Monday, February 28, 2011

Mississippi workshop

Above is a demo from last years Mississippi workshop.

I am going to do a little advertising tonight, something I don't do a lot. But I am teaching a workshop at the end of March (
MARCH 28 - APRIL 1) and I would like to encourage you to come if you can. I have taught this one before and it is a five day class. Rolling Fork is another world, it is the heart of the Mississippi Delta. I should be spring there, the daffodils are up there already and the leaves should be out by the the end of March. Here I am in the cold and snow and in a month I will be in summer weather. The Delta is an interesting place, it is sort of the land that time forgot. It has those big live oak trees that I love to paint in the south and we usually set up on farms and backroads in the nearby country side. There are lots of old farm buildings and open fields. I think it looks a little like the country that Seago painted sometimes. Because it is a five day gig, rather than my usual three day workshop I can get a lot more done with the students. The workshop is run by my friend Pat Walker and she does a great job. The food is terrific and the southern hospitality is welcoming. So if you want to get the summers painting off to a good start, meet me in Mississippi where summer begins, long before wherever you are. To find out more click on the link here.

Below is a review that a student from Snowcamp sent me. I have not edited it, other than to drop the reviewers last name for her privacy. I thought she caught the general feel of the workshop pretty well and gave a good account of her personal "take" on the whole thing.
Stapleton Kearn's Snowcamp.

Before I attended Stapleton Kearn's Snow Camp, I thought I could paint. I had a
classical foundation in drawing, and years of self taught painting, mostly figurative,
in the studio from live models, but also often using (gasp) photo references. I had
begun showing and was on my way working to establishing a more serious career.

My excuse for never leaving the studio was that during my career days working for"Mr. Charlie in the Straight World" (as Stapleton calls it), and now with 3 young kids,
I usually paint at night when all is quiet, and it never occurred to me to go outside. I don't like summer weather, and I never knew you could paint in winter. I use large canvases, Smallish brushes, lots and lots of colors, 3 big palettes at once spread over tables, and a way of holding brushes I wasn't even aware of, I just do it.

I had been feeling stifled by my paintings, and the painstaking final stages where
they seem to get "worked to death".

I admire abstract expressionism, but never learned or tried using any of the principals, and was totally unfamiliar with the great American Landscape Painters.
I didn't know abstract expressionism was involved in their work.

I stumbled across Snowcamp on Stapleton's excellent art blog. I admired
Stapleton's passion for spreading knowledge of artists to others, and his (not altogether sane) thought process. I also admired his work, even though the genre was completely new to me. Before that, to be honest, I thought landscape painting would be boring literal representation, which is why I never looked into it before. It
was his blog that opened my eyes to a new angle of looking at things and led to exploring this new genre.

I knew I would be the newbie setting up outside and looking at landscapes for the first time, but figured I knew my way around an art conversation or two, and could
hold my own just fine. It was the perfect short intensive course environment and weather for me to work with, so I rented a car, packed up the gear, ditched the kids,
and headed for New Hampshire. I was ready to shake up my style and turn a new

And it was like this.

Pretend you're an English equestrian rider who has been doing Dressage for
years. You grew up around English breeds, use English saddles, and you always
perform traditional equestrian riding tests in shows. You trot forwards and
backwards and to the side gracefully and your horse curtsies to the judges. You wear proper English uniforms, sit in an elegant upright posture, and view the art of riding through the English equestrian culture. It has taken you years to gain these skills, and you're pretty darn good. People give you compliments.

Now pretend you go to a weekend rodeo school on a ranch to learn to ride rodeo with the biggest outlaw in the wild wild west. Upon meeting him, you're not altogether sure he hasn't cut himself a deal to keep out of jail in exchange for teaching squares to ride. You admire his skill and reckless bravery. You listen to
his legendary advice and death defying stories. You watch him apply what he says to riding fearsome bucking broncos with the greatest of ease. You take copious notes (which seems out of place at first-but then you realize too much is being
taught to just remember). You UNDERSTAND all of what he is saying. You are
inspired. You are excited. Armed with your new knowledge, dressed in your new boots, perched on your new breed of horse, sitting in your new saddle, convinced you will be the greatest new wild west buccaneer ever, you enter the ring.

And in less than 2 seconds you are thrown high into the air, landing squarely on
your arse. You try to get up a few times, but keep getting thrown down on your arse. You really can't get up from your arse. The cowboy saunters over, feigns empathy (says so himself) and gives you a top notch personal tutorial-even works your horse for you until he settles down a bit. You're amazed, you see the light, you really get it now, but once he walks away, you're thrown again, and you still can't get up off of your arse. But, in theory, you do understand how you could keep from landing on your arse the next time. Or so you think. You're convinced you may actually rope a calf before the weekend is done. But you're wrong. You'll be needing years of practice.

Suffice it to say, I didn't' "do" anything great at Snowcamp, and I didn't get to bring
home any masterpieces to show off. Luckily Stapleton did warn us at camp that we wouldn't most likely be bringing home anything worth keeping if we were new to this, so that made me feel a bit better. He reassured us numerous times that
landscape painting was no more difficult than playing violin concertos or
performing thoracic surgery. Which I now know to be true.

I actually spent part of my first work session learning how to set up my new french
easel (yes I practiced once at home when it came in the mail as a dress rehearsal,
but it's different in a snow drift). Even though I learned french easels are "good but they're sort of for girls" (or anyone who isn't a commando woodsman), Stapleton respectfully taught me a trick to getting the braces steady and patiently (not sure if he feigns patience or just empathy) helped me place my spilling thinner while I asked ridiculous questions. Then it took me a few hours to get over constantly dropping my brush in the snow because I wasn't used to the size of the brushes,
the new way of holding them that he taught me, the amount of paint scooped onto them, or wearing a bulky winter gloves, because by this time, the temperature was dropping fast.

What I did gain at Snowcamp with Stapleton Kearns, was the experience of a lifetime. Our family had been having a sudden "situation" at home happening, and it wasn't prudent for me to take the time away at that moment. I came within inches
of canceling. But something told me I needed to do it. And I'm so infinitely grateful

that I did. There was no way in the universe it could have been any more valuable or worth it.

Stapleton Kearns is deeply passionate about art and artists and is very generous with his time in this workshop. Our group had communal breakfasts, lunches and dinners which were some of the most valuable lessons on any number of art topics.
Also included were bizarre personal life stories and more than a few surreal tangents.

Stapleton never lost his energy or punked out. Even though he had his blog to do at night, he stayed with the dinner conversation for as long as it took. Everyone was respected and allowed to talk, ask questions, and share throughout the duration of the course. We learned during meals, during Stapleton's live painting demos, during his critiques of work that other students had brought with them, and even in down times and breaks as well as while painting ourselves. The group was small and wonderful.

I kept marveling at how amazing it was to have a sequestered opportunity like this with a master, veteran and busy working artist who could just as easily be homeworking in his studio or out in the field. His answer to the inquiry, "Can I ask a
question?" was always, "WOULD YOU PLEASE?!". And he meant it. He answered
ANY question.

The deluge of information was so intense, it would have almost been too much if not for the gregarious personality of the somewhat (OK, very) boorish Mr. Kearns.
Just when you couldn't take another academic art note, and your mind got a little too full, he'd break off on a whackadoo rant. Usually about the 60's. Or he would ask (a hundred times) if his soiled neon insulated orange hunting stocking cap from WalMart that he got with a buddy (see we learned a lot of things) looked good on him. We almost trapped him in a couple of political conversations but not quite.
Not only was this workshop intensive and difficult, but it was extremely fun. In
between the demos was the beautiful silence or the snow. And sometimes the
blues guitar of Stape's mp3 player.

I can only imagine what it would be like to take his course as an experienced landscape painter and utilize his critiques at a higher level. He managed to make my juvenile atrocities look almost decent with a few quick strokes and clear explanations of what they needed. His instruction style is amazing for any level of painter. He gave his all to every student in the course at every level. There was plenty of personal attention.

It was a bittersweet farewell to Snowcamp. I left an exhausted Stapleton Kearns
reclining on the stairs dutifully staying alone in the deserted inn waiting for AAA
with a stranded student who had locked their keys in their car. A barbarian, but a
gentleman, shepherding his students to the last moments.

As I drove down the beautiful dark mountain, I couldn't help feeling I had made a
mistake by not staying just a few more moments to pick his brain. It started to dawn
on me, that soon he wouldn't be there to answer every little question. There was so
much I had not asked him. But he had filled his end of the deal -done the trip-
(some 60's vocabulary I learned at snowcamp) and then some, and I had a long drive
back into the real world, my mind buzzing and overflowing with knowledge and
perspective gained that weekend. Enough to rejuvenate and inspire any tired
mind. It was the best course ever. My heart strings tugged as I left the snowy
intersection at the base of the mountain and entered the 1-93 South and away for
good. My only regret was that I didn't' get to show anything of value to Stape.

I'll be back to a future workshop, Stapleton Kearns, with a Gloucester Easel, a stack
of work to critique, and some serious chops. Maybe not next year, but possibly the
next or the next. And I'll be the best painter you've EVER SEEN.


Unknown said...

That was GREAT! Stape, that must've put a huge smile on your face and a sense of "maybe it was all worth it". I think perhaps Amy has a future as a writer too!
My memories of the Jaffrey workshop
totally agree.. minus the snow. But we had big steaming cow plops to avoid... maybe that sort of equals things out.
Dang... Mississippi is soooooo far from New Mexico.....

Unknown said...

oh, and harkening back to the last several posts about modern art, here's an amusing little clip from Andy Rooney about the subject:

stapeliad said...

You have no idea how much I wish I could go to your workshop. One of these days...

In answer to your question...Stapeliads are the coolest plants ever. So that's where I got the name.

Philip Koch said...

Great story! Stapleton sounds so much nicer than I am.

Judy P. said...

Yes what a great story! I've never had a total immersion like that for painting, but I have for the martial arts; it really does sound the same, and I'm convinced all arts are very alike. Maybe someday for me.

Teresa Cowley said...

Wonderful painting posted, Stape! Just wonderful. Also loved reading Amy's write-up... sounds like you are a gifted teacher and the time was just right for her to listen, practice and learn. Those are great moments that set us on course, or, keep us going.

John D. Wooldridge said...

DRATS! I was so wanting to go to this one but signed up for another workshop the following week!! :(:(

Stapleton Kearns said...

She does write well.Mississippi is a long way from New Hampshire too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Andy Rooney is such a curmudgeon.Is he still alive?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Who knew.Are they spiny? Mississippi is close to everyone being roughly in the middle of the country.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am nice! Wicked nice. Some others.........they're not so nice.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't know much about martial arts. But I shoot well.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Well she did call me a boor. I had to look it up.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Decisions have to be made and you can't do everything. Next time!

Mary Brewster said...

You couldn't pay money to get someone to write a better review, or one more likely to make me want to take a workshop! 'nuff said.

My3Starz said...

Hi, Stape. I meant faux boorish. Or seeming boorish whilst actually being polite. Mississippi? Like I say to my kids, "Don't make me come over there!"

My3Starz said...

By the way this is Amy-I guess I have an old identity name for google, and now don't know how to change it.... :-0

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks again for the review. It was really well written and it made me feel proud of the effort I put in. When I teach, I try to give everything I can, I want the workshop to be as intense as I can figure out how to make it. I am grateful that you caught that.