Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vermont Workshop

I could use a few more students for my workshop at the Southern Vermont Art Center, on March 1st through 3rd. I only have a few students signed up, so if you would like to be in a small workshop and receive lots of personal attention here is your chance. Below is the course description from their site.

Snow Painting with Stapleton Kearns

Stapleton will lead an outdoor plein air class emphasizing how to create better compositions in your paintings. Learn how to use design to bring home more exciting paintings rather than matter-of-fact inventories of the scene before you. Special emphasis will be placed on painting snow (which is not white!) and working effectively and comfortably outside in the winter. This is not an outward bound class! Stapleton gets cold easily, but has learned how to work happily in winter weather. Provisions will be made for those with cold feet that need to take a warm up break, and no one will be expected to freeze for their art! Stapleton will do a morning Art demo, explaining the methods he has learned in his thirty years of painting outside on location. In the afternoon the students will make their own paintings while individual instruction will be given to each of the participants. The afternoon will be followed by an invitation to dinner for all the workshop students at which time the art of painting and the business of art will be discussed and diagrammed on napkins… Comparisons will be drawn from the works of great master landscapes of history, and ideas that have been handed down to us from those artists will be demonstrated and explained. This class is open to any level of expertise. Minimum 6/Maximum 12 students. Download the materials list HERE.

Here is where to sign up.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Science light!

This is a shot of my easel showing the rack I have sticking out from its mast. Here is where I hang my lighting. When I built the studio I installed an outlet at nearly ceiling level, which is switched from beside my easel. I put in the outlet and the rack rather than a fixed set of lights because I wanted to be able to experiment and change my lighting from time to time. Usually I work only by natural light from my large north windows. However this time of year when the days are so short or when I am in vampire mode and staying up all night, I need to have science light!

There have been a lot of different combinations of fixtures hung from that sad, embarrassing flap above my easel! For a while I liked the idea of using the same kind of halogen track lighting that my galleries had. But I was unhappy with the way my color looked the next morning when I saw what I had done in the cool remorseless light of day.

When I have tried to paint under incandescent light or ordinary florescent tubes my color is way off too. Usually the pictures look dull or lean too far towards one color cast or another. I have never really worked too hard at achieving studio lighting for night painting, and I am too cheap to invest in fancy lighting for that. But last week I decided that I needed to get better light, as I have been working in my studio a lot at night lately.

With all of the people who read my writing I am sure that someone is a lighting engineer, and I know one guy on the Cape ( who often serves as the volunteer scientific adviser to this blog) who is a physicist or something. They all know lots more than I do and will probably weigh in on the scientific side here but I will summarize briefly what I know,with no equations. The people who deal with this for a living throw around formulas and equations that make my head hurt. I'm a high school drop out, I am hiding from mathematics.
  • daylight is about 5500 Kelvin ( a measurement of color temperature) That actually varies as the light from a north window is quite cool and morning light would be much warmer.
  • Most commonly available florescent tubes and also incandescent bulbs are far warmer than that .
  • Any bulb or tube can be labeled "daylight" and not be suitable for painting.
  • CRI ( color rendering index) is a measurement of how well one can judge color under a particular light. This is a real important number when buying your lights.
  • So when you shop for studio lighting you are going to have to go florescent and look for a temp of about 5500 Kelvin or somewhere near that. BUT very importantly, you will need to find bulbs that have a CRI of 90 or above.
  • Ordinary household florescents have a CRI as low as 70. That's why you look like a corpse under them. It's the lights, you don't really look that bad.
  • There are expensive "full spectrum bulbs that can be found online that will meet this test and claim to cure you of the "winter blues", (seasonal affective disorder) if you have that go see a doctor or an herbalist. These lights are no doubt very fine, but I am too cheap to buy them. They are called "full spectrum" bulbs because they produce all of the different colors of light needed to judge your color.

Home Depot ( or your local big box retailer) sells lots of different fluorescent tubes. Most of those are far from being acceptable in the studio. But a few are. I just picked up a couple of sets made by Philips that seem to work fine. A purist or a scientist might tell me that the expensive bulbs sold by Tubes R' US might be better, and perhaps they are, I don't know because as I mentioned before, I am too cheap to find out.

Since I last bought tubes the bulbs have wizened down to a thinner size so I picked up a set of those and a shop light nest to house them. They seem to be noticeably brighter than new tubes in the old style dimension. I now have four florescent tubes about three feet over my head as I work. The new style bulbs are 22 watts and the old style are 40 watts.

Either way, they seem to be fine so far and I can work under them at night and my paintings don't look radically different by daylight. Four bulbs and a two light fixture ( I had one fixture already in inventory) cost me under fifty bucks. That leaves me with money to spend on cigars and Moxie, and maybe I will have a candy lunch!

Sunday, February 5, 2012


One of the qualities a fine painting might have is mystery. Using soft edges and or close values an artist can hint at what is in his picture rather than describe it fully. Painters do this a lot, some more and some less. The painting above by Soren Emil Carlson has a lot of mystery. Primitive painting, like colonial folk portraiture virtually never does. Here is an example of that, from the Fruitlands museum in Harvard Massachusetts.

Everything in this portrait is carefully delineated without much selection.The entire image is presented with the same amount of clarity. This is common in primitive paintings and is one of the things that the academic or traditional training of a painter diminishes. Here is a grandma Moses.

I suppose in passing I will mention that.....................................


Charming though it may be, the Grandma Moses was painted with no thought for lost and found passages or mystery. There is no awareness of varied hardness or softness of edges.

Below is an Inness that has lots of mystery.

Below is a detail from the Inness above. Notice all of the blur and suggestion in the hillside and distance. There is a kind of magic in a passage like this. We see it and know what it is but the representation is poetic, not a laundry list of unnecessary details. Poetry is evocative not matter of fact.

I find paintings with no mystery sort of annoying. All of that bristling detail gets tiresome and over insistent. Below is a Richard Estes with no mysterious passages at all.

And below an Alex Katz;

Whats the deal with Alex Katz anyway? And below, a Gilbert Stuart self portrait.