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Old 04-25-2006, 10:06 AM   #1
Jeff Fuchs Jeff Fuchs is offline
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Sargent's lessons

I'm re-reading this description of Sargent's methods, and wondering how many of you have read it, and what you have taken from it.


Sadly, Sargent did not document his process, but one of his students did. Some of the lessons in it seem like they could be engraved and hung on a studio wall.

He had no qualms about ditching an unsatisfactory painting and starting over. I think some of his work that looks spontaneous is because it really is. After spending weeks on a painting, he might set it aside, and start over. The final painting is completed in a very short period, but all the problems had already been worked out on the earlier version.

Another lesson is his method of painting a featureless face, adding the eyes and mouth near the end of the process. He's not just leaving the details out, he's leaving out everything except major masses. I've really got to try this. It's kind of like Bill Whitaker's loaf of bread (something else I need to try).

If anyone knows of more resources for Sargent's methods, please share.
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Old 04-25-2006, 11:32 AM   #2
Richard Monro Richard Monro is offline
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What a great commentary. I normally paint from dark to light, but Sargent's method of painting from the midtone to the dark and the light makes great sense to me.

Thanks for sharing this with all of us.
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Old 04-25-2006, 12:13 PM   #3
Jeff Fuchs Jeff Fuchs is offline
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I searched for an example of his work that would show signs of the featureless method. Naturally, it was hard to find one, because the features were added masterfully, and look like they were there from the start. But here's an example that shows it very well.


Sargent said that one could benefit from painting blank heads for a week. In my case it would take a month, partly due to the limited time I have to paint. Still, it's time well spent.

Scott Burdick paints without features in his early stages, but the narrative gives me the impression that Sargent took it farther, and completed the planes of the face before addressing features.
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Old 04-25-2006, 01:37 PM   #4
Mischa Milosevic Mischa Milosevic is offline
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Jeff, thank you for sharing this in regards to Sargent. I too, admire his works very much and would appreciate any hints to his teachings or works. I have some of his drawings that I would gladly share. I post one of my favorite drawings, favorite only because I have drawn this statue many times while in Florence.

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Old 04-26-2006, 08:31 AM   #5
Richard Budig Richard Budig is offline
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I just picked this off of a web site dedicated to Sargent, and I have already posted it in this section of SOG. However, I thought it might do well in this subject, so if the moderator chooses, she may delete one of these.

The following comments tell some interesting things about Sargeng, in general, and how he worked while doing one of his famous charcoal sketches.


(Mrs. Claude Beddington) The first time I ever saw Sargent was in the [1900s] at a big dinner-party given at their Bryanston Square house by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wagg, a hospitable couple generally reputed to have one of the best chefs in London.

I confided in the gentleman who took me in to dinner. . .
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Old 04-26-2006, 12:10 PM   #6
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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Great topic! Thanks Jeff.

Hmmm--- the working from middle tones is a great idea.

His figures seme to emanate from the space they are in instead of having a background filled in around them.

When I have a model, I am sometimes struck by some new color, some subtle shade, some new mannerism I have not seen before.
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Old 04-26-2006, 12:34 PM   #7
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Thank you, Jeff! This is a fascinating document. I didn't know anything like this existed!
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Old 01-04-2009, 02:24 PM   #8
Clayton J. Beck III Clayton J. Beck III is offline
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I read the description of Sargent's method when I was in school. I also happen to be lucky enough to have had a huge show of Sargent work right across the street from the American Academy Of Art at the Art Institute Of Chicago. The third bit of luck that I had was that Richard Schmid had moved back to Chicago a short while before. Between some great teachers at the academy, seeing hundreds of Sargent's pieces for months on end, and having Schmid around to guide me through his opinion of Sargent method I realized I had drawn the right straw in my artistic life. Each time I think about those days I look back and wonder how did I get so lucky. Somebody else in this topic discussion has mentioned Scott Burdick. He too was there in Chicago for all of that.

Working with Sargent's method, from the middle tones out makes perfect sense. By working from the middle tones out you never paint your self into a corner as far as values or edges. You always have that extra punch in reserve of lightest light, darkest dark, and sharpest edge to help pull an area out. Add to that the idea of intensity of color and you really gain a great deal of control over where your viewer's eyes are moving around the composition. By working from the middle tones out the head has a tendency to look as though it is skinned draped over a featureless skull. Sargent understood that much of the likeness was in these large features within the massive areas of the skull. To test this theory take one of you were photographs of a model and continually blur it in an image manipulation program to the point where you lose the likeness. You will find that you will have to blur it an awful lot to get the likeness to disappear. This is the proof that the likeness is not in the individual features but exists in the masses. Sargent understood this very well.

There are advantages and disadvantages to Sargent's method, you will have to work them out for yourself. My advice is to work with is method for at least a few hundred studies to get a great feel for it. I believe you will find the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages in most cases.

This portrait of Eleanor Duse, which was printed in Ratcliff's book on Sargent in black and white, was the key for me to understanding Sargent's method. It is reported that she stood up after less than an hour and left. This is what Sargent accomplished at the very beginning of his sittings. A likenesses absolutely nailed and it appears that he has barely begun.
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Old 02-28-2014, 12:14 PM   #9
Joe England Joe England is offline
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I really enjoy Sargent's watercolors. You can learn a lot about what he was seeing by looking at those quick doodles in water color.

Sargent was very inventive, and didn't like to be restricted by little details, he was more concerned with composition and capturing something more powerful. I've seen a few of his paintings up-close and they have effects and textures that are poetic and relate to the overall image.

I think something also interesting about Sargent is his way of making dark paintings seem cheerful or something other then dark and shadowy.

here's some good vids I watched the other day on Sargent.

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