Saturday, July 18, 2009

Circular designs

A month or so ago, I told a story about painting out in a blueberry field and how bizarre the terrain was there. One of the readers asked if I would show a picture of the painting. I could only find an image on a greeting card, I photoshopped that, but it is still a lousy reproduction, but here it is just the same. In believe I painted this one in 1989, it was shown, that year at the biennial show at the National Academy of Design. I told a story about that here.

The reason I dragged this picture out here tonight is that I was looking for an example of a different sort of composition. You have seen me stringing pearls and balancing masses. And you have seen the diagonal designs, if you have been with this blog for awhile. This painting is built around a circle. The lines in the painting carry us around the circle in a clockwise direction. The springy lines of the birches and the rocks at eight o'clock are all arrayed about that circumference. The center is relatively empty.

The painting is a weird shape, its a 26 x 29, (that's a Metcalf size) so it is nearly square. Circular compositions are usually most suited to squarish shapes . You can use this design on an elongated canvas like a 24 x 36 but it is less natural. Square canvases almost set up the great circle route on their own.

When I have worked in this square and circle format, I have tried to design my canvas so that it holds the viewer as long as possible. This circle composition lends itself to that. Sometimes I think of it as a vortex into which I try to suck the viewer. If you "spin em" for even an instant you have got their attention. They won't be aware on a conscious level of what you are up to, but they do get pulled in, when these design are working.

For those of you who are recent arrivals to this blog, part of what I am teaching here is the idea of design as an armature on which you hang your painting. Paintings, good ones anyways, operate on a concealed geometric arrangement. They are not random, but arranged. If you copy a photograph, you will not get an arranged design. Your design will be random and probably arrhythmic as well.There are people who believe they can shortcut the learning curve by copying photographs and thus avoiding all the difficulties of freehand drawing. The idea of design doesn't really occur to those artists. They select, rather than arrange their designs. Rather than arrange, they crop.

However, a great percentage of the buying public is charmed by these copied photographs. They stand before them and exclaim "it looks just like a picture" they marvel at what they think of as the consummate skill of the artist. And they will buy those paintings too. Every gallery I know of has one of these painters, and they are frequently among the best sellers in the gallery. They incidentally all paint just alike, they paint just like a photograph. All that varies from artist to artist, is that at which they have pointed their camera. I have written about stylelessness, vision and photography here.

The details are being finalized for a workshop to be held the weekend plus one day, either Friday or Monday ( so it will be a three day workshop ) of the 19th of September in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. September will be beautiful in the rolling hills of southern New Hampshire. More on that soon.

That oughta hold ya.

8 comments: said...

Hi Stapleton,
I applaud you for discussing the use of a photographic image here in your blog.When a photograph is copied it is so easily spotted by a painter who paints from life. The photographic perspective, DESIGN and color is not natural to the way we see because as you mentioned, human focus shifts. We see color in shadows as well as the brightest brights of white. But painting from the photograph is really one more step away from observation and good design and color. This is not to say that a photographic image doesn't have a use, it does, as a reference tool, like a plum line or a grid. I always told my students who paint to the photograph that they will never starve if they make a painting look like a photograph because, as you mentioned, viewers can always say "that looks so real" meaning a photograph. Painting to the photographic image is a virtuosity, the amazing skill and ability to copy the camera's view that is easy for people to relate to. As flawed as my drawing can be, I am happy to show people what my eye, heart and hand reveals. In another ironic twist there is a new tendency now with Photo-shop for "photographers" to make digital images look like paintings and for painters to make their paintings look like digital images! It always makes me laugh when I see this.

deepbluehue said...

I'm interested in learning more about concealed geometric arrangements. How do you decide upon what kind of geometric arrangement to use? I'm guessing that you design your landscape, still life, etc. to express that arrangement but subtly.

Unknown said...

Do you get tired of people saying "Great post"? Well, "great post".

When I think of this underlying design, I think of trying to take my viewer on a journey into the painting, and, as you said, keep them engaged. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on what kind of intentional design elements might do that - value changes, actual directional lines, color notes, etc. To some degree, shouldn't ALL paintings have this sort of circular journey? How would one, for example, create this kind of spiral in a painting that had as its compositional format a "U" or "O" kind of layout, where the viewer is drawn deeper into the distance through, say, a break in the trees, or a gate, etc.?

"pategas" unfortunate internal combustion brought on by too much gourmet food at the opening reception.

willek said...

well, I think it is a terrific picture, Stape. I do not think it is such a far out a painting as you made it out to be. While I have not knowingly taken notice of blueberry leaf red in the past, the reds here do not seem so outlandish. They are not so garish as some fall maple tree reds or those French poppy field triticisms. I'm sure you could have played that color up, but it looks like you played it down a little. But I think the choice of using the great erratic and its placement was critical to the success of the picture and you painted that and the rest of the rocks very convincingly. To me, those rocks echo the placement of monuments in an old graveyard. Profundity there for the intellectual set. The play of those greys against the reds is terrific. I like the way the reds in the distance change color with arial perspective as they recede. The other things I like are the punctuation marks you put in. The stones and rocks for sure but also with those two little pines on the left side of the frame (I magaine they are there to keep your eye from running off the edge, and other dark pines sticking up out of the deciduous branches. I am sure you placed those as they were needed. I would love to see the original sometime. I know a similar place in Sedgewick Maine and can't wait to take another look at it this fall.

taingth= Strength through attainment


Stapleton Kearns said...

I will go after your question in tonight's post.Thats such a great name.

Stapleton Kearns said...

No, I work for the comments. I didn't know that was how it was going to work, its like dog training. You pat the dog on the head and say good boy and he SITS UP!

I will answer some of that in tonights post.

pategas= corruption of Partegas, Good Nicaraguan handrolled, large ring size,

Stapleton Kearns said...


Thanks, I think the real painting was redder, but I don't actually remember, I don't even remember who bought that one, although I could look it up. That is one of the paintings of which I am most proud. I am going to have to find the color transparency for that one and get a better reproduction of it for my bio. That picture was painted behind Searsport Maine, not too far from Sedgewick.

taingth= power derived from a powdered orange juice, prized by astronauts.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think the individualism of drawing, its humanness shines through when you live with a work of art. The shallowness of a copied photograph offers less and less every time its blank visage is observed.