A Surfeit of Riches

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.

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