Studying Sargent

In the manner of John Singer Sargent, I think we'll be working differently for this study. Let's do a charcoal drawing on Tuesday with some detail, being sure to get the features in the right place, then wiping it down to just a blur of the face.
Working on stage one this weekend and will have a plan in place for Tuesday!
If you want to REALLY work the way Sargent did, here are a few notes to prepare...
Highlights below  and for the whole article click the PDF
PDF of Sargent notes

PAINT & Brushes
  • You do not want dabs of color, you want plenty of paint to paint with. Then the brushes came in for derision. No wonder your painting is like feathers if you use these. Having scraped the palette clean he put out enough paint so it seemed for a dozen pictures. Painting is quite hard enough without adding to your difficulties by keeping your tools in bad condition. You want good thick brushes that will hold the paint and that will resist in a sense the stroke on the canvas. 

  • Upon one occasion, after painting for me, he saw one hard edge, and drew a brush across it, very lightly, saying at the same time: "This is a disgraceful thing to do, and means slovenly painting. Don't ever let me see you do it...
  • I still think you ought to paint thicker -- paint all the half tones and general passages quite thick -- and always paint one thing into another and not side by side until they touch.  


  • At the start he used sparingly a little turpentine to rub in a general tone over the background and to outline the head (the real outline where the light and shadow meet, not the place where the head meets the background), to indicate the mass of the hair and the tone of the dress. The features were not even suggested. This was a matter of a few moments. For the rest he used his color without a medium of any kind, neither oil, turpentine or any other mixture. Miss Heyneman subsequently left a study she had made, at Sargent's studio with a note begging him to write, "yes" or "no," according to whether he approved or not. He wrote the next day: "I think your study shows great progress -- much better values and consequently greater breathe of effect with less monotony in the detail. I still think you ought to paint thicker -- paint all the half tones and general passages quite thick -- and always paint one thing into another and not side by side until they touch. There are a few hard and small places where you have not followed this rule sternly enough. 
  • At first he worked only for the middle tones, to model in large planes, as he would have done had the head been an apple. In short, he painted as a sculpture models, for the great masses first
  • seemed to me the mouth and nose just happened with the modeling of the cheeks, and one eye, living luminous, had been placed in the socket so carefully prepared for it (like a poached egg dropped on a plate, he described the process), when a clock in the neighborhood struck and Mr. Sargent was suddenly reminded that he had a late appointment with a sitter. In his absorption he had quite forgotten it. He hated to leave the canvas.
  • If only one had oneself under perfect control, one could always paint a thing, finally in one sitting. Not that you are to attempt this. If you work on a head for a week without indicating the features you will have learnt something about the modeling of the head.
  •  By Sargent's method the head developed by one process. Until almost at the end there were no features or accents, simply a solid shape growing out of and into a background with which it was one.  
  • He had put in this general outline very rapidly, hardly more than smudges, but from the moment that he began really to paint, he worked with a kind of concentrated deliberation, a slow haste so to speak, holding his brush poised in the air for an instant and then putting it just where and how he intended it to fall.
  • To watch the head develop from the start was like the sudden lifting of a blind in a dark room. Every stage was a revelation. For one thing he often moved his easel next to the sitter so that when he walked back from it he saw the canvas and the original in the same light, at the same distance, at the same angle of vision. He aimed at once for the true general tone of the background, of the hair, and for the transition tone between the two.
  • Stand back -- get well away -- and you will realize the great danger there is over overstating a tone. Keep the thing as a whole in your mind.  


Study & Inspiration

  • Paint a hundred studies: keep any number of clean canvases ready, of all shapes and sizes so that you are never held back by the sudden need of one. You can't do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh. 
I found this folder years ago when I was following Juan Jr. Ramirez on Facebook. Not sure where he disappeared to.
Click on each image to see his brushwork
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