In Consideration of Shape

“Blushing Bluff”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Mention SHAPE to five different artists and they will all tell you what they think it means. Usually, the answers will have to do with the subject . . … The “shape” of the pitcher in the still life. . . . The “shape” of the face of the model . . . .the “shape” of the cloud in the sky, etc. There might be five different answers, but they will usually relate to a subject.

We become so lost in the delineation of getting a ‘shape’ correct . . . or deeply engaged in spending our efforts trying to ‘explain’ a subject. In doing so, we lose track of the most important shape in the painting and how it relates to the other ‘shapes.’ That most important shape is the shape of the canvas or paper. Huh???

Yes, we are drawn into a painting by the relationship of the shapes within the painting and the surrounding rectangle. The comparison of size of the painted shapes and the frame of the surface is a huge design consideration. Where the edges of a painted or drawn shape stop or start in comparison to the rectangle is also an element of attraction. For example, in the case of this painting, the edge of the cliff and that tree approximately hit the edge of a square inside of the rectangle, which is remindful of the golden mean. That ratio seems to be highly magnetic to us humans.

Moreover, one needs to look at the overall shapes of the three different groups of value (lights, mediums and darks) within a painting to see how they compare to each other (hopefully, they are of unequal proportion) and how they also relate to that same rectangle of the outer edges. The character of the shapes is also something often overlooked. Are the shapes generally organic in nature, or geometric . . . .curved or linear? It all has to add up.

Some artists sense this stuff and never consider it cerebrally, but they definitely feel it when it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ There are those of us who sense that something is at work that sets us to feeling something good or not so good about a this stuff, but can’t isolate just what it is that makes us feel one way or the other. So, it pays to understand the design relationships and their dynamics so we don’t fumble around so much.

I will be presenting information such as this at a workshop for the California Watercolor Association in Concord, California this coming week. Let’s hope there will be time and inclination to post once or twice during the workshop. ‘Till then . . . .

12 thoughts on “In Consideration of Shape”

  1. I like how you express your landscapes and use color to create depth and value. I really enjoy reading your comments and find the very useful. Being self taught, I really feel I need to get a better grasp of the use of color and also how to depict value in my paintings.

  2. Hello, Jean! Thanks for visiting and paying great comments.

    If you’d like a better grasp of color, obtain Stephen Quiller’s book “A Painter’s Guide to Color”
    It is probably the best, most practical on the market. Really worth your time.

  3. Good post. Shapes divide space and create design. I think all too often (at least as a plein air painter), we try to capture nature as is, whereas what we really need to do is create a design inspired by nature.

  4. Mike, I love this shape painting. When I took your WBTO class, I found that what seemed to come most naturally from within me are geometric shapes. I didn’t say I want to create a shape painting, but there they were! Learning that about myself was very valuable — you are such a great teacher.

    I just bought Nita Leland’s “Confident Color,” and I am very impressed that several of your paintings are included.

  5. Mary, ole pal . . . .I can always hear your voice when you comment here. Thanks for being so generous with your praise. You have always been a fave of mine!

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