Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop for Stapleton Kearns, who over the course of the past 40ish years has made his name very well known and respected in the American painting community. Personally, I was excited to have someone with his experience come teach, Stape has a unique perspective…. after all, he was working outside in all seasons long before the current ‘plein air’ movement made it popular, back when it was just called ‘painting outside’.
Still, it seems most people know Stapleton these days for his work online; he regularly churned out posts on his blog for about three years, rarely even missing a single day of posting. He wrote about art and landscape painting from every angle, some angles twice. I’ve often called his blog the best (and free!) online resource on landscape painting, because in my opinion it is. During the class, we were happy to be able to announce to the students that finally, Stapleton will be releasing a book- curated from both from his blog’s content and new writings, edited into a much more digestible package (the publishers have scraped his blog for content, it runs over 1300 pages, and it’s all there to read online, apparently longer than War and Peace). If you are interested in updates on the book project you can sign up for the mailing list by clicking here, following this link. The book is only in very early stages of development, so late 2016/early 2017 I would imagine.
In spite of the first day’s brisk weather, the pace was set by the seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm for painting and art history that Stape brings, his class ran 12 hours on the first day, 10 hours on the second day, and 7 hours the third. It really was a bit of a whirlwind of a weekend.
Each morning Stapleton worked on a demo- he started a painting on each Saturday and Sunday morning, and on the third day did a demo that was particularly interesting- rather than working from nature, he worked on the painting as if it was in the studio, turning it into a ‘studio landscape’. This seems to be one of the most common questions students ask during landscape courses- what do you do to the paintings in between working outside and having them framed, hanging in the gallery?
Here’s a shot of Stape’s demo- in action on the first morning
Saturday’s demo at the end of the first session
So the demos in Stape’s class are a bit different than what you might expect- he goes to great efforts to make his painting non-literal, but interpretive, leaving out or adding in great swathes of the landscape. He stressed that observation is but a means to an end- as he says, “You cannot observe design into a picture“. This raises an interesting point- while many today (myself included) teach outdoor painting based on the optics of light outdoors, teaching the basics of atmospheric perspective as they affect color, Stape prefers to speak on the aesthetics of color and choices that he as an artist would make along the way.
In spite of raising this clearly advanced concept, he repeatedly reminded the students that the first step is for them to learn to copy exactly what they see in front of themselves, either through studying cast drawing and painting, or faithfully representing the landscape in front of them. That attitude of tackling both the most complicated aspects of aesthetics and design, while being true to the struggles of learning to draw from life allowed us to really talk about art more than just painting throughout the weekend.
The evenings we met to go over hundreds of images of paintings- and eat pizza
There were two nights of evening lectures in my studio- the first night, Stape went through a brief history of modern landscape painting, from barbizon to hudson river school, to American impressionism. Afterwards, a tour many of his own paintings, showing us briefly the sort of work he does in the studio from his outdoor paintings- and for those who stuck around, a brief talk on design as it applies to landscape painting using as example Aldro Hibbard – if you are interested, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Hibbard’
On the second night, the lecture was reserved for another of his heroes, Edward Seago. Along with talking about his pictures, Stape gave an impassioned summarization of Seago’s career and personal life that I was unfamiliar with. Again, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Seago’
Nadine and Vaijayanti hard at work, totally surrounded
Here’s Stape on the last day finishing his demo from imagination and memory
Bonus shot of the piglets and chickens, only because they were awfully cute.