Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Art Tip #117

Sargent Knows Best

Students want to their paintings to have pretty brushwork.  I teach students to first learn to make their paintings read from a distance and then spend a lifetime perfecting how it looks up close. Value is the key.  Painting detail can give you a sense that you've capture the subject but without the correct values, your painting will be flat and uninviting.  If you don't catch a viewer's eye from a distance, they won't get close enough to enjoy the brushwork.

John Singer Sargent was the first painter to inspire me & I seek out his work for guidance. Viewing his paintings in person, I'm always struck at how he disguises detail with a few strokes of the brush. As wonderful as his brushwork is, it's value that carries a painting.   No matter how beautiful the strokes or color, if the values aren't correct, then it will fail. In JSS's painting "Head Study of a Capri Girl" from a distance, you think that the earrings would be described in detail until you are a few inches away from the painting.  In fact, it's 2 to 3 very well placed, value correct strokes.   I'm drawn to those beautiful strokes for the earrings but realize that if the values of the entire painting aren't correct...the earrings won't matter.

Those who watched Sargent painting in his studio were reminded of his habit of stepping backwards after almost every stroke of the brush on the canvas, and the tracks of his paces so worn on the carpet that it suggested a sheep run through the heather.   

In stepping back, JSS was mainly judging the how his painting read, not his brushwork.


My goal is to paint the "essence" of my subject, not the exactness of it. Value allows me that. Stepping back helps you judge how little you can get away with and still convey it.