Thursday, May 20, 2010

The eyes of a rectangle 2

There they are, the eyes of a rectangle. Many compositions begin by seizing one of these points and sticking something real important there. You may have played tic-tac-toe and knew which square to grab if you went first. Its a little like that. However its so easy to do that you can do this design too often, a roomful of power spot designs can look pretty monotonous. It also tends to give a formal 19th century look. That may be just what you want, or maybe it is not.

As I said the other night I felt like I was just mindlessly starting every composition this way a few years back and now I am on the lookout for that fault. I still use it, but I try to design by pattern instead,That is arranging interlocking shapes of varying size and value across my canvas. I think I get more varied designs that way and they look less predictable.

My friend Bob, who knows his math, wrote in the comments the following;

On a canvas with the common 3:4 ratio (12x16, 18x24, etc.), the diagonal is 5 units. With a little trigonometry, you can figure out that the power spot is 1.8 units from the closer corner along the diagonal. In other words, the spots are at 0.36 of the diagonal length from each corner. If you drop a perpendicular from a power spot to the long dimension of the canvas (the 4 unit dimension), it is 1.44 units from the edge, which is 0.36 of the long dimension. Each spot is 1.08 units from the top or bottom, which is 0.36 of the short dimension (the 3 unit dimension). The recurrence of the fraction 0.36 in all these dimensions is fascinating -- I see the makings of a cult. The fraction 0.36 is roughly one third (0.33), so the spots lie very close to the intersections of lines that divide the canvas into thirds.

I had to read that several times (once lying down) in order to understand it.

Above (courtesy of is a John Constable, The White Horse. The major tree is placed on the eye in the upper left of the rectangle. That gives it a place of great prominence within the design. There is also a white cow marking the eye on the lower right.

Here is the wonderful Bouguereau from the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. If you have never been to that museum, it is well worth a trip to western Massachusetts to see it. There are many masterpieces there, including this, Bouguereau's finest painting. He has placed a figure of a nymph at both the upper left and lower right eye. The stern of the nymph on the right is moored securely right on that point.That may be what gives this painting such a broad based appeal. Incidentally, notice how nicely the raised arm of the woman on the upper right leads us up and to an easy exit after we have viewed the rest of the scene. It also repeats rhythmically the leg of the figure on the left,and also the leg on the lower right, giving a sort of pinwheel design to the painting.


billspaintingmn said...

Stape, could you get the sharpie
out and show us what your talking about?
Draw some lines on the Bouguereau
or Constable, to help us get an Idea, or clearer understanding of this. Thanks!

willek said...

The Bougereau is one of my most favorite paintings of all time. You are right about seeing it in person. It is a powerful picture. I had not thought of it in terms of the composition and thank you for redirecting my attention back to that rather than the story. Can you talk some about exits? You mention the arm as an exit and I am re-reading my Payne book as an adjunct to your recent posts and he mentions exits once or twice, but that is all. I think they must be important. Also, I have heard about the frame as part of the composition. If there is an exit, it must be to the frame so there must be a place where the eye, after travelling around the frame,can jump back into the composition to wander again over the picture. I imagine frame value and color might be factors here. Wow, this is getting complicateder and complicateder.

Darren said...

The idea of an exit for a painting always bothers (confuses?) me a little. I mean, why would I want to lead the viewer out of my painting?

Anonymous said...

Hi Stape, This is the magic stuff!! I can draw, handle values, color, my medium of choice; I am still not an artist. I'm a good sign painter, a mural painter, I use these design tools as an illustrator would......but that's not enough and it may be overkill. My pictures are just pictures of things, places, people....good but no music just excellant scales. This Bougereau is soooo much more! This blog is so exciting because you cut through to the guts of the problems and drag us whining critters with you! Terry

Stapleton Kearns said...

OK, Tonight I will do that, thanks for the question.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will write about design exits in the near future. Remind me if I forget. I have a a bunch of questions received via e-mail to answer.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's a question I have often asked, and I have deliberately made MANY paintings that were intentionally eye traps. I often used vortices to do that. More on that later I guess.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks.Perhaps you should study Carl Peters or someone else who is very proto modern designy.