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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Scale and Composing

This week's and last, I'm responding to Dar who commented:
I wonder if you have any thoughts about format (size, shape, orientation) and scale (life size, sight size at arm's length or ten feet, etc), and how they apply to composition.
I took a look at format last week, so now let's look at the scale issue. Below are six paintings, each showing the human subject in a different scale in relation to the format. Notice how each puts you, the viewer, at a different distance from the person depicted in the painting. That's what scale is all about.
How far from you are the people in painting #1 as compared with the people in painting #4? And how close are we to the subject in painting #3 as compared with $6. In painting #2, to what extent is the environment important to the person portrayed as compared with painting #5?

These comparisons show that each of the above painting places a different kind of emphasis on subject. Whereas painting #6 brings us right into the little girls thoughts, painting #2 is as much about the market and street as about the person making a selection at the market.

So, when we compose, the closer we want the viewer to be to the subject, the larger the image of the subject becomes in our painting. The more important we want the surroundings to be to the subject, the smaller the subject becomes as compared to other things in the painting.

When we are very close to the subject, our composing of the elements switch pretty much to shapes within the subject and with less attention on fitting the subject into space. On the other hand, when we want the focus to be about human beings in a particular environment or situation, our handling of the elements changes in order to place the emphasis where we want it to be. Whatever our intent, the compositional principles are tools that can help us make the painting say and do what we want it to.

Compare these two paintings by Edward Hopper and Anders Zorn:
The Hopper shows a man on a tiny scale within the context of a huge building whereas Zorn shows us a man whose image occupies nearly half of the format yet the surroundings are still important. We feel very much distanced form Hopper's person, yet a bit more intimate with Zorn's. Whereas Hopper has used the principle of isolation, Zorn has woven the subject into the surroundings.

These same principle works with other subjects. Look at these paintings by Marc Hanson.
In the first, the trees are in the extreme distance with the sky becoming highly important as a unifying factor in the painting; in the second painting, the trees themselves are closer to the viewer serving more as a unifier, the sky being less important; and in the third, the viewer is within feet of the trees, so close that there is no longer an expanse of sky. It is the trees therefore that unify the painting.

Do a bit of blog surfing and look for your reaction to paintings based on how close the artist has placed you to the subject. One place to start is HERE where Karen Jurick, in her new book, shows fifty of her recent paintings on one contact sheet. Seeing them all together, you can sense the role that scale plays in creating a relationship between the viewer and the subject.

It becomes, after all, a matter of what you want to say. The composing principles then become the tools to help you say that successfully.

I hope in these two posts I have addressed what Diana was asking for.


vickiandrandyrossart said...

WOW! I get to be the first comment! Beautiful blog, very concise and valuable. I'm going next to Karen Jurick's site. I sometimes look at my source photos from Europe and wonder why I got so zoomed in on my subjects. I think I am thinking get the detail, but sometimes I wish I had more background.

thanks for a good one.

Dar Presto said...

Wonderful information, Dianne. Thank you so much for exploring it. You answered my questions and then some.

Dianne Mize said...

Dar, I just realized it was you who asked the question, not Diana. I'm not really senile, just absent-minded. Anyway, I've made the correction in both posts. Thanks for asking the question--it gave me a fun topic to explore. Ask more.

Dar Presto said...

You'd better install a paypal button. I have lots of questions!