Focusing On The Elements of Design

“A Cheap Trick”
watercolor on Winsor Newton Paper, 22″ x 30″
As you know, Dear Reader, I teach art in the workshop and seminar environment. Moreover, I help artists learn how to think about their work. Not about how to put paint on the paper or canvas, but how to make sense out of what is happening with line, shape, color, value, direction, size and texture. It’s a giant leap for most of us artists to venture away from thinking about subject and to concentrate on whether the story of the paint is being told with sound design. Good art, be it sculpture, oil paint, watercolor or any other medium is simply a much larger thing than whether or not we copied an object, scene or face faithfully. (there are those who will argue this point vehemently)

I made this painting over a period of three days and twenty hours of work. Mind you, the work was in the thinking, not laying on gobs of paint. The time spent with this piece was about how to include a full range of values . . . white to absolute black and everything between and not have a choppy, excessively contrasty painting to look at. But a unified piece with beautiful harmonies and a few contrasts that would absolutely entertain a viewer. I concentrated on value transitions, variable textures, different kinds of line, opposing directions, pushing color from absolute neutral to intense hue, and arranging shape in a way to create tantalizing interest.

That is what design is all about. Making the elements (line, size, shape, direction, color, value and texture) create interesting relationships on the page or canvas to make unity, harmony, contrast, dominance, repetition, variety, gradation and balance. I know that is a mouth full, but if it is done right, any subject . . . .even a non subject . . . .will arrest a viewer and cause him or her to look past a mere glance . . . .maybe even study a piece of work for what went into it, rather than what or where it was.

23 thoughts on “Focusing On The Elements of Design”

  1. That sucker is fascinating, Mike! Reminds me of an auto body shop or the Sidney Opera House. I like the “fenders” levitating over the darker “fenders” behind them. The “sticks” and whiz bang splatters are cool too. I think abstracts like this could very well be your forte. Has this been brought up before? How do you come up with these geometric elements? Are you going wet-on-wet , dry-on-wet? Using resist or tape? I posted some abstract studies on my blog recently and will be starting this week on the final 36″x36″ canvasses. No geometry but more atmospheric, I guess. Bottom line, your abstract watercolors are grrrreate! Want more!

  2. Thanks, Dave! To answer your questions about how to put it on the paper . . . . I use every technique I can come up with to assure interest in every square inch of the painting. No single technique stands out. For what it’s worth, they all matter as long as the painter does not focus on technique, but on the design. The process of painting something like this includes masks, stencils, brushes, stamps, lifting tools, and a variety of different brushes and hours of careful building layer upon layer upon layer and gradually building the value scheme from light to dark.

  3. Ohhhhhhhhhhh what a cute painting!

    OK, just had to do that! 😉

    It’s really cool! Welcome back to watercolors, Mike!! It has such an incredible sense of depth, it almost gives me vertigo! Also, brilliant touch with the splash of red that delightfully contrasts the orderliness of it all. Intriguing title by the way.

  4. Thanks, Nava! Should we call that “orderly contrast?” 😉

    This one was a ‘project’ that only appeared after much resistance and stubborness.

  5. Wow! Another one with the wow! factor of the hats and workshop paintings. I’m in awe once again. The shadows of the “sails” intrigue the eye, and the whimsical strips and red splatters relieve what could otherwise be a sterile scene. Thank you for all the effort you put into this!

  6. Mike, I think your strength is design, regardless of what is the subject matter, it makes the viewer’s imagination flow, the shapes reminds me of bark of the birch trees, it is exquisite and very inspiring. I felt glued to this painting, I kept going back and forth to look at it, it’s aesthetic quality is unbelievable.
    p.s do you give a workshop about the elements of design that is concentrated in three to five days?

  7. I keep coming back to look at this painting Mike. It has so much depth.
    You included a full range of values, all so thoughtfuly placed. The transitions from one to the next, big jumps, subtle shifts. There is so much going on, but at the same time it is soothing.

  8. Silvi . . .it’s one thing to study how to paint THINGS. It is quite another to understand design . . .it opens the gates to painting ANYTHING! Thanks for your always positive comments.

  9. Ambara . . .I see you are making great strides and that you are seeing things in paintings you had not seen before! Congratulations! Thanks for coming by and checking in. No plans for any three day workshops on design. Too much in too little time.

  10. Frank, you are definetely ‘da man!’ Anyone who makes comments loke you just made is obviously a very accomplished artist and one who has a lot of clarity in the construction of a painting. hats off to you, senor! You made my day!

  11. Mike, WOW! Another winner. I love the subtlety of this piece. I know how busy you are these days, yet you make time for your art.

    I’m also impressed by the work of the artists posting on this page. What a delightful way to increase my awareness of other artists.

  12. I am just learning how to think more and paint less 🙂 This painting is stunning – open to so much interpretation of “what it is” but that would be missing the point. How did he do that? That’s the question!

  13. Hey there Jennifer! . . .

    YOU are the compelling painter!! Thanks so much for your visit and comment. Coming from you, comments like this mean a lot.

  14. Sails…buildings…shards of something broken…could be anything. And it doesn’t really matter! It is beautiful. I so appreciate the information that I find on your site, and others like you. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

  15. Thanks for the post, Mike. I didn’t see this one…it’s got a vibe to it that reminds me of a certain artists’s abstract work, but this is so much more kickass. My only possible suggestion is to try and capture it again – wall-sized. that would totally rule!

  16. Oh, Nick! That comment really slays me! Just the sort of comment I would make. ;p)

    Kickass is a compelling statement, that is for sure. The idea of the wall sized piece is definetely a thought worth considering . . .I have this nice ROLL of paper just waiting for such a project!! Will have to see.

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