Monday, January 14, 2013

From the Mailbag: Stand or Sit?

"Monet's Bench" by Gary Lee Price
(I call it "Claude in Chains")
I don't know if Monet sat; this may just be the
sculptor's interpretation.

A reader asks:  "Could  you discuss the merits of standing versus sitting?  I carry a three-legged stool.  I notice from your photos that you and others stand at your easels."

Most painters I know stand while painting.  The idea is two-fold.  First, you can put your whole body into each brush stroke; second, you can more easily take several steps back to view your work in progress.  When we sit, we tend to make smaller and smaller strokes as we hunch over our work, and we lose perspective of what the "big picture" looks like.  This can lead to fussiness in the work.  (It can also lead to fussiness in the artist when the muscles start to cramp.)

I usually stand.
Photo by John H. Burrow.

If you're doing smaller work, sitting is certainly an option.  You may not have to back off from your work as much, and you may be using smaller strokes that don't require anything more than some deft wrist action.

I have to confess, I sit about half the time.  If I am painting all day, I usually stand for the first half of the day and then may opt to sit the second half - it's easier on the back.  I recommend that you do whatever is comfortable so long as you are still doing your best work.  Question:  What do you do?

"Artists Sketching in the White Mountains" by Winslow Homer
Homer painted these three artists sitting.


Dianne said...

Some times I stand, and it works well, but not for any length of time. If I don't have something to sit on, I won't be there long.

Judy P. said...

Hi Micheal- I just discovered your blog, great stuff. I'm braving winter plein air for the first time this season in MN; I love plein air pieces that have the value/temp, light/shadow differences in snow, but how do you convey nicely an overcast snowy day?
It gets really gray and completely overcast here- the snow in the distance sure looks like the snow in the foreground. Also what interesting colors can you use to convey that weather, that aren't cold and dull? Thanks for the Q&A.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks for the comment, Diane! Judy - painting snow on an overcast day is truly the most difficult. What I do is look for the small areas of "shadow" beneath bushes and other things. Usually, you can see some interesting color down there. I still try to think of temperature differences. On a cloudy day, the light tends to be cooler, so I would paint the snow cool and any "shadows" warmer. Cool greys in the snow, but maybe browns in the "shadows."

René PleinAir said...

Both, I have the idea that sitting tend to make your work more intimate. I wonder however if it would keep you warmer during cold weather, I mean sitting is a much more closed figure then standing, so I could imagine that you would stay warmer much longer. It also gives you a close appearance so I like to think that people in and urban setting would leave you much more be, ...

James Gunter said...

I stand, even when painting little 6X8's, for all the reasons you mentioned.

at some point in the aging process, I might switch to sitting. :/

Jo Castillo said...

I stand usually to paint on an easel. I sometimes sit to paint small things I hold in my hand. I sit to sketch in sketchbooks. Guess I could sketch on an easel, ha. As you say, standing keeps me moving and using bigger brushes or looser pastels.

David King said...

Thanks to back problems I really have no choice but to sit. I'd rather stand but it's just too painful.

Drusilla said...

After two years of mostly sitting due to an injury I am happy to be standing to paint once again. And no, sitting is not warmer, just ask any still hunter, despite long johns and's NOT. Being able to move is much better!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! It's good to see other opinions and choices. Rene - you are right, huddled over your box while sitting will be lots warmer than standing up open to the wind!

Matt Chinian said...

Hi Michael & all I've been enjoying your on-line presence... It's winter here in up-state NY so when the cold weather came I started to stand to try and keep warm, but when the weather is nice I sit. I use the bed of my truck, sometimes, or the backpack/stool for "hike-in" spots, mostly so far in the Adirondacks.

Matt Chinian

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Matt! A truck bed is a great idea - it also gets you a little higher up for a better view.