Archive for October, 2012

A Surfeit of Riches

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Last time I wrote about creating a focal point within an unexceptional landscape scene. But the opposite problem can also pose a problem: There’s just too much to narrow down.

120704 Fire Wall

How often do we long to paint the indescribable, awe-inspiring scene before us? And that’s the very problem: In all its glory, magnificence, or abundance, it is indescribable. Where do we begin? How can we effectively describe any without describing all? And all is too much!

As the artist, I have both the responsibility and the privilege to decide what aspects about it I want to describe. (Fortunately, I don’t have to describe it all in a single painting! I can make a list, either mental or written, of everything about it that I would like to focus on. Then I choose one for this painting. The other aspects can be addressed in separate paintings.) What is it about the scene that particularly appeals to me?

If, for instance, I am overlooking the Grand Canyon… Its scope is monumental. Every butte and arroyo is worth a painting in itself. The light is continuously changing, throwing gold and red angled light across the textured walls and casting deepening shadows into the ravines and crevasses. What about the changeable skies that can boil up with stacking clouds? What of the plants clinging tenaciously in the tortured soil? What of the structures built along the rim to accommodate the purposes of humanity? What of the wildlife that unexpectedly appears from unfathomable places? What of …?

But I must select only one element of only one of the possibilities to focus this painting on.

That doesn’t mean that the painting cannot incorporate the entire sweep of the canyon’s expanse or include more than one aspect in my list. But I mustn’t treat it all equally. If the purpose (the “What” I discussed in the August 15 blog) is to depict the light, I could use the expansive landscape to present the fascinating light patterns that fall against the canyon walls. But I should also feature the light on one specific section of the canyon—perhaps a single butte or wall. The rest may echo that statement, lines may guide the eye toward that focal area, and more muted colorations may call attention to that highly saturated portion. In other words, everything in the balance of the painting should draw attention to how the light affects that focal area.

If I try to paint an unfocused image, I become as overwhelmed as the scene itself makes me feel; the more focused the composition is, the stronger and more effective the painting becomes.

So … What’s the Point?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Sometimes I am moved by a feeling of awe or peace and want to depict the scene that created that sensation. A sense of peace can come from a landscape that is pleasant but unfortunately unexceptional, with little or nothing to suggest a focal point. What’s a painter to do? For one thing, an artist is not just a painter but a creator. An artist creates with aesthetics in mind.

120506 Still Morning

So I create a focal point. Is the scene a vaguely defined hill against a clear sky, with a lake in the foreground? Try to imagine the picture, “Still Morning” (#120506), above, without the moored boat. Bor-ing!

However, I can create a more interesting sky, with clouds reflected on the surface of the water. Or I can create ripples in the water to suggest a bit of movement. Or I can add some element, such as an animal or a boat, that will draw the eye. The idea is to create a break in the monotony, to provide a purpose and a point of interest for the viewer to seek out and think about.

If I can’t find a focal point already in the scene, it’s time to create one to build the rest of the composition around.

… But what if there’s too much in a scene to choose from? What then? Check back next time when I address the problem of overabundance.