When I was a kid growing up in rural north Georgia, we made our own see-saws with a long board across a wooden sawhorse. Two kids, one on either end of the board, and we were off for a fun ride. Only problem was if one kid was a lot heavier than the other, she got the short end of the board. That meant the lighter weight kid got a higher ride and therefore having a lot more fun. We knew instinctively that the seesaw wouldn't balance if we didn't adjust the location of the board on the sawhorse according to the difference in the kids' weights.
When we're dealing with asymmetrical balance in our painting (as opposed to symmetrical in last week's post), we've got the same problem as kids on a seesaw. So what are we talking about? What makes visual weight and what is visual balance?
In picture making, we've got horizontal balance, (that's the seesaw type), vertical balance (the kind we experience when we're standing straight up) and radial balance (that's like a bicycle wheel where the outward forces pull toward the center and vice versa). All these are a part of the visual balance we deal with in painting. They're put into play by where we place things, their sizes, proportions, physical characteristics and directions.
That's a bunch of stuff, right? Well, just consider it labeling. It's really about how the equilibrium feels in a painting when you look at it. We've got an inborn sense about that and after all, it's where we place things that is the biggest issue.
Look at this painting by Robert Genn ("In A Moscow Cafe" Acrylic)
First, I'll draw a line down the middle so we can see how the images are placed in relation to the center.
Notice how most of the man's image appears on the left side of the painting, yet it feels balanced. Why? With the man's face turned towards the left and with most of the content of the painting on the left, we should feel slightly topsy-turvy, but we don't. Why is that?
Notice the picture on the wall placed at the top right corner, most of which is outside of the painting? And look at those interesting edges on the man's sleeve. I'm going to take away these two things and let you see what happens to the balance.
Now, see how our eyes go to the man's face and either shoot off to the left of the painting or hang around with the man's face and the newspaper.
It appears Genn was playing with horizontal balance. The man's face turned toward the side of the newspaper closest to the left edge gives a visual pull in that direction, but the strong light on his hand makes a counter pull toward the right. The interested edges along the sleeve do the same, then the picture at the top going off the upper right hand side gives that final additional visual weight to balance the whole piece. Wow!
Now look back at Robert's painting as he meant it to be and you'll see what I'm talking about.
In coming weeks I'll continue with vertical and radial balance. Meanwhile, prowl around works of accomplished artists and sleuth out their balancing strategies.
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