Thursday, June 2, 2016

Three Things I've Learned About Painting

I've been painting for what seems like forever. Like many other activities, one usually gets better with years of practice.

Making art has been like that. Some of it is just about learning how to get the paint on the canvas and to make the finished item look the way you want it to.

But I've learned three distinct principles that the Old Masters apparently knew that add so much to the power of a painting.

  • The Golden Mean. Briefly, the Golden Mean is a proportional tool that, in two-dimensional art, is a focal point of intersecting lines at given distances from the edges of the work. The eye is drawn to these point locations and automatically makes you look at them (or it). Four of them potentially exist at once, but the artist chooses one that works the best for the image s/he wants to use. It's a similar concept that photographers use known as the Rule of Thirds; only, the Golden Mean places the point of interest closer to the center: 0.382 distance from the length and width, unlike the Rule of Third's 0.333.
Golden Mean,pleasing, focal point,eye-catching,composition,art
Each of the four points near the center represents the rectangle's Golden Mean. Any of these are the best places to locate the most important feature or subject of a painting.
  • Selective Focus. Friend and amazing artist Virgil Elliot pointed out this principle --  the area of interest (probably located at the Golden Mean) should have sharp edges, and the other edges should be softened. Again, this tends to make you look at the important area and more closely resembles how we actually see things -- what we stare at is sharp, and the rest of the world appears more blurry to us. (To see Virgil's website, click here).
  • Contrast. The eye likes contrast -- very light against very dark. Painters can use this to their advantage -- make the important area contrasty -- even white next to black -- and soften the contrast on the rest of the painting.

That's my three-point message. Using one of my own paintings to illustrate all this, let's examine the piece in light of these principles:

sand,dunes,verbena,flowers,Mount,Mt,San Jacinto,Palm Springs, CA,California,desert
On Waves of Sand   20" x 24"
The Golden Mean point I used is to the lower left of center. The sharpest spot (hard to see in this small reproduction) is the creosote bush with a blowing sand cloud behind it. And the area of highest contrast is the bush and the sand cloud. (The white on the mountain peak is brighter than the blowing sand, but I kept the contrast up there low, so it doesn't grab your attention as the bush does.

After I learned these things -- one years ago, some quite recently -- I then noticed how painters of previous centuries did this stuff. The nice thing about being taught traditional approaches to art is -- one doesn't have to reinvent the wheel.

There is a lot more involved to making great art than just the above three fundamentals. But, in my opinion, learning about them helped me enormously as an artist. Next time you go to an art museum or even a gallery that carries some really good work -- look for these qualities in the paintings. The great paintings of the past and present have them. These are some of the characteristics one looks for in evaluating and judging art -- and separating the wheat from the chaff!


No comments: