Learning from Winslow Homer: On the Stile

I have been taking some close looks at Winslow Homer this past week, and decided it was time to get into his painting through an attempt of my own–a copy of “On the Stile.” His style is a nice blend of freedom and precision, with a surprising hold to it. Given my last post on Quickness, the timing seemed appropriate.

I remember when I last took up painting in high school before turning to history and literature, I copied a Winslow Homer and enjoyed it very much. That was my favorite class in high school, and I am not sure why I didn’t stick with it. I also started to appreciate classical music during that class, and it has since become a staple in the house.

Looking at Homer recently, I found myself at first wondering what the “greatness” was. I think I see it in the sense of immediacy in his Houghton Farm watercolors. He doesn’t waste our attention on extraneous parts of the composition. I think the pastoral sophistication also has a timeless appeal, at least to me, who spent some time with pastoral literature in my last novel.

I wanted to work on a few things in this exercise:

1. Use a limited palette of Prussian Blue, Permanent Yellow Deep, and Primary Red Magenta (all Maimeri Blu). I have relied on the earth pigments in prior attempts, so wanted to understand how I could get good browns and greens with only this palette. I wondered if I could get a more transparent result without the earth pigments. Also, it seemed Homer worked with these three or similar pigments for this painting.

2. Understand how Homer focused on his subjects and where he got a little more haphazard, or at least opted not to spend so much time, so I could better decide how to do the same in my paintings. I was struck by how much the perception of his paintings can change when viewed over a short period of time. At first they’re compelling, then they seem flat, then, upon closer study they become very interesting, far beyond the first impression. For example, the girl’s dress has a lot going on in his painting, and it seems so effortless.

I am reminded of one of the selling points of creative writing programs: even if you don’t make it as a writer, you will be a better reader. This exercise has made me a better reader of Homer’s paintings.

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3 thoughts on “Learning from Winslow Homer: On the Stile

  1. laber1 April 17, 2013 / 8:34 pm

    Such an interesting approach to studying and then producing. With every entry on your blog I learn more about what motivates you, what motivated those who motivate you, and then, surprise!–a lovely painting for me to study with my new insights. Thank you!

  2. lesliepaints June 6, 2013 / 10:54 am

    Found him, Homer that is! What a challenge you took on and a nice finished result. My favorite part of viewing Homer originals are those pencil marks showing through and giving the work a feeling of understanding and being able to see the watercolorists work from start to finish. Excellent, Corey!

    • coreyaber June 6, 2013 / 7:55 pm

      Thank you Leslie. I like the pencil lines in Homer’s work as well. I enjoy the roughness of his watercolors, and the pencil lines are an important part of that.

      I will be doing some work exploring pencil lines and process in an upcoming series of posts. I hope you’ll like them.

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