Monday, January 01, 2007

The Horses of Roan - preliminary sketch

"Horses of Roan - preliminary sketch" - 5 x 8"ish, sharpie on paper.
Copyright 2006 Maggie Stiefvater

All right, as promised, today is the first of my more indepth blogs on John Singer Sargent and my first preliminary sketches in my terrifyingly complex concept for my ala Sargent piece.

I dug up this following info from a handful of sources (which I'll cite at the bottom) so I hope no one is offended that I'm disseminating it here! (If any of the article writers are reading this and are both humorless and offended, contact me and I'll take it down . . . possibly replacing with a cartoon face representing your personality).

For me, the pleasure of Sargent's works is in his value pattern, which for those of you who aren't as art geeky as me, means very simply how he places his darks, midtones, and lights. And how much of them he uses. Check out these pieces for instance:

In all these early works, his use of dark values is powerful. Moreover, he uses darkness to simplify all shapes and relationships to bare bones. Realism -- but only barely. To me, a Sargent is a Sargent because he paints the barebones of a subject and combines shapes and subjects into value groupings in order of importance. Does that make any sense? No matter. On I go.

And this piece is the one that I intend to model mine after, well, at least the most closely. This is his famous "El Jaleo," and the part that I want to imitate is the lighting and value pattern. See, he has a bunch of people in this painting, but you would never mistake what the focal point is. And he even highlights the secondary players in the painting without overpowering.

So you've seen my concept up at the top, based on a little two second sketch I did in one of my margins a few days ago. Since then, I've been doing preliminary drawings of the horses because the impression of realistic movement and lighting is going to be crucial in this bugger. I also have to place the horses in such a way that none of them eclipse each other, have a foot in another's eye, or look like they are involved in rude activities. And the light has to hit them all in the same way. This is hard stuff!

Sargent usually did preliminary drawings for his larger, more complicated works, and also for his competition pieces, like El Jaleo and Madame X (the stylish woman above). I've seen these drawings, and you can see some of them here (bottom of the page).

After that, what did he do? The biggest points to learn seem to be that he:

- Worked fast. He would do a portrait in 2-8 sittings, and his portraits were big.

- Worked spontaneously. From an article at "Sargent's bold, physical approach to painting was unusual. He would shout "Demons," rush at the canvas, place a flurry of brush strokes and then retreat to a distance to find out what effect his marks had from this perspective. The easel was set up next to the person being portrayed but he viewed it from afar." or from"...slowly and deliberately recede about a dozen steps from the easel and suddenly,[ pic] the brush lifted ready for action and without ever taking his eyes off of me, make a dash for the canvas on which he then recorded his impression, generally accompanying the act by contentedly humming a little tune.(17)"

- Never overworked. He would rather redo a portrait on multiple canvases than paint over mistakes on one.

- had a limited palette, namely:
-mars yellow
-cadmium yellow
-emerald green
- mars red
-ultramarine/ cobalt blue
- ivory black
- sienna
-mars brown
-lead white (rarelly zinc white)
- a lot of medium

- Worked on mainly gray primed canvases

- Worked with a full load of paint - he criticized a student for being too spare with the amount of paint that he had squeezed onto his palette. His large and evocative brush strokes take a fearless use of pigment.

And finally, my quick sketches that have gotten me to this point. Next is going to be a value study to try and change around the positions of the horses to choose a definite subject and identify it clearly with darks. May be a few days -- I have commissions to be working on.

And my links.

I hope I haven't bored you all silly or been incoherent and I'm still quite silly from this idiotic flu!


Lorna said...

Shall look forward to seeing this project develop. Here in England I have seen many of his works and have always been struck by the power of his brush work.

Lindsay said...

Wow! this is so much fun! Thanks for sharing and I"m along to watch! I've never thought to work this way but I can see great value in this.

Kathy C said...

This is great - not boring at all. I shall be actively reading and love the preliminary sketch already.

Rita said...

This is very interesting Maggie. I'll be sure to check back and see where this all leads you, Sargent is one of my favs...


Anonymous said...

Great article, Maggie, plus you've made a super leap forward with your preliminary sketches. I just love those struggling horses! You're really building on the tension.

The only suggestion at this point is that you push the packet a little more. Like...have one of the last horses staring back. Having the first horse staring back doesn't quite press the same point. To me, it looks like he's staring at the last horse. I want to know what they're running from; see it in their eyes, in their body movement, have the last one thrashing in a panic, letting us know there is something in the water that they want to get as far away from as!

Okay, nuff said about that. Other point that we discussed was the comment that you made regarding Sargent's compositions: You wrote - "Never overworked. He would rather redo a portrait on multiple canvases than paint over mistakes on one."

And I totally agree! The only amendment that I would include is that he made the occasional subtle (and sometimes not so subtle change to his WIPS), and liberally used oil and turpentine to smudge areas before he repainted, as per the 1998 edition of Apollo mag:

"He painted with large brushes and a full palette, using oil and turpentine freely as a medium. When he repainted, he would smudge and efface the part he wished to reconstruct, and begin again from a shapeless mass.(15)"

Effortless virtuousity. Yup. That was Sargent.

Bravo once again.


ACEO's By Rose said...

This is wonderful, I look forward to seeing more of what you do with the inspiration from Sargent. I love his works and I am interested to know more! This is NOT boring at all! Love the palette of colors too... so Masters! Hope all are feeling better at your house!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Lorna -- thank you. I wish I could see some of them in person!

Lindsay -- It's very strange to do all these preliminaries, but I feel very official doing it.

Kathy & Rita & Rose -- I'll try and keep posting things worth reading.

Helene -- I agree with you but more and more I'm reading that he would SCRAPE an entire face off his canvas (all hail oil paints) if he didn't like it. Now that's perfectionism I can sympathize with . . .