Sunday, May 19, 2013

Variety of shapes in a John Carlson painting

Well, here I am again. Thanks for reading my blog. I have been writing less frequently recently. Mostly now, I do it to remind people it is all still here. I have written over a thousand posts and said most of what I wanted to say. Still I can add a little , and elaborate upon or refine some things I have taught. I have been doing this for years now, funny how the time does slip away. There is a whole art education to be found in this blog, please search back and study the myriad posts here. If you  start at the beginning and read forward, the blog is cumulative and progresses from basic to advanced, well, it wanders a bit too. Maybe you will find the woman giving birth to rabbits or the suggestions for neck tattoos. The wrenching, action packed tale of Dirk Van Asserts is a gripping page turner, ripped whining from the pages of real life and is sure to please the whimpering feckless naif, the mincing poseurs with their quivering soft abdomens, and the crudely failed, and casually avaricious  alike.

One of the important keys to designing successful landscapes is variety of shape. That is, every shape should be unique and different from its neighbor. Making repeated shapes gives a static and unnaturally symmetrical look in a landscape. Making ordinary, unconsidered shapes makes average paintings. Dynamic shapes make exciting paintings!

  People have a tendency to make repetitive shapes. It takes a deliberate effort not to. I was with a student the other day who had used repeated circular forms, all about the size of a silver dollar arrayed across his canvas. As soon as I pointed them out to him he blanched, and saw them immediately. If you don't have someone to point out the repetitive "pet" shapes in your paintings, a mirror will help you find them. But checking to see that your shapes are interesting and varied will do a lot to improve your paintings. You have to be "on" this always, watching for relapses into ordinary default and uninspired shape-making.

I make a point of "policing" my shapes. That is. I stop and carefully examine what I have done, looking for areas the same size, and repeated intervals. Intervals are the spaces in between things, sometimes they are called negative shapes.

The painting above, by John Carlson is a great example of beautifully designed negative shapes. Look at the spaces between the trees, do you see how each one is different from the rest?

I  have outlined the spaces in Photoshop and upped the contrast to make to them show. Each space occupies a different sized area. Look at how different they are, each one is of an obviously different volume,  some are flat bottomed against the snow and some end in points at their bottoms. Notice that the pointy bottomed Ones end at different levels in the painting, they don't all uniformly run to the base of the trees   I have marked these Delta and Lambda on the figure below.

 The rhythmic springy curves are arrayed in pairs, each side of the "box" formed by the negative space relates to the line across from it.

Here is the center section of the painting with some letters and arrows. Look at the two lines marked B, see how they relate to one another. The two lines have a dialogue. They are not observed separately, but work together like the sides of an arch. The same happens with the two lines marked A.

This painting, I think, was done in the studio. But if it had been observed, the artist didn't observe one side of the "negative box" and then the other as separate  entities He used the two of them to bracket the shape in between.

Look at the top of the picture, there are five spaces or apertures between the trees. Each distance or interval is markedly different from the next, no two distances are the same. This is the sort of thing that is designed into a painting rather than observed. The artist has "bent" nature to get more expressive and unique shapes. This gives a more exciting look and holds the viewers attention a little longer. It takes more time for the viewer to process all of these unusual and varied shapes than it would repeated and similar shapes. The longer you hold that viewer the better., Your painting may hang in a gallery with a hundred other pictures. You want to transfix  that viewer as long as possible, and charm them, if you can, before they move on to that next artwork.

Looking at the positive shapes for a minute, look at how the trees are deliberately grouped. Their are three units of trees here, Number 1 which consists of two trees, number 2, a single tree, and number 3 of three or four trees. Each of these groups has a different number of trees in it and a different "weight" and volume. That's three big shapes and each of those is markedly different from the others. This is great variety of shape.

I like to show Carlson's work because he so clearly designed his shapes but below is an Inness, doing the same thing. See the intervals and the variety in those three trees on the right? they are all about the same width, but they are each a unique height and carry branches that distinguish them and make each of them individual. This makes the Carlsons seem a little heavy handed and obvious in their design, so subtle is Inness. Notice how the right hand pair of trees rhythmically complement each other. The same swaying curve appears in both, albeit at different heights.There is a correspondence between the two sets of lines there.The lower half of the middle tree relates to the tree to it's right, the upper half  relates to the upper half of the tree to it's left. This is  visual poetry.



 I am teaching a three day workshop in Cranford, New Jersey in a couple of weeks. The workshop is now about half full and I have space if you want to come. This is part of a plein air event called "Paint the Town". As usual I will be running long, sometimes twelve hour days, we will meet for breakfast, work all day till the light fails, and then go out to dinner. At dinner I lecture on design from my computer screen, wave my arms and draw diagrams and incomprehensible glyphs on napkins.
I get a lot into a three day workshop, as much as I can, I push real hard.

 I can save you years of screwing around and promise you will leave with new ideas that will help you improve your painting. All levels of ability are welcome. I particularly enjoy helping those students who are trying to get across that line from strong amateur to professional.
 Here is the link for that.


Douglas K said...

Stape, Your photoshopped illustrations make your points crystal clear. I know that it takes a lot of time to think through and prepare them. Thanks for another great lesson.

Anonymous said...

As always, you still are able to drop nuggets of painterly gold down into blogger for the betterment of painters everywhere.

This is 24 carat Kearns. Thank you for continuing to download.

Laura said...

Yes, thanks for continuing to share your insights in such clear, practical ways. As I slowly work my way chronologically through the archives I am gaining an education in how to see and make art. Many many thanks!

Keith Patton said...

Yes, this post was very informative. I'm still making my way through your blog. It's unfortunate that I finally discovered your blog towards "the end," after you've already said most of what you wanted to say.

I recently bought Edgar Payne's book since you recommended it so much. I just received it today and it already seems like an extremely informative book.

Thanks for everything you put into the blog!

Brady said...

Stape, having read every one of your posts, you still manage to blow my mind.

After reading this I feel like someone told me that I have eyes and how to use them.

Now if only I could clone you, and convince the clone to paint figurative works, and then write a blog about it...

Marina Laliberte said...

Just discovered your blog! and what a treat - have been looking and wishing for such in depth info. Thank you!

Woman Artist With Pencil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Another thank you, and to ditto to the above! Judy Warner

Susan Renee Lammers said...

Thank you Stapleton! I tried to paint trees today. Your blog really helped me. I would love to take another workshop from you. You are a great teacher. Will you be doing any Lupine workshops?

Steve Kohr Fine Art said...

Thanks Stape - serves as a great reminder when I'm doing my seascape paintings....don't want to have the same shaped waves or distances between them. Love Carlson's landscape book....tons of great info in there!