Welcome to Compose. There's lots of stuff here, all about composing paintings.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

How One Painting Is Composed

Frequently folks want to take issue with how much composing a painter does.  But the seasoned painter knows that to get it right, it must be rightly composed.  It's not that difficult:  it's just a matter of practicing one principle at a time until it becomes a natural part of your working process.

One beautifully composed painting I discovered recently is "The Dancer," a watercolor painting by Carla O'Conner.  Today's post is about how she made this happen.

What do we see working here?

"The Dancer"  30" x 22"   Watercolor
The first thing I see is an underlying structure of triangles, one of the most powerful organizing methods available to the artist.

 Notice how the image is anchored to the painting's edges at each point a central triangle, enabling the negative shapes--those shapes outside the image-- to form their own triangles.  And look how each of these is a different size and configuration:  that's using the principle of variation.  

Next,  look at  the painting's notan.  All the darks are connected  forming a visual path guiding the eye from one area to another giving  unity to the entire piece. In quantity though, there is more light space than dark, the principle of dominance at work here.   

Back to the painting.

Notice the strong vertical alignment of shapes, the strong vertical edge of the head,  the head looking downward,  the stretch of the arm aligned with the vertical edge of the painting and the vertical format itself, all giving balance to the entire piece.

And finally, study how O'Connor uses the contrast principle by juxtaposing strong darks within a field of strong lights and how she achieves the color harmony principle using both low intensity and analogous colors.

And we don't have to know all this to enjoy this painting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Getting To the Point

An adroit artist can focus our attention without our being aware of what's happening. One easy method to make this happen is a visual device called  one-point perspective, an approach artists have been using for centuries.

Photographer unknown
Notice in this photo how all lines converge to  a single point.  That's how one-point perspective works.

Take a look at how artist Joe Paquet uses this device.

"Classic Saint Paul"      8" x 12"     Oil on Canvas

Pretty elementary, right.  One-point perspective works when the artist arranges major shapes or points of emphasis so that our eyes are guided toward a single area called a vanishing point.   It's a natural consequence of how the eye sees parallel lines in real life.  It comes with our natural ability to see depth as when we're looking down a hallway.

Photo by MarvinOS

Just like they do with all of nature's organizing systems, artists find intriguing ways to employ one-point perspective.  Look at how Paquet found it and made it work here.

"Santa Rosa Creek Road"     12' x 16"   Oil on Canvas

 He's a  bit more subtle in this next piece.

Eagles' Nest Stage Stop    8" x 10"   Oil on Canvas

And he does a similar thing here.

"Queen Anne's Lace"       8" x 10"    Oil on Canvas

One-point perspective is not so much a composition principle as a structural device that can guarantee an artist both an eye path and correct visual perspective.  Sometimes a scene will contain exactly what you need; at other times the artist will make a few adjustments to enable the images to fall within the structural intention.

Probably one of the most ingenious one-point perspective painting ever was done more than 600 years ago:   Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper."

Have a fun weekend.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Take This Path

A path for a painter is like a melody line or chord progression for a composer.  It's our way of getting the viewers' attention then guiding their eyes to the areas where we want them to travel.   We use a variety of methods to achieve this.  Look at this painting by Jennifer McChristain.  Where do your eyes first go?

Jennifer McChristian         "Rue Saint-Antoine"
Oil on Canvas 
The first thing I see is two people walking toward us.  After that I notice the other two people,  cars, and then the overall scene. Then, as an afterthought, my eye goes to the red sign in the upper left of the painting then to the rear of a truck exiting the scene.  The sign and truck bring my eyes back to the figures.  That's the path.

Experiencing this work is like feeling a chord progression pulling us from one area to another before we come back to the major key.  To keep the chord moving, the artist uses temperature contrast (the warm colors used in the building, figures and truck within the cooler colors of the buildings, street and sky), isolation (the dark figures within a light space), and one-point perspective (angles of the street and buildings vanishing to a single point).

That's better than a bagel with butter and jam.

Note:  After a long hiatus, I hope I'm back to doing regular weekend posts on this blog.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.