Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How we look at paintings

In the West, we look at paintings, or "read" paintings from left to right. The eye moves about the painting on a line, a form, an edge(line formed between two colors, or values), or could be a repetition of form, which becomes an implied line. The eye might follow the lights, or might follow the darks. The artist might plan a "way" for the eye to move into the painting from the left hand margin.

It is not necessary for the artist to draw the viewer's eye along the edge of the painting, nor in the middle, nor in the corners, as these are areas that the viewer will automatically investigate.

When the artist is "looking" at his painting, he might cover everything but a couple of inches of the edge, and critically look at the edges. Ask himself, is there interest at the edge? How does the artist add interest? He might change the color, or the brightness, or the value. These things will usually add interest. If an artist has his edges under control, then there isn't too much he has to do to finish the painting.

And so, if it is not the center, where should the most interesting part of the painting be? I would say in any of the four quadrants of the painting, just off the center. This might be called the center of interest. How do we do this? Again like adding interest, we make the most dramatic changes, of color, or the brightness or the strongest contrast of value. So there might be one area that we will call our center of interest, but then the rest of the painting has to be interesting enough, that the eye will move around.

What happens if we create a very strong contrast on the right hand edge? Because we read left to right. This can be an "arrow" pointing or leading the eye right out of the painting.

In this painting, Still Life with Yellow cup, and Deer. You can see that I have created several ways to move across the painting. The eye can move across the painting on the darks, or follow the lines in the lower part of the painting.

If we move into the painting on the dark leaf forms, when we get to the deer form, which is in the center of the painting, you will notice because his head is turned back (an implied direction) he even has an "eye" suggesting to the viewer, to go back look more at the pot of flower form on the left.

Then we move again into the painting, perhaps this time we will see the forms which represent "birds" (yet might look like a pointing finger) they point up, asking the viewer to look up, to look at the forms of changing color, which lead to the black shape on the right. If we just follow the edge(the line created between the black form and the rest of the painting) down into the painting, we see the strong contrast of the handle of the yellow cup against the black shape.

The cup is an ellipse and as our eye moves to the left, to investigate the cup form -- we find our eye can go around, and around, like a merry-go-around. Perhaps we might move up and slightly to the left, and the little lines, point up to the form of the deer, this time perhaps we move on to the black shape on the right hand edge, and we find we continue to move, going back to areas of interest. I think this painting is a good example, to see how the artist might give us ways to move around in a painting and keeps our eye within the picture plane.

This painting is an example of "repetition with variety." The most common form of composition. There are other kinds of composition found paintings, and the "how we look at paintings" changes slightly. I will talk about that on another day.

Finally I would like to say, an artist cannot create a "good painting," if he begins with a "bad" composition. A young artist would do well to spend a lot of time studying composition, his paintings will not be better, unless the composition is better.

The next time you are at the museum and are looking at paintings. Check it out. Be aware of how you look at paintings.

Still Life Revisited /Flowers of New Mexico

I am still working in flat patterns. And one thing I like about painting flowers, is that the shapes of flowers are abstract and when you draw them, and render them as flat patterns, they are even more abstract.


Sherry Blue Sky said...

This is really interesting, annell, I didnt realize we look at a painting from left to right. I LOVE the yellow cup and deer painting, so beautiful!

Catfish Tales said...

An interesting insight into the mind and composition phase of a painter. Thanks for that! Cheers

SandyCarlson said...

Thank you. We in the West assume we must be on the outside....

SandyCarlson said...

You are great. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE the painting and found, as a writer, your essay fascinating [and found it by serendipitous accident when your wordle link brought me here].

vivinfrance said...

What a fascinating exposition, Annell. I will look at pictures differently from now on. It made me look at some of my past paintings to see where they could have improved the 'looking' experience. Of the three that I can see from where I sit, two have very uninteresting edcges, and the third has a spray of leaves and berries taking the eye straight out of the picture on the right!

SandyCarlson said...

Your approach to art stops me and makes me watch. I am grateful.

Shaista said...

Annell, I could eat your paintings! The blue and white and yellow delights... I would love to have one of your paintings hanging on my walls. In fact I think every English home ought to have an Annell... I reckon people would be far sunnier and smile a lot more :)

Marilyn said...

Very interesting post, I like that different parts of the painting direct our eyes on to another area, making us look and look again.

LauraX said...

I just wanted to say hello Beautiful ♥ I am but want you to know I am thinking of you.