Monday, 11 February 2013

picking apart a painting - part 2

Two posts ago, I promised I would "pick apart" a painting or two in the future, to help those of you who are still a bit confused about this business of "composition" and "design".

There are lots of aspects which help to make a strong composition.  One of them is REPETITION.
This is a really fundamental part of almost every form of design.  The repetition of an element in a picture can help to give a quality of UNITY, which will help the whole of a complex design to "hang together".  It is perhaps comparable to the repeating phrases in a musical score, which help to create something satisfactory to listen to,  rather than a random set of unconnected tones.

Repetition is not, however, the same as "repetitiveness", what we want to avoid is monotony.  We need some variety with our unity.  Our eyes will enjoy a repeated form, or group of forms a little different from each other, but similar, such as the irregular arches in an old bridge.

Shapes, or groups of shapes, can be echoed -  or another way to think of it is "rhymed" -  in different parts of a picture with great subtlety, so that initially the connection is not that obvious.  In a landscape, for example, a small form can imitate a large and important form - a line of trees could be the same shape as a very large cloud or set of clouds.  Repetition can also be used in the re-duplication of colours throughout an image.

Formal devices of this kind are important tools in the painter's arsenal of tools.  That said...sometimes, the painter does not consciously decide to do this or happens as the work evolves.  However, there is no getting away from the fact that understanding the power of these helpful concepts and ideas will enable us to see and catch hold of possibilities as we work - sometimes as we produce our initial thumbnail sketches, sometimes as our work is in progress.

Let's take a look at a very obvious form of repetition.  Here we have Renoir's The Umbrellas, painted c 1872-82.  Look at the obvious repetition of the umbrellas, but notice also how the curving forms are repeated elsewhere....the hat of the girl on the right, the curving form of the central figure's face, the top edge of the basket -  the hoop held by the little girl , less obvious but still there -the bottom of the jacket on the woman on the left and the folds in her dress - the whole picture is a mass of echoing forms, curves either curving down, or curving up.

Here is a more modern image, by a painter called JANE CORSELLIS.  It is called Winter Light, Kensington Gardens, oil on canvas, 48x36".

Notice here how the image is dominated by a series of strong echoing V shapes...the branches of the trees - which are V's pointing up to the sky, and the opposing, but similar, v's on the ground, the shadows, the light, the path and hints of angles in the snowy ground.  These are the important  "shapes" within the rectangle, they unify the scene, but vary in size, giving us variety while they contrast well with the horizontal and vertical elements, which are fewer in number.  Having said that, the vertical elements are carefully considered too...their placement is not at all pedestrian or monotonous - look at the spaces BETWEEN the vertical elements and see how nicely varied they are, while the vertical elements echo each other across the canvas.

The final point to make about this image is the repetition of COLOUR throughout.  It is a masterful work.

If this bit of painterly information is new to you, perhaps now you could begin to examine the work of some of your favourite artists, and see if you can find elements of repetition.

Here is one of mine and there is another at the top of the bog..  See if you find the elements of repetition.  They are not that subtle!

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