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 . . . .
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
This location here on the west coast is but a teensy little spot which has massive interest to me. I cannot count the number of paintings which have come from this location (Davenport, CA). Every view imaginable has been put to canvas or paper . . .and more images await the brush.
This clump of trees sits at the very edge of a sheer cliff into the rough surf below . . . .probably 100 feet or more! (30 meters). The cliff face is absolutely vertical and these trees and their roots are holding the cliff from eroding into the sea. The cluster of trees juts out into space as the wind beats at them daily. Thus, the name, “blow hard.” Their shape and their trunks and branches tell much about their struggle to remain in that place. The salt, the fog, the wind, the cold . . .it all contributes to stealing their healthy appearance and at the same time giving them strength.
I have been working on developing a new workshop for the last few months and travelling, too. The mental focus to compose the lessons, examples and order of this workshop was weighing on me. So, yesterday, I took the day to play at the easel. This was the result. I had fun and am now ready to refocus and finish my tasks to compile this workshop.
oil on canvas panel, 16″ x 12″
This scene, one I worked on over and over while in France, is out of the images left in my mind.
Yes. It was composed and painted completely from my thoughts about what it should look like. First, the pencil sketches came while mulling over my morning coffee without visual reference to any of the previous attempts done on site. Then there were the considerations that came with the sketches. Those considerations would never have come had I not painted similar scenes in plein aire while there. Here are some of my thoughts about composing this.
· The hay rolls must provide direction for the eye to track into the composition and not become a subject in themselves.
· Color !! Is GREEN the only color to work with?! Too much green is simply too obvious!
· Color again! Why not use colors that wouldn’t otherwise be seen? Pump it up and see what happens. Look for impact and entertainment versus realism.
· Those poplar trees! They speak to me. Feature them, not the sunflowers below.
· As for the sunflowers, just make them one shape with minor color variation.
· Put the color accents on the poplars and repeat those colors in the foreground for unity.
· Texture in the foreground to indicate grasses, but without stating “grass” explicitly. Imply!
· Use the successful parts of previous paintings.
When I stand in a field and paint a subject such as this, my attention is focused on what is there and how the light is working. That focus makes memory connections that no photograph can make. That is why so many photos go unused after coming home. There just is no concentrated, laser observation at work.
Then there is the added benefits of painting the same subject from different perspectives or points of view . . . .which make for different compositions. The more I do it, the more there is to recall . . . .and the more clarity I find in my purpose. I suppose that practice does that. It helps eliminate the superfluous and aids in refining that which impresses me. In this case, those beautifully shaped poplar trees . . . .and, of course, the light.
In the studio, all this stuff comes into play and falls easily into place.
Practice does that. It makes every attempt clearer, more certain and easier to execute. Some artists call it working in series. It is very, very powerful!
oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″
Putting all that study time into practice helps. But, if you are like me, your brain goes flacid the moment a brush is in your hand.
I dunno what it is, but this guy’s left brain ceases to communicate with the right brain once the painting act begins.
There are so many decisions to consider when the painting begins . . . .light over dark . . .no greens . . . .warm dominance . . . . .what will I do with that corner over there? . . . .and what about that building that is perfectly behind one tree so that its roof peak coincides with the tree trunk . . .gotta move it . . .and more and more and more.
This piece was to be a practice piece. I have more to go, obviously, but I really did learn something about layering progressively warmer and lighter schlobs over the thin darks this time. I had a blast with it. Enjoy!