a. Grammar Slammer)

I believe you've nailed the quotation except for the comma required after the word "ask."

As always, Stape, the critques are instructive. Thanks.

Stapleton Kearns said...

T. Arthur;
OK. I will try to remember that. Amans got to know his limitations- Clint Eastwood.I guess the viewer is on a bridge or camel.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The shadow may be varied, but not a s light as the lights. If something out there is as light as the is in the light. Easy. I have never painted a penumbra, but I do halation and diffraction.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is good to have at least one way of doing things anyway.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gee that sounds really hard. I will try to get it right next time.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I am glad to be useful.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I started out imitating Constable too. There were no books on almost anyone else then .

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes, that sounds about right.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Penumbra is unknown in New England. We have Woostah though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hi there! Comma, where geez!Even the grammarians disagree.