Thursday, March 29, 2012

Symmetry Versus Asymmetry - Make Your Choice

Contemporary western audiences are very used to seeing asymmetry, or unbalance, in fine art.  But, that isn't always the case, and artworks may succeed with either balance or the lack of balance.  I was delighted to see a Wolf Kahn oil recently, that illustrates balance and resolve.

Wolf Kahn put the tree right in the middle of the picture!  How does he resolve this visual "problem?"

This series of posts will consider the subjects of balance and unbalance, also known as symmetry and asymmetrySplit your image into two along the horizontal and the vertical axis. You should have quarters, or halves of each aspect, if you will. Now, consider every element of art by its distribution from side to side.  

There is also the overall distribution of elements. Ask yourself if you have an equal balance of color temperature. What about equivalent textural effects? I like to think of the three primary colors, or even the three secondaries, as creating a sense of balance when they are all three present in a painting.  Evaluate your  overall painting to determine if you have achieved your goals.

Contemporary artists usually gravitate towards asymmetry to portray tension, interest and "edginess" in their images.  However, symmetry can be used to establish hierarchical patterns and greater meanings, such as in sacred art.

Next Post:  Choose Symmetry.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Plein Air Rework - Six Years Hence!

Riva del Garda - The Alps
@8" x 12"
Casey Klahn
iPhone record

I'm revisiting a lot of my Italy photos and pastels.  Must be time for me to go back pretty soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gerhard Richter Painting: There Is No Plan

Gerhard Richter

"Painting has nothing to do with...(what language can communicate)." Gerhard Richter.

I wanted to share Richter's video and words with you. Although this isn't pastel, it does communicate some of the basis of my See Differently workshop.  One thing that happens at the workshops is that I put you in some psychological distress, and you have to paint your way out of danger.

Watch the video and see how Richter expresses his precipitous loss of freedom as a painting sees progress.  It gets harder as it goes.  I love that description.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Movement is generated by any number of dynamic elements in a picture.  Lines, comparative bodies, and structural elements may all work to activate your image.  The dominance of one size of object over another will create movement, as will the energy and direction in your lines and the organizing of the parts of your picture.  Converging lines and focal points tell the viewer's eyes to move around the picture.

A basic visual symbol for movement is a diagonal line, and it is the prime mover in most figurative works.  At the right, in Renoir's Study for Dance in the Country, the master artist establishes energetic movement both in the upward diagonal hatching, and by the diagonal lines suggested by Suzanne's head and upper arm.  Every angle and tilt of the two figures evokes a movement of the dance, to include twisting and stepping and spinning.

Other aspects of the line create movement, such as elliptical lines and arcs.  Remember that western eyes read from left to right. Do not cause unintentional visual blocks to  movement, such as a right angle line or a tangential line or mass.

Look at graphic art and the work of illustrators to understand motion and visual pathways in art.  These artists are expert at flagging where they want your eyes to move, stop, and circle around within the image.  It is slick salesmanship, and the master artists also used these techniques to their advantage.

Henry Toulous-Lautrec places this figure's left elbow against the left edge of the picture plane.  This creates an almost mechanical support and we feel the static nature of this, supporting the action of her hand turning her hair braid.  The twist in the braid, and the almost right angle of the braid to her head suggests action.  The triangular form of both arms held up leads our eyes in the all-important upward and rightward motion. Her nightgown directs us up and into the picture, and establishes multiple directional and diagonal lines.  Arcing lines create the sweep of turning motions: note the black hair around the wrist and the right edge of the nightgown at the lower right.

 By the way, do not miss my upcoming post on visual pathways, because I have some great lessons to share with you on that subject.  I think everyone will learn something new.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Pencil study for Dance in the Country (Aline Charigot and Paul Lhote). 1883.
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) Combing.  1891 Medium not specified/ looks like other oil paintings by the artist.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Massing Values

Massing all of the darks at the bottom left solidifies the impression of water and weighs this area down.  The gray promenade at the right foreground is close in value to the shadow side of the hotel, optically tying these two elements together into a bigger space.  The slightly darker, battleship gray sky asserts a downward pressure also creating a gravity to this building scene. The big yellow facade covers the same amount of area, generally, as the other divisions of space just mentioned, and the turquoise roof matches the facade's value, effectively massing the two parts as one.  Big masses, defined by their values, make for a simply rendered scene.

John F. Carlson said, "I don't believe a painting ever failed for being too simple."

Mass drawing is used to create an object in space, but here I want to address the massing of values.  Massing values is a method for keeping your value scheme both simple and unified.  I know I need to write about unity, but we'll save that subject for later.

To put "massing values" in negative terms, it means not breaking up a mass, or shape or group of shapes by organizing too many values within it.  This is done by putting darks, mid tones, or  lights each in a generalized area.  Each value group may either create a separate mass, or they may perhaps be touching or at least relating to one another visually.

Again, the idea is to create large shapes in order to simplify.  Massing values is a way to adjoin shapes, to make many objects appear as one on first glance. 

Deborah Secor teaches about massing values:
Look for the shapes defined by masses of similar values. Squint your eyes to lose the details, stand across the room or look into a mirror to see how all of the dark places form one big interlocking piece, as do the lights and the mediums. Rearrange these shapes to achieve a pleasing pattern of values, massed together into a composition.

Be in control of your value masses to clarify, simplify and unify your art.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Compositional Troubles

Going downtown, looking for trouble!

The elements we have been blogging about have all been presented in a positive manner:  what to do to succeed with your compositions.  Take a break from that, and apply a critical eye to see what may be causing you compositional troubles.  Loriann Signori makes us aware of the following post by Robert Genn:  Six compositional boo-boos.

Go read Genn's thoughtful list of 6 common pitfalls that trip up artists whose technical abilities are otherwise squared away.  They are:

  1. Weak Foreground (poorly constructed, blah!)
  2. Homeostatic Conditions (unintended patterns, tree growing out of a head)
  3. Amorphous Design (no design or composition, lack of intention)
  4. Lack of Flow (no pathway into and within the picture)
  5. Too Much Going On (opposite of simplicity)
  6. Defeated By Size (big, but not organized or composed)

May I add the following observations about common pratfalls?

Negative space with no intention.  Too big and/or unwarranted negative space.
Weak areas - places within the picture plane that are poorly executed or forgotten.
Lack of unity.  Will the viewer ask how many people painted your picture?  Color is a prime way to create this mistake: is one part composed of colors not comprehended by other parts of your picture?  Another way is to have directional marks that don't comport with the flow of your picture.

I don't want you to approach your art without confidence.  Be aware of the dangers, but go forth with courage!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Color - Intensity, The Forgotten Axis

3-D models of color are designed around three axes: hue, value and intensity.
The Turquoise Axis
4.9" x 7"
Casey Klahn
iPhone informal photo

The three properties of color are well known by the artist: hue, value and intensity.  But, how much attention do we pay to intensity?  It is a critical element of contemporary color, given the broad availability of colors now.  You may not wish to "push" high intensity colors in your artwork, but ignorance of this key property is also a disadvantage to you.  Above, my pastel, The Turquoise Axis, is focused on color intensity as a subject.  

Read more below the fold (takes you to the full post at The Colorist).