Thursday, May 3, 2012

Plein air idea 5

Emile Gruppe

Tonight's idea is plot your large abstract design and impose the drawing from nature on that. 

If you are in the early stages of learning to paint the landscape, I think you should paint as closely what you see as you can. That is the root skill. You have to be able to reproduce whatever scene is before you, dispassionately and accurately.When you have learned to do that, the next step is to learn to impose a geometric order beneath the surface of representation and detail. There is an abstract painting beneath a good landscape painting. The painting is a set of lines and colors that set one another off. It is an arrangement of varied shapes with rhythm and movement.


In order to get this to happen I would remind you of last night's post on pixel size. If you lay the design in using large chunks or shapes, those can be manipulated to relate in a beautiful way with one another. They might be linked into chains of attractive shapes. They might be balanced across the picture plane from one another, or they could be strung across the middle of the painting like a string of pearls.

There must be infinite groupings of large shapes that are possible. Nature before you will suggest the main masses, but the abstract geometry is something you install into those shapes you have first recorded. A little extra time spent perfecting those big abstract shapes now is likely to make or break your painting. It is easy to make a strong design look good with a minimum of "finishing" but a poor design can be tricked up or have detail pasted all over it and still not really make a pleasing painting. It is the subterranean geometry hidden just behind the facade of realism that makes a painting work.

Once you have the big design in a few masses worked out you can install all the drawing you feel you need from nature onto this armature. In a landscape you can push things around a lot.You can bend things to fit onto your abstract design. A tree can just as easily be a little further to the left or a house can be further away, etc. The real elements of the picture can be subordinated to the abstract arrangement without the viewer being aware that you have done so.

The abstract arrangement IS the painting. Try to value the design over the representation. This will help you to make artful interesting pictures rather than matter of fact descriptions of the scene before you. Aim for poetry, not journalism. There are plenty of accurate paintings out there, not so many well designed ones. The longer I paint the more it is about design.


Andy said...

"Aim for poetry, not journalism."

I like that!

And thanks for returning to the blog. I discovered it about a month ago and have been working my way through it. I'm up to September '09! Good stuff.

Philip Koch said...

There really is something to the flexibility of landscape painting- almost with abandon you can push the shapes around the canvas to get them where they need to be. Of course as a landscape painter I suppose I must be biased in the genre's favor.

The abstract design hiding beneath the surface of a painting can seem so simple when one sees it done well. Winslow Homer's amazing compositions come to mind. My own take on it is that the best realists allow nature (or "reality") to suggest the design to them. Most of the design ideas people think up on their own are visually pretty dull.

I always tell my students they need to take from nature because it has a 4 billion year head start on them. If you're only 18, or 64, how could you possibly have caught up?

Mary Byrom said...

Is this now 5 in a row? Heck, you must be taking your vitamins! said...

I couldn't agree with you more.
Easier said than done though... so I think you are dead on recommending learning your pixel theory first.
I think Wyeth had amazing abstracts under his realistic imagery.

Dot Courson said...

AIM FOR POETRY, NOT JOURNALISM... should have been ALL CAPS! What a great lesson.
These are the things that keeps our work interesting and keeps artists striving to be "better". One never stops learning:I do sweeping poetic first lines of abstraction in my compositions and it just seems to go down from that exciting point know?
So great to see you back here again, Stape!

Cynthia Hillis McBride said...

I find this one the hardest lesson to learn and the easiest to forget when outside actually confronted with nature and all her glory. So much to remember, so little time.

Thanks Stape for reminding us of all the basics and taking the time to write to those of us who are still floundering about in Plein Air.

willek said...

This series of posts on painting outside are especially valuable because they come from one who has so much high level experience. It is not just the how to, which is all over out there but it is the apparent importance or the various elements as YOU see them that means so much. This is the thread that exists through all of the blog from the beginning. Great to be reading it again.

cnewell said...

What a relief to have you back at the podium. Thanks for the many lessons. Now if only there is time enough to put them to practice.

john pototschnik said...

So pleased to read your latest posts, Stapleton. You are a living gold mine, and I want to get all the gold possible. So, I'm always pleased when the mine is open. Thanks for what you do. You are sincerely appreciated.

Love2paint said...

I love this, it is what I am writing about to teach my workshop people. I especially like the phrase geometric shapes, it really gives a visible, mental picture to folks who need to get that message inserted into their minds. Love your wording!