Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dissection, June 11th

I want to begin tonight by talking about plumbing your verticals. By plumb I mean absolutely vertical and not leaning either to the right or the left. Here is an example of a piece which is out of plumb, below. I put a white line in it to show true vertical.

This little bottle of olives leans to the left on the right hand side. It is easy to avoid, here's how;

Hold the brush with your fingers against the edge of the canvas at the top of the line and then keeping your hand in the same position, slide your hand down the edge of the canvas and check the rest of the line down to the bottom. Easy.

All of your upright lines in buildings need to be plumb. There is another little nicety I guess I should mention now. In very tall buildings or when you are painting a "worms eye" view the lines actually lean slightly inwards as they converge on a vanishing point far above us in the sky. Every once in a while you may need to do this, but usually vertical is what you will use.

Lets throw our squirming church painting back on the gurney and open it up a little more.

Look at the right hand side of the lantern. Yeah, I know you don't know where the lantern is on a church is, do you? Its the box upon which the tapering steeple sits. Often it bears a clock or is open to a belfry. I am going to run some posts on the basics of American architecture as it is something an artist should know. I better do the orders of furniture too while I am at it. So much to write!

The lantern leans to the left , particularly the part where the two windows are. The steeple above that, is off to the left also. That stuff may be loosely painted but it has to be right. You have to very carefully observe these things and take comparative measurements. Notice which elements in the building itself fall below which elements in the steeple or its lantern. Lets look at the Gruppe again.

When you look at this Gruppe there are lines that he allows to be loose and random looking, however the general "thrust " of each window and architectural element is right. Look at the window above and to the left of the door. The shutter is painted out of square and in a seemingly haphazard manner but if you look within that at the boundaries of the window itself, he's got those plumb . So you can fudge some of the decorative or less important elements so long as you are pasting those onto a structure beneath that is plumb. Gruppe is about as non linear a painter as I could use for an example, as his paintings are very roughly done and were made at a high velocity. They look tight enough seen shrunken down on this page, but in real life this painting is very loose. Gruppe is a hero to a lot of painters here in New England. He lived in Gloucester and is best known for his pictures of the the harbor . Lets return to our church painting we are dissecting;

I am going to quickly enumerate some flaws that keep this picture from really working. The base of the church or its foundation runs downhill from the left to the right. That gives the structure an unstable look. The road on the right, seems out of perspective also. I think an indication of another building back there or something else so that the world doesn't seem to just end behind our church. The trees in the picture need to be more carefully drawn. Trees need to be characterized. You should look at them and not just put in a generic every tree, but a tree portrait. As long as they are such patient models it pays to get them worked out so that each one looks only like itself and no other.Often I build street scenes around the trees rather than the houses. That's what Gruppe did in the painting above. The arching shapes of the trees make a good foil for the straight and plumb lines of the architecture.

Now it could be my monitor or the jpeg, but it looks to me as if all of the greens in this picture are too alike. The doors, the steeple, and the bushes in front of the church all seem to be of the same color. Even if they were in real life it would be a mistake to paint them so. They too need to be characterized. I keep throwing that word around so I guess I need to explain it a little. Those of you who are as old as I am remember the political cartoons of Richard Nixon with his ski jump nose. The cartoons looked more like Nixon than Nixon himself. Why? because the artist had analyzed which features of Nixon's face were particular to him and no one else and then exaggerated them slightly so as to call attention to how they were unique. Now I am not suggesting that we go to a cartoon level but we need to seize on the things in a tree or figure or whatever that are unique to it and different from all others and present them in such a way as to make the viewer aware of them also.
Another problem with this picture is that everything in it marches from the left to the right at about the same distance from the viewer. Like a frieze. That makes for a static sort of presentation. A figure or two or a pine tree placed in space between us and that church would relieve that some

I have been speaking with some people who would like me to do a workshop later this summer over in Western New Hampshire. If you have an interest in being a part of that, e mail me and let me know.

I will continue tomorrow with the dissection of some more readers art.

Gruppe image from Gruppe on painting, no longer ridiculously ecpensive on the used book market, but readily available at the Rockport Art Association 978.546.6604


Unknown said...

Very enlightening! You are helping me put words and terms to things I find unsettling in my paintings but don't know why. Now I can start to fix those issues.

By the way, maybe you could do a workshop on the west coast sometime? I hear southern California is nice...

Stapleton Kearns said...


I would like that,who knows, I have an excuse to be out there anyway as you know.Hows about Bishop and a pack train?

Unknown said...

I'm thinking, after seeing these dissection drawings, that I am glad that I was neither a medical student nor an art student during those days!
Can you imagine the smells?

I know, I know, it's a useless comment in the context of the critique, but that's what keeps coming to my mind as I read these posts. Maybe one of these days I'll be able to think of a good question.

Jesse said...

As long as we're throwing out suggestions for workshops, the Northwest is awful nice! Some nice pointy mountains...

Unknown said...

Bishop is beautiful. So is Lone Pine - anywhere around there.

jeff said...

I sometimes use a piece of string to help with the plumb line.

It works well and is very versatile. If you want you can put a small weight on the end such as a key or if you want to get fancy a small carpenters plumb.

I think it's a good idea if one is having problems keeping those verticals straight, a good visual aid.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Doesn't matter. Its nice to know someone is out there reading these.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I would like to paint those seascape locations you do. That must be a great place.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bishops is where Payne jumped off I think. I have painted the mtns at Tahoe but not in the south. What a great trip that would be.

Stapleton Kearns said...

A plumb line is a a handy tool. The hardware store sells a nice bob, as the weight on the end of the string is called. A fishing line weight works nicely too. If you can plumb nature with a line, you can then measure on the canvas with the brush like I showed in the post.