Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 4 Planes of a Landscape

Learning to see the landscape in a simple way is key to the painter of the outdoors. Simplifying is not always easy, but essential to the artist. One of the easiest ways to see the landscape is to break it up into 4 planes of value and light. These planes are based on the idea that an object receives differing degrees of light according to the angle at which it is situated to the light source. The basic theory is that from the point of observation, flat planes receive more light than angled ones, which receive more light than vertical ones.

With that in mind, it follows that there are basic elements in a landscape that have these angles. They are:

1. The Sky. The sky is almost always the lightest value in nature, as the light from the sun radiates throughout it. This is true even at night.

2. The Ground. Being the flattest plane and directly perpendicular to the light source, the ground gets the most light and is therefore the next lightest value.

3. Slopes. Slopes such as mountains and hills receive the next most amount of light. Because they are slightly vertical, they don't get as much light as the ground.

4. Verticals. Trees and buildings often are vertical in shape and get the least amount of light.

In the below diagram you can see the basic ideas of the theory of angles and how it relates to the landscape.

And here are a couple photos where you can see this in practice in nature. Squint and you can really compare the values.

In the above photo, notice how the angle of the bale of hay (a) darkens as it gets more vertical. Also notice, since light is traveling through the clouds and they are considered to be part of the sky, even their shadows are lighter than the ground plane.

In the above photo, notice how the angle of the smaller trees (3) is different, and therefore lighter, than the trunks of the trees behind them.

Keep in mind, this is a generalization of how light hits objects and creates value on those planes. Many elements, such as sunsets and sunrises, storms, and the local value and color of an object, are not taken into consideration here. Mother nature always has exceptions to the rules, much like the English language. Always use your own comparisons and judgements to check these are correct.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The science behind da Vinci

This is a photo by Lumiere Technology in Paris showing the site of a fingerprint on a painting that art experts now believe is a newly discovered Leonardo da Vinci. Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, said that a fingerprint on what was presumed to be a 19th-century German painting of a young woman has convinced art experts that it's actually a da Vinci.

"Leonardo used his hands liberally and frequently as part of his painting technique. His fingerprints are found on many of his works," Biro said. "I was able to make use of multispectral images to make a little smudge a very readable fingerprint."

The unsigned chalk, ink and pencil drawing, known as "La Bella Principessa," is believed to be the daughter of a 15th century Milanese duke, and is now valued at $150 million.

If da Vinci were alive today, I think he'd get a kick out of the idea of using scientific methods such as these to confirm the validity of paintings.

For a full story follow this link:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Abstract Pattern Revisited

A few posts ago, I wrote about the underlying abstract pattern in composing a painting. As a demonstration of the concept I had shown a piece in which I'd only laid the initial block-in down. I often start my pieces that way. What I wanted to show here, though, was the finished piece. You can still see how the abstract dark/light value pattern is maintained here, even with the varying colors. Because of that pattern underneath, a wonderful sense of light is created along with maintaining the strong composition. There is still a wide level of value within that pattern, but those values stay within the ideas of shadow and light. Below is the side by side comparison of the start and finished painting.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Two New September Events

Painting Demonstration & Raffle
for the Illiana Artists Meeting

(This demonstration is open to the public)

Monday, September 14, 2009, 7:15 pm (after the meeting)

Westminster Presbyterian Church

8955 Columbia Avenue, Munster, IN 46321

(located across the street from Community Hospital in Room 305, South-side
of the church).

will be instructing the participants of this event on my process of working and painting outdoors (or indoors) while working from a photograph during the meeting. I will address the unique challenges of outdoor painting and show how to overcome them by using a simple, straightforward approach. Topics covered include: picking a composition, massing the values of light, and how to make the most of a limited color palette.

Raffle Prize

Also, I will be donating the demonstration piece for a raffle prize during the
event. Talk about an inexpensive way to get a vanderVinne!
For more information visit

or contact me at 219.241.1392 or reply to this email.

“Celebration of the Arts”
A Schoolhouse Shop Art Fair

Saturday – Sunday, September 19-20, 2009

Schoolhouse Shop

278 East 1500 North

Chesterton, Indiana 46304

I will be exhibiting along with many other artists on the grounds of the Schoolhouse Shop for the “Celebration of the Arts” Fair. Many new works will be exhibited and for sale, so stop on by my booth to see what I've been up to.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Brush with the Police = Merit Award

I am happy to announce that my painting "Down from Andershock's" has won a Merit Award at the Hoosier Salon Member Exhibition.

The painting was painted en plein air on a beautiful Sunday morning. I had grabbed my plein air kit and left the house early, before anyone else was up. After driving around for a short while, I came upon this little garage/shed hidden away behind a local farmer's market building called Andershock's,
on an off-road from HWY-20 and HWY-49. I pulled to the side of the road, lifted the trunk on the van for shade and set up to paint. After a while, I saw red lights flashing, a police car pulled up behind my van and an officer got out.

At this point, I'm halfway through the painting, it's going fairly well, and I don't want him to make me pack up and leave. After all, I'm just standing on the side of the road, keeping to myself—though I do realize this is not my property. So, I greeted him with a big smile and a "Hello". And with a stone face
, he asked what I was doing. "Just painting," I told him. He said he just wanted to make sure there wasn't any trouble. Whether he meant my being in trouble, or me causing trouble, I'm not sure. He looked at what I was doing and mentioned it was looking pretty good.
I tried to make some small talk, but he didn't say much, just stood there mostly. I knew the light was changing quickly, so I went back to painting the piece. He began to watch me paint. After a short while, he nodded, told me to have a nice day, got back in his car and drove away.

I continued to paint.

Unfortunately, Andershock's has since closed and the building, along with the trees and this little shed, have all been torn down. At least, I can look at this painting and remember it all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Your Dream Art Collection

Imagine you're an art collector and can have all of your favorite paintings in the world for your collection. Price doesn't matter. Availability and location are insignificant. Who cares if the artist is living or dead, famous or unknown, modern or realistic. What art pieces would you have on your walls? What inspires you as an artist? What major works would you have? Or what guilty pleasures would be in your collection? Do you love realist work, but would have Autumn Rhythm Number 30 by Pollock in your collection? Are you an atheist, but an iconic religious work of medieval Christianity would hang on your wall? Think like a passionate collector. Decide what those are. However, there is one restriction: You can have no more than two works of any artist.

The main idea is to find works that you like. It makes you take a closer look at your favorite artists work and discover just what it is about a piece that moves you and to begin to see things from a collector's viewpoint instead of simply from an artist's.

For fun, find those works, and either print them out and collect them in a file folder, or (what I did) put them all into a folder on your hard drive and make a pdf for easy reference. You can also put them on a wall in your studio for inspiration. Like all art collections, this will change over time as artists produce new work and as you discover pieces you never knew existed. Also, over time you may begin to lose favor of some of them. You can continually add and subtract from your collection.

You can collect anything you want. The image above is a collage of some of the pieces in my dream art collection. You can see it is a little eclectic, but that's all right. I like it, and it represents who I am.

It's a fun exercise, and I'd love to know what you learned from it.

© All above images are copyrighted to their respective artists.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Abstract Pattern in Composition

Has this representational painter lost his mind? What is this abstract piece of crap a five year old can paint doing on this site?

I can't tell you how many times I have heard sentiments similar to those. As a representational artist, I sometimes feel I'm supposed to hate abstract and other forms of art. At least that's what the majority tell me. But I can't. I never did like elitism much, whether it came from someone else's camp of thought or my own. I've learned too much from abstract art. While much of it I do consider poorly done, I love a good, strong abstract pattern. I think it is probably the most important element when designing a composition. And one often overlooked.

It's interesting when we break something down to its simplest form how strong it still holds up as a composition. In graphic design the #1 rule is contrast. In painting it should be the same. An unequal proportion of size, shape and value are far more interesting than equal proportions. Notice how the majority of this work is dark, but you can clearly see where the artist is using
contrast of shape and leading lines to create a center of interest. The shapes are varied in size and form, but you can see the repetition of shapes within the work and how the vertical lines break the diagonal perspective lines to create variety and interest. All masterfully done.

Well, this abstract piece of art is really John Singer Sargents "A Street in Venice" broken down to just two values, black & white. Here you can see the full painting. Now the dark shapes are something, windows, doorways, etc. But, by it being a form our mind can label as something we're familiar with, it doesn't lessen the underlying abstraction. In fact, I believe it adds to it.
When I start a painting I am very interested in that pattern. I think it sets the mood and emotion of the piece.

Below is the underpainting I often do on my work. This is the first stage for one I have in the works. You can see how 2/3rds of the painting will be light, while 1/3 will be dark. You can begin to see how the lines are leading to the focal area. One of the things I know I will need to keep in mind when painting this is that the background trees will need to be kept as a secondary focal area and subordinate to the main focal area in the foreground tree. There are many ways to do this and I will discuss them in another post.

I often paint this abstract pattern first in order to help me know if the painting is heading in the direction I want. If I don't find this pattern interesting, I'm sure others won't either, and will pass my work right up. In my opinion, it's one of those things that separates the pro from the novice.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Granville Redmond (1871-1935)

One of California's most notable Impressionists and considered the first resident Impressionist of the state. At the age of two and a half, Granville caught scarlet fever which eventually made him totally deaf. In 1879, he attended what was then called the Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind at Berkeley (now called the California School for the Deaf) in Fremont, CA where a teacher recognized his artistic abilities and encouraged his drawing skills, sculpture and pantomime. After graduation, in 1890, he enrolled in the California School of Design. In 1893, with a stipend from the Institution for the Deaf, he went to Paris and enrolled in the Académie Julian. After five years in France he returned to California.

While living in Los Angeles, he became friends with Charlie Chaplin, who helped in perfecting his pantomime techniques. Charlie sponsored him in silent acting roles and was cast in seven silent movies with Chaplin. Granville often used sign language while in these roles. Charlie was a long-time patron of Granville's art, and set up a studio for him on a movie lot.

Redmond's early works were mostly moody tonal landscapes and scenes. He painted around the Laguna Beach, San Pedro and Catalina Island. By 1905 Redmond was receiving considerable recognition as a leading landscape painter and bold colorist.

He spent time in various Northern California locations, studying and painting. About the time he moved farther north to San Mateo, Redmond turned to painting sweeping terrains with colorful wildflowers, especially the purple lupine and the golden poppy, California's state flower. This subject is what he became known for at the time. He style became linked to Impressionism, though he was motivated more by his subjects than by any aesthetic theory. West Coast critics at that time noted his use of pointillism and likened his art to that of Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. Although Redmond recognized the public's preference for his brightly colored poppy pictures, he generally preferred to paint darker, more poetic scenes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

En plein air workshop

I wanted to let everyone know I am conducting a 1-day plein air workshop this Saturday, June 20th. We will be meeting at the Chesterton Art Center in Chesterton, IN at 8 am and traveling to a nearby location from there and end the day around 4 pm. I will do a quick demo in the morning and discuss several aspects of painting outdoors. Then the students will be sent off to paint and I will teach in a more one on one fashion, addressing each student's individual needs and concerns.

Cost for the workshop is $50. For a supplies list and more information, please contact me at 219.241.1392 or through email at
This is always a fun time and I hope you can come join us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

ahn ple nare (or what's in a word?)

Talking with a friend the other day I mentioned painting en plein air. I pronounced it "en pline air" out of habit, and he questioned my pronunciation. He thought it was pronounced "en plane air". So I thought I would seek the truth out. Little did I know we were both wrong, and I am still trying to kick the habit of pronouncing it incorrectly. To hear it pronounced properly (in a wonderful French accent) visit this link. plein air'

Which got me wondering why we use French words for so much art related stuff? En plein air, atelier, grisaille, giclée, trompe l'oeil, avant garde, art neaveau and art deco to name a few. Let's face it, most of these words describe ordinary things. It's not like "amore" or "raison d'ete" which have a deeper meaning to them than their English counter parts.

En plein air, literally translates to in open air. So "painting en plein air" is "painting in open air". I don't know about you, but I know I don't talk that way. Now, imagine simply telling a person you were outside when you painted it, instead of "en plein air". Would someone think less of the piece? Would it really sell for less than the value the artist or buyer has placed on it? Recently I heard someone calling it wilderness painting, which is nice, but doesn't capture the idea if you're painting in a city, suburb, small town or even on a farm. I've heard some artists use the term alla prima painting. While most plein ain air work is done alla prima (or all at once) it doesn't describe the act of painting on site. Also it's an Italian term, with premier coup being the French equivalent. So I guess we artists are not just prone to taking words from France, but Italy, too. Being of Dutch origins (though wholly American), I wonder if I can start using Dutch words to describe art related things. After all, we owe a lot to the Dutch painters, too. Op plaats means on site.

One of my personal favorite artspeak words is giclée.
According to Wikipedia, the word giclée is derived from the French language word "le gicleur" meaning "nozzle", or more specifically "gicler" meaning "to squirt, spurt, or spray." Imagine telling a client that the giclée print you just sold them was printed on an ink-jet printer? After all, that is what a giclée is: a recently invented name for the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing. In the graphic design world, we simply call it digital printing. Off-set printing is probably the best form of printing but can be very expensive, especially for small runs, probably why artists don't use it often. Iris prints are a form of giclée, just printed specifically on an Iris printer. It still sounds nice, but doesn't hide the fact of what it is. So why the term giclée? To make it sound better than what it is?

And how about "atelier"? Another one of my favorites. it means an artist studio or workroom. Recently, though we seem to have changed the meaning. It is often
used as a shortened version of The Atelier Method which "is a form of private instruction in which an artist, usually a professional painter, works closely with a small number of students to progressively train them." (Wikipedia, again.) So basically, the word means art studio, but the new meaning is an art school founded and taught by one artist often out of his studio. Hmm? Does it make the artist sound more legit as an artist? More professional?

So why do we use these foreign words instead of our English language counterparts? Is it strictly a marketing tool to make something sound better than what it is? Like Jeep's "Trail Rated" — it doesn't mean anything, but is speaking to the target audience as a marketing communication tool. Or are we trying to mask what it really is?

My philosophy is simple. It's the KISS philosophy. I prefer to keep it real and simplify it as best as I can. So while I use some of these terms, I also find that I do what I can to explain what they really are. After all, if we are ashamed of what they really mean, we, as artists, shouldn't be using the terms. And, if we are trying to purposefully mislead people, then ethically we should be ashamed of ourselves.

The really funny thing is that after doing even more research I have discovered e
ven the word "art" is of French origin. So they invented art? Well, the Lascaux Caves are in southwestern France. And France has more Upper Palaeolithic period (40,000 to 10,000 BC) paintings than any other European country. So maybe they did invent art and that's why we use their language more than others to describe it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Body Memory & Art

While writing the post for drawing eyes, it got me thinking about one of the initial inspirations.

I was visiting another blog (unfortunately I don't remember which one), where the artist mentioned that his teacher assigned the class to draw 500 eyes over a weekend. After sketching eyes intermittently for myself over a few weeks, I doubt that he could have done that and had any time for eating, sleeping, working or any other assignments. But it was fun to do, nonetheless. Even 100 eyes in a weekend would be difficult, I think. More probable, though. Especially if you count each eye instead of the pair. so instead of 100 pairs of eyes, it's 50 pairs of eyes.

Either way, I think the point of the exercise is to draw something so much that it becomes second nature to you. I think of two musicians and body memory. One musician is a rocker that has been drinking and doing drugs, and yet can get on stage and still play the song without missing a note. (Believe me, I've been to these shows.) The musician has practiced the song so much, he doesn't have to be cognizant of what he is doing, his hands will automatically go to the next chord or note. The other is a story about the musician Sting. I remember watching a behind the scenes where he was talking to another musician about a part that he wanted to him to play. Sting began playing the bass line so the other musician could play over top of it, but forgot where he was in the song. They had a good laugh, and Sting mentioned he can't play the part without singing along with it. His body had become so accustomed to playing it along with his vocals, that to separate the two was difficult for him. that's the idea of body memory. That you do something so much that you don't have to mentally think about it anymore, it just comes out.

So I wonder, is it even feasible for an artist to reach for that goal, or is the body memory something for musicians, because they play the same song over and over, while we draw different pictures each time? Is body memory more likely for an artist like a comic book artist that draws superheroes easily in any pose because he has done that for so many frames over so many books — while a portrait artist or landscape artist uses different models, lighting, colors, scenery, etc. and never really gets to that level of body memory? I'm unsure and am curious of your opinions on this subject.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Eyes Have It

One would think being a landscape artist, I wouldn't care much about the human form. Truth is, I enjoy drawing and painting the human form a lot. The main reason I draw people is to keep my drawing skills honed. While drawing trees and the landscape I still must be accurate, but if I move a branch up a few inches, who will notice? Now if I move a nose up a few inches, well everyone will say I can't draw.

I began this exercise of drawing eyes when one day I was drawing a person and realized I was struggling with the eyes. The only way I know to get better at something is to consistently do it. You know the adage, "Practice makes improvements." So I set out to draw and study eyes. Above is a montage of some of those sketches. (While all these are the eyes of women, I did male eyes too, and differing ages. I will post them at some point, I'm sure.)

Sometimes I would just draw the eyes, other times I would anchor them to the nose and cheek structures. Other times, I found myself intending to just draw the eyes, but not being able to stop and winding up drawing the whole face. One of the things I was trying to find out as I was drawing was just how much shading was needed, especially around the nose area. Sometimes there is a distinct line for a nose, but other times I found I didn't need that at all. The rule of thumb is that when drawing eyes and the nose line (especially on a woman) if the angle of the face is over 2/3rds a line for the nose should be drawn, if it is less than that it isn't necessarily needed. Of course, it is strictly up to the artist to determine how much detail he/she wishes to put into the sketch or drawing. It is worth experimenting with, though. I often think it's what we leave out that's just as important as what we put in the work. Like rests in music.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reworking A Piece

As we live with a piece over time, we get to see the good and bad within it. Commonly, I don't go back into a piece of art, especially one that has been around my studio for a couple years. I did so recently with a large 24" x 36" painting. I always liked the piece, but couldn't initially quite put my hand on what bothered me about it. So I showed it once or twice at most, but mostly it hung on the wall in my home. My wife said she liked it, but every time I looked it over, it just wasn't what I wanted out of it. Time and thought clarified the problems. I realized overall it didn't look unified, so I went back into it. Here's my reasoning and what I did to create a stronger painting.

• The sky (A) needed to be more unified with the painting. As it was, the clouds cut the painting too drastically and didn't repeat shapes used throughout the piece. Also, the blue of the sky was too uniform in color (ultramarine blue+white) and needed more variation.

• The focal area (B) needed to be more dramatically accentuated. I did this by using more intense colors in the focal area and adding some more detail.

• After painting B, I quickly realized I needed to create some more unity and balance in the trees to the right of the focal area (C). To do so, I added some more detail into those trees and created more interesting shapes within the shadow and light areas, as well as where the trees meet the sky.

• Finally, the trees on the left (D) needed to be addressed. They were far too uniform in shape and color. The other thing I noticed was that the background led straight to the sky, creating an unrealistic visible distance. I decided I wanted the background to be led around the group of trees to the left, not continually go farther and farther in the distance. I reworked these concerns at the same time.

Here is the final painting and the two side by side. Unfortunately you can see I'm getting a little light spilling into the top of the reworked painting. You can click on them for a larger viewing size.

Slowing Summer 24" x 36"

Sometimes I wish I could get to that stage a lot faster, but art doesn't always allow that to happen. Sometimes living with a piece is of great importance. On Scott Christensen's website he has a quote from Ernest Hemingway. I think it does a decent job of summing up what it actually takes to create a piece of art work that we, as artists, can be proud of and let out of the studio.

Excerpt from "Ernest Hemingway On Writing."
"Would like to finish this [A Farewell to Arms] down here if possible, put it away for a couple or three months and then re-write it. The re-writing doesn't take more than six weeks or two months once it is done. But it is pretty important for me to let it "cool off" well before re-writing.
~to Maxwell Perkins, 1928 Selected Letters~

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Recurring Themes

Often artists will return to a theme in their work, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Being a landscape painter, I find myself attracted to roads or paths and to streams. The symbolism to me, represents the journey of life. Also, I find myself consistently repeating the theme of being separate or apart, both as an individual and as a journey taking step, removing oneself from the familiar. Sometimes I view and portray this in a positive light, but other times I understand the struggle inherent in being different from the norm or separate from the crowd. I often portray this in my work with the use of single and groupings of trees. The single tree is almost always representative of the individual, but a group can be either peer or familial groupings.
And at times, like in the painting, The Leaving, I incorporate both ideas of the stream as life journey and the separation aspect into the same painting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Painting the Dunes

16" x20" – Spring Dune

One would think that by shear location, I would paint the Indiana National Dunes Lakeshore a lot. In truth, I rarely paint it at all. Having been born and raised in eastern Iowa, dunes and beaches weren't around me. I think because of that, I don't have any nostalgia or affinity for them. It commonly doesn't interest me. That said, however, like any place, you can always find something beautiful about an area. I often feel the abstract patterns of the dunes are not portrayed well, if at all. So I challenged myself to try to capture that wonderful abstraction where the dunes meet the grassland.

I had taken the photo of this scene a few years ago. While digging through my photo box I found it and painted a little study of it (see below). I liked the study so much I tried my hand at making it into a larger painting. Fortunately, I am not too disappointed in either of them. Though I will say, the main focal area is still trees. For some reason I can't seem to pull myself away from them.

6" x 8" Small Work

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Madame X — Self-Censored Masterpiece

Madame Gautreau was an American expatriate who married a French banker. She was renowned for her beauty and recognized as a new type of Frenchwoman, with elite status and sophistication. Sargent was so impressed by her beauty that he asked a mutual friend to talk to her about posing for him. He believed that by painting her portrait, he could garner attention as an artist and receive more portrait commissions. Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent's offer. Sargent was an expatriate like Gautreau, and their collaboration has been interpreted as motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society.

When the painting was shown in the Paris Salon of 1884, it immediately became scandalous for its suggestive sexuality, and the relatives of Mdme Gautreau requested that is be taken down. It was left hanging. Initially, Sargent was to give the painting to the Gautreaus, but after their response he feared them destroying what he considered his best work. So he took the painting down before the end of the show, where it stayed in his studio until he sent it to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He was so ashamed by the scandal that Sargent moved to London soon after.

What I find even more amazing is what happened next. Sargent then went back into the painting and repainted the strap of the dress that hung down from Mdme. Gautreau's shoulder, and changed its name from Portrait de Mdme *** to Madame X. This changed the piece drastically. And, it was not discovered that he altered the painting
for close to a hundred years, until the art scholar Trevor Fairbrother discovered it in an old photograph depicting the Salon (see below).

Funny how a little thing like a strap can change something so drastically. Below you can see the final painting as it hangs in the Met in New York, a photo of the painting as it hung in the Salon in 1884, and how it may have appeared (altered by artist
Mike Pieczonka). It may no longer be seen as offensive, but in my eyes is a much weaker piece. The lowered strap changes the composition and feeling of the piece. It no longer has the feeling of a woman acknowledging her independence and sexuality. Now I see it as a true masterpiece and can believe it is one of his best works. And I wonder if he were still around today, in these times, would he change it back.
This raises the question of self-censorship, though. As artists we are influenced by the culture around us, and by the people around us. Can we become too engrossed in what people think about our art that we forget what it was we were wanting out of painting? How easy is it to cross that line? How easy to simply paint what has sold before and sit on our laurels instead of pushing these boundaries and testing our ideas of what art can be? And what it means to ourselves? And as artists can we do this to ourselves? We ask each other for critiques of our work, to improve and grow as artists, also for a fresh eye perspective. And while I know we use these artistic critiques to learn and grow, can asking opinions of others lead to self-censorship? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Informal Division Grid

The Informal (or Free Form) Division Grid is taken from Andrew Loomis' book Creative Illustration. It offers greater freedom to the artist, but at first may take a little getting used to. The big key is to make sure that you divide the space unequally as to not create a symmetrical design.

A. "Start by dividing the whole space unequally with a single line. It is best to avoid placing the line at a point which would be one-half, one-third, or one-fourth of the whole space.

B. "Then draw one diagonal of the whole space from diagonally opposite corners.

C. "At the intersection of the diagonal and your first line, draw a horizontal line across the space.

D. "Now draw diagonals in any of the resulting rectangles, but only one to a space. Two diagonals crossing like an X would divide the rectangle equally, which we do not want.

E. "Now draw horizontals or perpendiculars at any intersection, thus making more rectangles to divide by diagonals again. In this manner you will never break up the same shape twice in the same way. It offers a great deal of suggestion for the placement of figures, spacing, and contours, with no two spaces being exactly equal or duplicated, except the two halves on each side of the single diagonal. If you have a subject in mind, you will begin to see it develop."

Here are a few thumbnail sketches I did using this technique. In the first and third I used the same photo reference (notice the tree on the left) to show just how varying the design can be.

Thanks to Andrew Loomis Creative Illustration.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Designing with Grids

Graphic designers often use grids to help with placement of elements in their layouts. As painters, we can use the same idea for our compositions. We can place elements and/or the center of focus on (or near) where these lines intersect. This simple technique can help when deciding where to place elements and often create a better composition than simply "guessing" where to put them.

3rds Division Grid
One of the most common page divisions (or grids) is dividing the picture plane into thirds. Many artists find this the easiest grid to use for placement of focal area and main lines/elements.

3rds Division
Click on image to enlarge

5ths Division Grid
nother grid is the 5ths Division grid, dividing the picture into fifths both horizontally and vertically.

5ths Division
Click on image to enlarge

3:5 Division Grid
By putting the two above grids together, you can create a 3:5 Division.

3:5 Division
Click on image to enlarge

Squared-Third Division Grid
Then there is the simple grid that I call the Squared-Third. It is a variation on the Golden Rectangle. The picture is divided in thirds one way and the other by a square starting at any corner.

Squared-3rd Division
Click on image to enlarge

Right Angle Division
Irving Shapiro taught me this
simple method for placement of a focal area while I attending the American Academy of Art. It's created by diagonally dividing the picture in half, and then drawing a line from an opposite corner to meet the diagonal line at a right angle.

Right Angle
Click on image to enlarge

There are endless possibilities of grids. In fact, the next post will be about creating an informal free-form grid I learned from Andrew Loomis' book Creative Illustration. Try some of these out and let me know what you think.

Images in order:
Alberto Pasini, A Market Scene
Richard Schmid, Spring Thaw
Kenn Backhaus, Beach Cliffs
Mark vanderVinne, Left Standing
Scott Christensen, Evening Popo Agie

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bringing it to Art

A few years ago, I picked up the book Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings by James Elkins. It is an exploration into why some people are moved to tears by paintings.

What makes a painting move someone? What is it a bout a still painting that we get so emotionally involved with? What draws us to a piece?

I have found these questions interesting for many years. After all, as an artist I do my best to put my thoughts and emotions down on canvas, and hope that others will be moved by it. Through the exploration of personal feelings I hope to find the universal feelings of others. I have something I wish to share with the world, and want others to be open to feeling it, too.

One of my art school teachers mentioned she was so moved by a van Gogh that she was brought to tears. I have never been so emotionally moved by a painting that I cried in front of it. But paintings have moved me in other ways. And I certainly find myself continually being attracted to certain pieces. One of my favorites is Toby Rosenthal's "Elaine". Every time I go to the Art Institute of Chicago I make sure I see this painting. Why? Because it does move me. Maybe not to tears, but it stirs something inside of me every time I view it. And I want to get closer to understanding that feeling inside of me.

It doesn't seem to be just the technical aspects of a painting, it's what we bring to it. If it was strictly technical, then certainly a
Bouguereau would be some of the most moving pieces in the world. But they really do little for me. Technically he certainly was a master, but beyond that there is little human emotion captured on canvas, in my opinion. Which just means he's not for me. And that's fine. Others may actually cry in front of his work.

But from what I can tell, it seems that people bring their own ideas, memories and feelings to a piece. What I painted as sorrow or solemnity, someone else finds peace and hope in. That's okay. It's what makes art so fascinating to me. For instance, a close friend of mine had recently gone through some very difficult times in his life. While I can sympathize with him, I can't empathize with him as I have never been through the exact same situations. But what was going on was effecting me, too because we are such good friends. So I painted my feelings about the struggle he was having and sorrow I was feeling. I couldn't get words to describe my personal thoughts and feelings, but I found I could put them on canvas. And so I did. And I think I captured it. But other people may bring some other feelings or thoughts to the piece. Knowing that, how do I tell a collector who is interested in this painting that I was feeling these deeply sorrowful and melancholy things, when they see it as calm, peaceful and possibly uplifting? And so I don't, because I understand that their thoughts and feelings about the painting may not match mine. And I am just as interested to hear their viewpoint of it, for then I get to learn about them as human beings. And after the creation of the work, their viewpoint is as valid as mine. Though, only I will know if I captured what it is I set out to achieve.

As an experiment, find an image you like and write down your feelings about it. Have someone you know do the same. It's interesting to see how similar or different the viewpoints are. The painting hasn't changed, only the viewer.

I hope this gets you thinking. And if anyone is interested in the piece I was describing about my friend, email me at and I'll let you know which piece it is on my website, then you can make the decision about it for yourself.

p.s. I just noticed today that James Gurney has recently posted a similar discussion. Check it out, if you get the chance at his blog:

Norman Rockwell, The Connoisseur

Toby Edward Rosenthal, Elaine,