What do the sonnet, the waltz and a rabatment have in common?
Each is a form--a pattern for how parts of a creation will fall into place. Each is like a seed that will be an oak tree, an egg that will become a hawk, or a ball of clay that will be turned into a vase. The pattern is determined, but what gets created within that pattern has yet to evolve.
Another way to say it is that time-tested forms give an artist an opportunity to create within an intention. In painting, we select a subject, then we have the option to apply a form to help determine how we place the images. The form we choose is our intention for how we will communicate the subject we have chosen. The rabatment of the rectangle is a classic form for creating within an intention.
A rabatment is the square found on either end of a rectangle. For each horizontal rectangle, there is a right rabatment and a left rabatment. For each vertical, there is an upper rabatment and a lower rabatment
One way to do this is to place the most active images within the rabatment itself, then insert an "onlooker" within the remainder of the rectangle, creating a structure that engages the viewer to identify with an image on the outside looking in. Here's how I did this in a 2007 watercolor of blue jays.
|Dianne Mize "Committee Meeting" Watercolor|
As you can see, I placed the two conversationalists within the left rabatment and the onlooker outside of it.
Another scheme is to place the major activity inside the rabatment, then to lead into it from the outside like Carla O'Connor has done in her painting, "Tatoos."
|Carla O'Connor "Tatoos" Watercolor|
Probably the most classic use of rabatment is to show a major theme inside the rabatment and minor theme on the outside, as illustrated by Robert Genn's painting, "Brittany Port."
|Robert Genn "Brittany Port" Acrylic|
Wassily Kandinsky, a 20th century abstractionist, made a similar use of this plot in his painting, "Composition X."
|Wassily Kandinsky "Composition X" Oil|
It's always refreshing when an artist takes a traditional form and uses it with an unexpected twist. Mary Whyte did this in her painting, "Passages," where she puts the major theme outside the rabatment, making the rabatment support the theme of the painting rather than the other way around.
|Mary White "Passages" Watercolor|
Like the sonnet is to poetry and the waltz is to music, the rabatment in pictorial composition has endless possibilities for exploring ways we can enable our paintings to communicate.