Archive for December, 2015

Considering Point of View

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

Bear with me if I seem to be going off on a tangent here and run a little long this time, but I’d like to share with you a few thoughts that have been influencing my work recently.

Many years ago I learned that, when writing a story, an author is wise to ensure that everything that happens is experienced and understood from the point of view (POV) of a single character. We “hear” what that character is thinking, see what he’s seeing, feel what he’s feeling, and react as his experience and personality dictate. He may lie or misinterpret something, but the reader should discover that only by the contrast provided by other circumstances in the story, not by being told by an unconnected narrator. If we are suddenly told something that the point-of-view character can’t have any way of knowing, our credulity is shaken. We no longer trust that the story is really about the POV character, but we perceive that it is being manipulated by some omniscient outside force instead.

If, on the other hand, we recognize an omniscient narrator from the beginning, we trust the narrator to know all, and we willingly suspend our disbelief in the tale. But the story becomes less personal because it doesn’t affect the narrator personally. It may still be a good story, but it probably won’t be as powerful as if we read the story through the perspective of a character with whom we could more readily identify.

I’ve begun to look at painting in the same way, that it can be “omniscient,” a story depicted with broad strokes or evenly distributed detail. However, I’ve begun to recognize that its familiar and general perspective probably won’t have the same impact as one painted from a limited perspective, from a single point of view, especially if it’s quite different from the viewer’s normal perspective.

But if it’s painted from a limited perspective, who is the POV character—a man on the street, a child gazing from a window, a bird soaring amid the clouds, or a swimmer viewing the world from water level?

Most often, the POV character is the artist himself, with perspective drawn from his (and probably the viewer’s) eye level but limited by the artist’s immediate interests and circumstances. The scene is perceived and depicted through the artist’s consciousness and brush. Perhaps this could be considered a kind of omniscience. But it doesn’t have to be as expansive and uncontrolled as that. The artist’s own voice may be “heard,” or more accurately seen, in his or her choices of what will be emphasized or deemphasized.

Or like a skilled writer, the artist may paint as though through someone else’s eyes. Many children’s book illustrations depict the world through the eyes of a child or a small animal, with the relative size of plants, furniture, and other elements proportionately enlarged or exaggerated to help the viewer perceive the world from an unusual perspective. (Think of illustrations for classics like Alice in Wonderland; or more recent stories such as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; or A Bug’s Life.)

I’ve begun exploring the idea that a composition can reflect the concept, vision, interests, and perspective of one specific character’s POV, that it can tell us something about that character and how he or she is experiencing the scene.

A child in a window might be watching for enlightenment or entertainment or companionship, or possibly daydreaming and imagining fantasy in place of fact. An adult would be more likely to see the world in terms of job responsibilities or its effect on his or her comfort or convenience. On the other hand, a bird would be watchful for prey and predators.

All of the answers to these questions both inform and express the painting’s “concept,” the story or point that the artist is trying to get across to the viewer. The POV character may not even appear within the composition.

The problem with including the POV character within the composition is that the perspective cannot be drawn completely from that character’s perspective, since the viewer is, by necessity, positioned differently. This problem can be overcome by using a dual POV. By showing the experiential POV character within the composition, the viewer is not left wondering but is given a specific POV character with which to identify. We interpret what we see as the experiential POV character might. Meanwhile, the focal POV is assigned to the artist or viewer, as though we were in partnership with the character we see while viewing the scene from our own spatial perspective.

As an exercise, I decided to create a series of studies to play with different points of view of the same general subject. The series title, “Direction,” refers not only to the changes of POV but to the subject matter itself.

Direction 1 - Dilemma (#151201a)

Direction 1 – Dilemma (#151201a)

“Direction 1 – Dilemma” is painted from a POV seemingly unrelated to the subject matter depicted in the other studies. Yet the concept was taken from the same conceptual set-up—that of a conductor tapping time and how it might be perceived from a small animal’s low perspective.

Direction 2 - A Round (#151202a)

Direction 2 – A Round (#151202a)

“Direction 2 – “A Round” is another play on words, giving the viewer the opportunity to consider connotations of the term and how various uses of it relate to the subject.

Direction 3 - Limelight (#151203a)

Direction 3 – Limelight (#151203a)

“Direction 3 – Limelight” was an exploration of unusual directional lighting effects on the conductor, as seen from the POV of a singer.

Limited POV might not be necessary or advisable in every situation or for every painting, but it’s certainly a concept worth exploring further and taking advantage of when appropriate.

Framing for Optimal Presentation

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

Although the choice of frame is important when getting ready to display a painting, for optimal presentation, a mat or liner is often incorporated as well. There is a practical, as well as an aesthetic reason for this. Particularly for certain mediums, such as watercolor and pastels, it is imperative to keep the art from coming into direct contact with any glass covering. Otherwise, the moisture from condensation can cause irreparable damage to the work. A mat or other spacer is needed to maintain a safe distance between the art and the glazing. The larger the painting is, the more radically any moisture can cause the underlying paper surface to swell and buckle, so the farther it must be spaced from the glazing.   This is the practical purpose for using multiple mats. And aesthetically, double or triple mats usually look more “finished” than single mats, as in the example below.

 IMG_0361---watercolor-with-The inner, brown mat on this watercolor provides greater depth than just a single mat would while serving much the same visual purpose as a fillet.

For the same reason, a linen liner is often used in place of a mat when framing a paper print or giclee of an oil or acrylic painting. It acts as a spacer between the print and the frame or any protective glazing. Original oils and acrylics on canvas may use liners but are often framed without them. Unlike works on paper, stretched canvas should not be covered with glass nor have the back sealed with a dust cover, in order to allow the canvas to breathe. This helps prevent spotting and mildew damage resulting from moisture trapped within the framing. (UV protective glazing is often used over prints as well as other works on paper to minimize any color deterioration from light exposure.)

If you choose to use neither mat nor liner, spacers may be used to separate the art from any glass covering. Spacers are simply narrow strips inserted, usually out of sight, along the inner edges of the frame window.

It’s easy to misjudge the color of a mat or frame in relation to the colors in the painting if you aren’t working under good lighting conditions. “Daylight” or “full-spectrum” bulbs are “cooler” in color than typical incandescent indoor lighting and will affect colors differently. So it’s best to work in the type of lighting you anticipate will be used where the art will be displayed.

If premade frames (of any size) are available, they can be photographed, and a digital image of the painting can be superimposed into the frame’s window as a kind of preview of how the framed painting could appear. Several such images can be put up on the same computer screen for comparison. It isn’t necessary to maintain exact proportions in the painting to achieve a fair impression of the effect, but the closer you can get, the more easily you’ll be able to judge how the finished product will appear.  You can size the frame up or down, and include a mat or liner in the image, as well. Otherwise, frame, liner, and mat samples or corners can be used to get an idea about how the finished frame might appear on the artwork.

To increase the impact of small canvasses, they can be presented with wide borders, either in a wide frame (with or without a mat or liner) or by incorporating a wide mat or liner within a narrow frame. The risk in that case is that the painting can become overwhelmed by too elaborate a presentation.

 IMG_0356---oil-painting-witThis preconstructed frame includes both a linen liner and a gold-toned fillet.

Large artworks, on the other hand, can more easily withstand the competition of an attention-grabbing frame because the painting covers a greater proportion of the overall presentation.

Although they are selected separately from the frame itself, any matting, linen liners, or fillets become part of the overall framing bundle and should be included when looking at the frame presentation in relation to the art itself. I try to avoid pairing frames and mats or liners that are the same width, finding that the presentation is more attractive when these widths vary. The bottom edge of a mat is sometimes left wider than the other three sides to offer visual weight to the overall appearance. I don’t usually feel a need to do this, but for specific situations, I consider it.

A fillet (a very narrow inner edging frame) can also add an attractive finishing touch to either a mat or a liner, but it certainly isn’t necessary.  Notice the effect of the fillet in the second illustration above.  In lieu of a linen liner, double or triple matting in either the same or different colors, and staggered at the window edge, can create a similar effect, as in the first illustration.