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,