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Art Lessons - Methods for finding pleasing compositions (Aaron's Art Tips Season 2 E17)

Cut a number of squares, circles and triangles out of any black paper. Try placing these in different positions and different relationships in each of the picture borders. When the arrangement, or the composition, feels right, paste them into place with rubber cement. Study the results and see if you can "feel" how each picture acts differently. This should serve to stimulate and exercise your sensitivity to spatial relationships and their activity. Since the first picture was made, artists have been challenged with the problem of creating the illusion of space on a flat, two-dimensional surface.

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This has made available to us a rich reservoir of various technical means of achieving space. All pictures can be divided roughly into two categories—flat space and deep space. Though many pictures combine these, generally one concept of space or the other is dominant. Most of pictorial art is primarily flat in spatial concept. Only for a limited time in relation to our total art history were pictures made with deep spatial emphasis.

This was during the Renaissance, and from that period the theories of perspective evolved.

Composition: The Anatomy of Picture Making

This section of the book concentrates on two-dimentional composition, which dominates contemporary art thinking. A sense of depth of space can be realized by using planes parallel to the picture frame without perspective. It is apparent in the illustrated student exercises that they vary in feeling of depth and space. As the horizon, or eye level line, is raised, the sense of depth is increased.

ISBN 13: 9780486465951

The partial overlapping of one subject on another tends to intensify the depth feeling. In one design exercise all the planes are vertical and horizontal to the borders of the picture. In the other a greater penetration of space results from tilting the planes into perspective depth. A deeper sense of space and greater spatial activity result.

The woodcut by Frasconi and the painting by Miro both use flat design with a shallow depth of spatial feeling. Both use overlapping planes for recessive space. It is interesting to note the influence of Western design on the Eastern picture reproduced below. The flattening of the perspective in the dressing table in the Sternberg woodcut serves to retain the shallow space of the rest of the picture. Arrange a still life with a few simple objects. On several sheets of paper draw picture borders—some vertical and some horizontal.

Everything Around Us Is a Line

Inside one of these do a line drawing of the still life as you see it. On the other pages do several versions of the still life without moving the objects. Shift their relationship to each other and to the border. Raise and lower the table line. Study the compositions for spatial feeling. Do design exercises as illustrated on the previous page. The borders of a picture, the picture frame, enclose a defined area of space, generally considered as negative space.

Wassily Kandinsky - Wikipedia

The shapes or objects placed in the picture create positive space, and the remaining area is negative space. The interrelationship between these two is one of the dynamics of composition. Sole concentration on the positive elements, the figure, vase or tree, inevitably results in compositional inadequacy. The artist must be conscious of both types of space when he designs his picture. The two examples on the right demonstrate how negative space can be analyzed.

The negative spaces in both are intensely active and visually sensuous. The picture is analyzed for positive and negative space to illustrate this design principle. In one the total positive area is depicted with black. In the other the negative area is blacked in. Choose some reproductions of painting by old or contemporary masters. Use tracing paper or acetate. First, trace and mass in with black the positive areas.


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Then do the same with the negative areas. Study the results. Try this on your own pictures.


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Tension is a term used to describe the attraction and repulsion of elements in a composition. This spatial sensation of activity can be used not only to create a dynamically alive picture, but also to intensify the communicativeness of a picture. The student exercises illustrate optical communication of verticalness, ascent and descent, depth of space, and compression and expansion. The action of balance and imbalance, the sense of movement about to happen, as shown in the designs below, involve the use of the square, circle and triangle. These three basic forms are capable as well of visual statements of action and tension by themselves.

By changing their shapes and directional thrusts, the nature of the squareness or roundness is kept, but each is capable of a variety of spatial expressions. The three exercises on this page demonstrate the ability of design to express smallness and largeness, movement and space, and crowded jostling.

By using black and white values, it is obvious that a white object in the foreground can be projected by making the background dark, or vice versa. The movement of the blacks and whites is limited by the outlines of the forms. By interweaving the blacks and whites so that they move from one element of the design into another, a sense of relatedness is felt and a rich visual movement of tone is made possible.

The design exercise above demonstrates how the relationship of objects changes the very meaning of the objects. The two triangles used in different relationships assume not only new activity, but new significance as well. To the left is an exercise in which the student is searching for variations on the basic square, circle and triangle. This chapter has dealt with many aspects of the activity of shapes in space.

Each of the student exercises shown is a study of one aspect of design. Work out your own studies of tension, using lines only. Experiment with various combinations of squares, circles and triangles for scale, movement and balance. Study and analyze pictures for interweaving blacks and whites. Do each of the exercises in many different ways until you understand and can control the principles. Values are the range of tones beginning with white and running through the scale of grays and middle tones to black.

Values afford the artist additional implements to serve his compositional needs. That a tonal value has no meaning except when related to a background is demonstrated in the exercise below. The square of middletone changes with each change of tonal environment. The observer's eye can be guided and directed to any part of a picture at the artist's will by use of tonal contrasts. The still life studies to the left are a class problem in values. The top study is a copy of the objects done academically and naturalistically.

In the second study arbitrary black and white decisions have been made for design and balance. The third study has been carried further from naturalism, using transparency as a design extension. This group of pictures was made by N. Using a technique which he originated, he began with a drawing of a mother and child and developed the pictures with a photostat camera. The picture has been analyzed by eliminating details and reducing shapes and values to their basic structures. The 16th century Persian painting and the 20th century Orozco analyzed on this page show the similarity of concern with flat pattern for design.

I remember as a child climbing an old pear tree, lodging myself into a crook of branches, and just laying my head against the bark as the tree moved and swayed in the wind. I loved that special pear tree! Like almost all children, I loved to draw. In first grade, drawing with crayons is an important task!

I remember drawing tangles of brown, blue, and green as my first tree. It was probably a pretty good drawing, actually. Then I was told that you must always draw trees with a straight brown trunk and a lollipop-shaped green top. Trunks are not brown. Tree tops are not round. By careful observation, research, and practice, I taught myself to draw realistic trees. I still practice what I have learned, frequently. Luckily, trees are just about everywhere so it is easy to find models to work from. And I value teaching the techniques I've learned to my students. I've also published a number of exercises, practices, and suggestions in my ebook, Draw and Paint Trees.

For my own "tree education," I have found two books that truly helped me to master the tree—structure, form, and element. This classic drawing manual was a good inspiration for sketching and drawing beautiful trees and elegant scenes of nature.