Wednesday, August 31, 2011

shapes and masses kept large

Maynard Dixon, The Forgotten Man

Here is a question I received lately.

Bullet #2 about shapes and masses kept large, is something I want to make work for me better- can keeping the value the same within the mass, and keeping lines soft, enough to get a bunch of little objects read as one unit?
Ms. Prim N. Shrivley

Ms. Prim;
Keeping your masses simple and your shapes large is one of the skills that develops over time. It is part observation and part installation. It results in a breadth of vision that can please the viewer with clean design and lend dignity and import to subjects that are mundane or commonplace. Here are some bullets;
  • The idea is to subordinate the smaller variations or details to the larger shape on which they ride. Look at the Maynard Dixon above, if you squint at the mans jacket you will see that it is really just a small light area and a big dark. Notice the shadow of the lapel and the shadow next to that where the sleeve sits against the side of the coat. Those deep shadows are only a little different than the area around them. They have been subordinated to the larger shape of the jacket shadow. The passage says DARK JACKET with shadows, rather than, dark jacket WITH SHADOWS.
  • This is a matter of emphasis. You can look at any scene in two ways, piecemeal, that is as an inventory of its parts, or you can see it broadly. Seeing broadly detail is minimized and the whole scene is apprehended in its entirety. The first time I was told about this I didn't get it at all. I eventually learned to apply it, but for me it was a long process. Ives Gammell (my teacher) used to tell me, don't look into your shadows. He meant to get the "big look" rather than scrutinizing the variations within the shadow field.
  • Squinting will simplify the the shapes in a scene and help you get the idea BUT, really this is a convention. This is a deliberate simplification of the little stuff in order to sake the big stuff dominant. Any time you paint details you can imagine turning down the volume on them a little.
  • Connecting lights and connecting dark shapes are both ways of helping along the "big look".
  • Look again at the painting up top, notice the marching trousers behind our dejected hero. See how simplified they are? They are just lights and darks, in all of those pant legs and skirts there is one (1!) fold. There is nothing there to hang up your eye. This gives the painting an artful look. Vision is busier than this. This formalizing and distancing makes the image read as something special, an altered more acute and discreet vision.
  • Edward Hopper used this all the time. Below is "Earl Sunday Morning". This picture has had the hell simplified out of it. There is nearly no detail. Look at the awning in the middle of the painting for instance. It is just a long shape. there are no folds or details within it because Hopper left them out. There are no little brick details in that facade either.
I will return to this subject again in my next post.


Philip Koch said...

I love those two paintings and I love what you wrote in this post. Very well said.

Would never have thought of Maynard Dixon paired with Edward Hopper, but their a perfect pair to show what you're talking about. said...

Well, I was out there today trying to make sense of the landscape and, boy , using a three color pallet and massing the darks sure did help a lot . Great paintings here demonstrating once again, when the big shapes read ....a painting is working.

Love all those rectangles in the Hopper piece.

Mary Byrom said...

Very nice pictures clearly explaining what you said.

Mary Byrom said...

Or do I have that backwards? Very nice pictures clearly showing what you explained...its after my bedtime.

Libby Fife said...

Two great examples of simplified masses (and the reason to use this technique) so thank you.

Cynthia Hillis McBride said...

VERY timely post. I've been working on simplification lately. I have to crush a tendency to include every detail. Thanks for these excellent examples. Both are really stronger for the lack of detail.

Lucy said...

I love that Maynard Dixon placed the figure to the side, making the pavement shape even larger and more simple. Makes the man seem even lonelier on that vast desert of concrete.

Antonin Passemard said...

Very nice post ! This is probably the most important thing in painting and the most difficult. I feel that you need to see thr finish painting before starting anything otherwise you are stuck in details and doomed.

David Rodman Johnson said...

'Get all your horses pulling together' . . . 'don't just do something, stand there' . . . Gammell maxims I love ! Plus - The visual elements that strike you at a glance, as if you saw something while driving by in your car . . . these basic impressions are what makes a painting . . . not all the details 'tickled' in.

Thanks for another great post Stape !

Judy P. said...

I was hoping some simple tips and observations would suffice to control keeping masses and shapes large, but it's never easy, is it?
Still in reading your answer I marveled at the great depth and wonderful subtlety this topic highlights-makes me want to paint more!
Thank you,
Ms.Prim (you can call me Prim)

Sylvain Bruneau said...

What I do to forget the details? I take off my glasses, it really works;)

Sylvain Bruneau said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Teter said...

Thats a Dixon I haven't seen, love it.
And a great post and even when there are various degrees of 'detail' there must always be that underlying design of the big shapes and masses, it's very foundation, otherwise it falls apart.

BTW, took your advice on stepping on the greens... now how do I get oil paint outta my carpet!?

Tom said...

'The passage says DARK JACKET with shadows, rather than, dark jacket WITH SHADOWS"
One of the best explanation of giving order to your values, that I have heard.
Great post and well said.

James Gunter said...

As with so many of your posts, I've read this post more than once, and will read it again later, especially after I try to practice the points you write about.

I've seen that Maynard Dixon painting in person at the BYU Museum of Art. They have a LOT of Maynard Dixon's paintings there. I think he used the same sort of simplifying of shapes and masses in his landscape paintings.

spike said...

Very helpful to me. Together with the effort to leave objects defined by loose masses of color, this little bit on simplification really drove home the painterly style I am trying to incorporate at the moment. Thanks.

BrandNewStudio said...

Fascinating work.
It has been delightful
to visit your gallery.
Good Creations

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip Koch;
As I posted it I mused at the similarity. They were both working in the same era though.

Stapleton Kearns said...;
That Hopper was one of the first paintings I ever loved as a child.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary Byrom ;
Thanks, Mary.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Libby Fife;
You are welcome!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Cynthia Hillis McBride;
Simplification is the first step in design.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There were so many strong designers in that era, partly because of illustration, which bred strong design and that design was highly valued.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Antonin ;
Sometimes I can do that. Other times I have to beat them into submission, making every possible mistake on the way.

Stapleton Kearns said...

David Rodman Johnson;
You are welcome! Good Gammell quotes.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Judy P. ;
Painting is HARD! The more you know, the harder it gets.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sylvain Bruneau;
My glasses are too strong, I couldn't even see the easel.

Stapleton Kearns said...

David Teter;
Tonight I added detail to that Dixon.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you,sir.

Stapleton Kearns said...

James Gunter;
Yes, I believe he did too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Were all working on that, me too.

Stapleton Kearns said...