Thursday, December 1, 2011

The surface of an Edward Seago, examined

© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery

Above is a painting by Edward Seago that is full of bold impasto. What a fine One it is! As you probably know Seago is one of my heroes ( the others are Aldro Hibbard, Willard Metcalf, and Jeff Beck) If you click on it you will be able to see some of the different textures and thicknesses of paint he used. I will unpack what, in my opinion, he did in various parts of this picture.

Seago texture his canvasses before he painted on them. Here is a link to a post about that. In the passage above, Seago has dragged the branches across his sky, already textured by his ground. It looks to me like he did this with a knife. The rough ground grabbed the paint unevenly from his knife. This had to be done ONCE! This method doesn't admit for much correcting or alteration.
He added the larger branches with a brush, a sable rigger ( sometimes called a scriptliner) would do that nicely. Notice how he allows interuptions in those lines of the branches made with a brush. That makes them look of a piece with the rest of the dragged looking passage. Had he drawn those too carefully and consistently they would have looked too different from the knife work around them and pointed out the paucity of the means used to produce the spotted foliage and twigs against the sky.

Above is a passage from the middle of the painting. I wish I could get better details to show you but this is what I have to work with. The house there is heavily loaded paint, mostly white with a little ocher added to it. Notice how loose and barely suggested everything in this passage is. Seago has made a point of putting a dark contrasting value in the line of trees behind the buildings. the contrast makes the passage pop and draws our eye there. Seago wanted to be sure we didn't miss the buildings down at the bottom of the field. He also dragged his brush strokes across the rough ground in the warm red tree that is just above the white gable of the house. This softens his edges in a different way than a painter would do on a smooth surface by pulling colliding edges together with a soft touch of the brush. Although the mechanics of arriving at that demephasized edge are different than more common methods, the result is about the same.

Here is a passage from the foreground I believe it was mostly painted with a large stiff bristle brush. You can see the marks of the individual hairs in the strokes. That gives it a striated grass-like appearance. Seago varies his paint application in order to best describe the particular texture of the elements of the landscape. He was a very fast and fluent painter and the ability to do this was developed over many years. He spent his early career painting society portraits and horses so his draftsmanship was impeccable. Usually loose painters that are good, have started out painting tightly.


Say, that might make a dandy neck tattoo!

Here is the sky, here Seago is pulling strokes from a large bristle brush over his textured ground again. See the darker clouds soften because they are dragged across the sky beneath them. Seagos ground, besides being rough was absorbent, He added gesso ( real gesso not the contemporary acrylic counterfeit) to the lead mixture that he used as a priming so that his thirsty ground sucked in the wet paint and allowed for rapid overpainting in a way that a normal ground would not. The rough canvas aided him in his ability to work rapidly.

Here is a bit of the distance from the left hand side or the tableau. This is thinly painted, see how the ground shows so clearly through it? Seago is varying his paint thickness for two reasons. Firstly to give the illusion of distance and less resolution, thinner passages tend to drop back from a roughly handled fore ground. But the other and perhaps more important reason, is to provide contrast to his roughly painted passages. In order for some passages to look rough it is most effective to have them share the canvas with thinly painted passages. The thinly painted passages heighten the effect of the thick ones by contrast, just as a spot of dark near a light passage will draw attention to the brightness of that area.

Above is the immediate foreground. It is very thickly painted. See the rough crudeness of the paint? this was probably troweled on with his knife and gives the illusion of texture to the field's freshly turned earth . Seago has thrown some directional signals in there too, the furrows encourage us to follow them deeper into the middle ground of the painting.



A view from the back yard of the Sunset Hill Inn

As many of you know, each year I teach a series of workshops called Snowcamp at a historic inn up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The first session is filled but I do have spaces left in the other. This is a course in winter painting skills and open to all levels of expertise from beginner to self important semi professional.

The Sunset Hill House, a charming old wooden hotel from the days before automobiles, takes care of all our needs including meals served in our own private dining room. Because we eat together, the workshop is a total immersion experience from breakfast until evening. We get a lot done on that schedule. We also get the opportunity to meet and befriend fellow painters.

I teach the workshop right outside the enormous back veranda of the inn, or under that if it is actually snowing. There is no need to carry equipment any distance and if you get cold you can run inside and warm yourself by the fire. If you would like to be there this year here is the link to sign up!


Antonin Passemard said...

Say, that might make a dandy neck tattoo!"

Go for it ! said...

I am interested in how you think that gesso, texture, knife paint, thin paint, thick paint is going to hold up on canvas? doesn't seem to me that they were made with longevity in mind.

Todd Bonita said...

Excellent comments at the end regarding passage and the direction it will stuff, thank you my good man.

John D. Wooldridge said...

I remember you posting this one before and it's a fine one to be reminded of. Thanks also for the reminder that about thrust and leading. I think I've been neglecting that lately.

janice skivington said...

This post was very Useful and Instructional and I will muse and think on it for a good while.
I have a question for you, Stapelton; What if a painter is working with that large bristle brush on rough ground and hairs fall off the brush and get stuck in the paint? Is that allowed to remain as part of the texture or is that a totally unprofessional mistake to let a brush hair stay on the finished painting? What do you do if this happens to you?

Unknown said...

A favorite quote, which goes along with the big idea here is:
"There's a fine line between impressionism and sloppy painting".
(don't know who said it).
I see lots of sloppy painting, but not as much controlled and intentional brushwork.

We are getting a foot of snow tomorrow. I'll be doing a different sort of brushwork - with the pushbroom cleaning off the truck!

kaibab58 said...

I have seen quite a few Seagos in the flesh , not that easy as they are almost all in private collections rather than public and what surprised me was the thickness of paint he literally ladled on with his pallet knife in the foreground area. His later pictures (and this one is a good example) became looser and faster.
The Duke of Edinburgh whom Seago accompanied on a 3 week journey around Antarctica on ship was asked how long it took Seago to paint a picture , he quickly replied ' Oh about half an hour ' a lot of his work actually looks like it was painted in 30 minutes but are no the less works of art because of it. He was practiced and accomplished and as he got older he got better , thats why he often painted so many versions of the same scene because he just painted so much . Incidentally whilst in antarctica I think he did 80 paintings (in 3 weeks!)and when he finished them gave all of them to the Duke who said ' if you ever need them for an exhibition of course you can have them back ' (or suchlike) to which Seago replied 'dont worry I will just paint them again , from memory'.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape, I paint with a real gesso ground. I make the gesso myself, so I can control the recipe for the application.
I do this on wood panels, the hard
surface allows me to 'smack' the brush for a desired affect.(the drumness of a canvas makes this difficult to do)

Would an oil primed board/canvas give the same results?

I'm a notheast wind blowin'

Antonin Passemard said...

@ Janice
Monet's paintings have hair, dirt and sand on them :)
I really do not like those hyper-polished artist. They paint like a mainstream catchy 80's tune.
If Vuillard could paint on a piece of cardboard I think I can deal with it.

JonInFrance said...

I'm just longing for the day when I could become a "self important semi professional" ;D

willek said...

Seago's work look like it was very quickly done.

nean12350 said...

I am enjoying reading your blogs. I love your candid and honest opinions. I especially enjoyed your comment about the time factor of a painting, how unimportant that is. Especially in light of the neo plein air painting Nazi's whose main criteria for a "real" plein air painting is the three hour time factor.
New Hampshire in the winter sounds very harsh to me but would love the challenge some day. Please add me to your blog. I would like to know more about Edward Seago too. What reference books would you recommend. I was recently given a book to peruse while staying at Dedham Hall,UK where I taught a plein air workshop. I liked the book so much I had a hard time returning it to it's home on the shelf. Dedham is an incredibly beautiful place
in the heart of Contable country. I believe Seago lived in the area as well.