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  • Stapleton Kearns Class, November 2015



    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?



    Tonal Portrait

    Adding Color 3

    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’


    IMG_4924 (1)

    Nadine and Vaijayanti hard at work, totally surrounded


    Taking Questions


    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.


    Reading List:

    Here is a link to Amazon with all books tagged ‘Edward Seago’ (I just picked up the new one)

    This is a link with all books tagged ‘Aldro Hibbard’

    All books tagged on Amazon with ‘Willard Metcalf’

    And as Stape said, ‘if there was only one book on landscape painting’ John Carlson’s guide to Landscape Painting would be it.

  • Stapleton Kearns Demonstration



    This past weekend, Stapleton Kearns was kind enough to do a long talk and seascape demo for a crowd of some thirty-odd guests in my studio.  Having seen a couple of his talks, I was very happy when he accepted my offer to come and do one for the folks in my studio.  Kearns is an interesting character; besides having ~40 years of experience painting and selling his pictures, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of art history and a particular affinity for late nineteenth-century century American Impressionism.

    Perhaps what he’s most known for on the internet is his blog: he set out to do a post on art every day for a year, and instead continued uninterrupted for over a thousand days, a three-year torrent of information that became the best free resource on outdoor painting on the web.  One of the students that came on Saturday told Stape that his blog changed her life, got her started.  I thought that was touching.  He was also kind enough to bring in a couple of 24×30″ (~65x80cm) recent paintings, so that everyone could get a glimpse of actual finished pictures while watching him sketch and talk.  Paintings below:






    Since starting to turn my studio into more of an art center than just my own space, I have been making a concentrated effort to invite guest artists to Waltham who bring something unique to the table: either top-of-their-game artists who haven’t ever taught in New England (Dalessio, Fenske, Oaxaca and Bodem), or in Stapleton’s case, a New-England based artist who is doing something outside of the ‘plein air’ paradigm of today.  Stape does not do 8×10’s, and does not do your standard demo.

    Most artist demonstrations you see are straightforward: an artist paints a model that’s in front of them, a landscape or a still life, or paints from a photo.  In each of these cases you can see the subject as well as the demo, and oftentimes these days the artist demonstration is the central portion of the workshop, then auctioning off the demo to the highest bidder.

    Stape does not do his demos like that.  He almost always will paint a seascape, from imagination and memory.  His only reference was a lump of anthracite coal (which only marginally looks like a rock, to be honest) and a glass of saltwater which he would glance at and jokingly slosh around while he worked on his wave.





    A couple of progress shots and Kearns’ finished seascape demo


    Seascape painting is a different animal than studio or landscape painting.  Observation can only get you so far- design, invention, and memory are how some of the best seascapes were done.  If you look at some of the outstanding paintings by Frederick Judd Waugh or William Trost Richards, there’s no way they could have actually set and easel up in that vantage point- they’d be washed out to sea.

    Below are a few books Stape recommended- he said there is no ‘one book’, a comprehensive study like John Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting (which my friend Marc has somehow put off reading all these years) but that between the below books you could certainly learn a lot.


    Stapleton Kearns’ Seascape Reading List:

    Here are a few books on Seascape Painting by E. John Robinson

    Click here to be taken to Amazon links of Harry Bollinger’s books on painting the sea

    Here are a couple of books on William Trost Richards

    Click here to see the instructional seascape books by Borlase Smart

    This link will bring you to one of the only catalogues on Frederick Judd Waugh

    Here is ‘how to paint’ Walter Foster’s book on Frederick Judd Waugh

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