"The Secret of
All works of art have a visual concept or idea.
Paintings that do not have a visual concept are usually not art or are
studies. What are some concepts painters have used?
Concepts or ideas
"For the painter nature is like a piano keyboard. A
few notes well chosen make a beautiful chord." Robert Bissett
Let's focus on the
little understood and often omitted preliminary steps that have to happen
before you put brush to paper for the final painting. It takes a
little time and can save a huge amount of frustration and disappointment.
Fail to plan, plan to fail. Does it stifle creativity? Not at
all, it puts part of it in the first steps of the process where it can be
examined and easily modified. Once it becomes second nature you might
do this in your head, but you still do it.
You will be making
important decisions that will reveal the inner you and insure a unique
painting. The idea is to use the tools of art to move beyond just
copying a picture or documenting the scene before you. It is essential
to see abstractly...shapes interacting with shapes, colors relating to
colors, values relating to values, lines interacting with lines; and
everything relating to everything else. Trees, clouds, mountains,
apple, table, wall have no meaning in this way of seeing.
Because I said "abstract"
a certain number of people are thinking that none of this applies to them
since they do representational art...realism. This is exactly the point that few
understand, but must be understood to make a first class painting. All
paintings are abstract. Some abstract paintings also have pictorial
representation or narrative content, but in essence they are first and
foremost abstract because we have only paint on a flat surface. When you come to grips with this secret you will be
on your way to making better paintings.
Quotes about Abstraction
"The abstract painter considers the realist painter to be the abstract
painter and himself the realist because he deals realistically with the
paint and does not try to transform it into something that it is not." (Jimmy Leuders)
"Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract
sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill
or tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they may say something."
"The painter can and must abstract from many details in creating his
painting. Every good composition is above all a work of abstraction. All
good painters know this. But the painter cannot dispense with subjects
altogether without his work suffering impoverishment." (Diego Rivera)
"A conscious decision to eliminate certain details and include selective
bits of personal experiences or perceptual nuances, gives the painting more
of a multi-dimension than when it is done directly as a visual recording.
This results in a kind of abstraction... and thus avoids the pitfalls of
mere decoration." (Wayne Thiebaud)
Get out your mental sketch
book and paints. Visualize a tree on the paper. This is
something you've been doing since you were a small child. Your trees
have gotten more elaborate and detailed, no doubt, over the years.
Very few would deny that you have indeed made a tree. This is a useful
short hand way of thinking and talking we were introduced to as children.
No one actually believes you have somehow made a tree on the paper with
paint. Yet a fascinating world is closed to those who see only the
tree. You must stop seeing "tree" and see the shapes, values, colors,
lines and so on that suggest or symbolize a tree. Once you do your
horizons will be suddenly broadened. Have you heard artist use the terms earth
form, cloud form, tree form? This is a way of acknowledging that we
are dealing with 2D shapes, abstractions.
This stunning little clip art comes
with Microsoft Office. It's exciting in the way we want our paintings
to be exciting. No matter what size you make this picture it will
still be exciting. It is useful for learning because it lacks the
detail a full sized painting might have. What is your initial
reaction? A feeling of calm, peaceful, restful.
What is the main geometric motif?
The sun disk is the place to start. The orange ring repeats the circle
shape. The cloud curves are related to the circles. The palm fronds
are jagged and irregular, but the overall shape is circular for each tree.
The dominant geometric motif is the circle, the secondary motif is
horizontal lines. Should you consciously include geometric motifs in
your bag of artist tools? Yes, it's important.
Let's look at it as lines.
Notice the tree forms. Focus on the trunks and
the spaces between the trunks. If the design where music what is the
rhythm? Booom...Boooom...Baa Ba Boom. None of the spaces are the
same. This is one of the tools of art. Can you use this idea in
your paintings? Yes...
More analysis soon...
ocean sunset handled very differently. And
1. Pencil sketch
2. Painted sketch
4. Evaluate, revise
1. Pencil sketch.
In this step the idea is not to just copy your subject matter, but to go
beyond it. Here are some questions you should answer with a
series of pencil sketches:
A. What excites you
about this subject? How will you emphasis that in your composition?
If you can't show it at this stage then you won't be able to do it with
paint. Write the answer to this question in your
sketchbook and then show it in your sketch.
B. Will you show the
excitement with the interaction of positive and negative space;
C. the use of line
and overlapping forms;
D. repetition of
E. How will you
balance your composition?
F. Where will you
make use of rhythm, texture, value, and color?
G. Even though this
is pencil you should start thinking about color.
format? Portrait or landscape, square, medium, long.
I. If your small
sketch is not exciting then don't proceed. Do another one, and another
until you have made an exciting little sketch.
"The beginning painter is
focused on learning technique with the goal of accurate detail. Then,
comes the realization that composition and design are more important.
In time, if there are to be good paintings, an underlying visual concept
guides the application of paint. Finally, the occasional artist
discovers how to breath live into the canvas and the painting sings with a
pure voice." Robert Bissett
"In love and war, in food and art, the quick,
intuitive decision, without verbiage, is the one worth heeding. The French
call it "coup d'oeil" (power of the glance)." Robert
Genn (n : a quick look [syn:
John Lovett - highly recommend his
Step by Step - Irises
The anatomy of a commission
by Robert Genn, Acrylic, 80x48"
From first sketches to
"Ramparts" by Robert Genn, Acrylic,
An excellent demo by a master of waternedia
CGNetwork's Challenge entry by Dumont
Design a Cover, Before and
After Magazine, design insights.
7 March 2005 by
Brenton Cottman Very informative description of the
process used to create a moonlit scene form first sketches to finished
product. Computer art, but the principles are the same.
Here's another one:
Making Undersea Romance,
Jason Chan, 3 March 2005
Back to Top
Thursday, 12 February 2004
|Before I begin, I should say that the
following information is by no means complete. It is merely my attempt
to address one issue that I believe many artists contend with: namely,
When dealing with composition in painting, particularly informal
composition where elements from left to right or top to bottom vary
significantly, it is important to keep in mind that the entire image and
not just the focus of the image has to be taken into account. Also,
certain types of composition convey certain ideas. An image that has
lots of diagonals conveys dynamism. A triangular composition conveys
strength and resolve. A circular composition is often used to convey
the idea of unity and wholeness. If you wanted to illustrate, say, a
princess holding her infant son with a dragon emblem behind them, one
way you could approach it would be to compose the image as a circle
within a circle, with the mother and child at the center and the emblem
swirling around them. Below is an abbreviated list of composition types
and the emotion/theme they best convey:
||Peace, Quiet, Aftermath, Death
||Action, Opposition, Energy
||Love, Unity, Perfection, Completeness
||Hope, Fear, Growth, Rise and Descent
||Strength, Assimilation, Power
||Balance, Order, Resolve
To give you an example, I will use my painting "Skull Mountain" to
explain how composition in your work can heighten and enhance the theme
or themes you want to convey. My initial idea was to create an image in
the spirit of Frazetta, which conveyed a sense of victory in the face of
Compositional Technique in Art
Tan Ruixiang William
I have to say 'Artists are people with a precious gift from God- the
ability to imagine'. It is with
the ability to
imagine that a multitude of ideas, form, shapes and creative thinking take
However, most beginning artists will
agree that it is hard to take what we have imagined in our minds and place
it onto our drawing paper. Most newcomers lack
the ability to organize the chaotic mind into a system of order so that
the final art work is a by product of a systematic
This thought process is
known as composition. Composition is the integration of many different
kinds of art techniques and philosophies with one' s technique and style
in painting. Composition technique is never easy and should be studied in
great detail for anyone interested in the study of Art.
Compositional technique can be easier to master if one ask
himself/herself these questions when painting. What is the 'spirit' of the
object that you are trying to capture in your painting? What is the most
interesting aspect of the object that you will want to focus on?
Yes, the keyword is focus! If there is no focal point, then you will
not be able to capture the emotion of the subject and express it on paper
in a way that will maximize the impression you hope to achieve. And always
remember that the selection of the colour and tone is critical to bring
out the mood of the painting. Every decision you make
as the artist should have a primary reason behind it. Composition in art
is about how you react to a subject and introduce your personal quality
through your drawing.
Let's Learn to Critique
These are not the
most helpful critiques. Will look for better ones.
These are superficial critiques. This pictures has
major design problems which limit its potential.
A shaded drawing, not a real painting.
conception/execution - Conception is the birth process of an artistic
idea, from the initial creative impulse through aesthetic refinement,
problem-solving, and visualization/realization. Execution is the second
half of the creative process: the actual carrying out of the idea, in
terms of method and materials, which often involves compromises and
alterations of the initial conception. Artists often see the initial
conception as the guiding force for their aesthetic decisions, in terms of
formal elements of design, and in terms of the expressive content desired.
Contemporary conceptual artists place more emphasis on the first part of
the creative process; traditional artists are somewhat more concerned with
the techniques and methods involved in producing the artwork. The painter
Henri Matisse advised, in his essay On Painting, that artists
should keep their initial impulse in the front of their minds when working
on a painting, to make the best expressive and formal decisions.
Painting is the selective recreation of reality through the use of a
two-dimensional drawing. It is a category of art that includes drawings,
paintings, and sketches. Its purpose is to clarify particular concepts by
making them directly perceivable. By bringing a concept to the level of
perception, it makes it possible to contemplate the subject in essentials
with visual clarity.
Making a concept visually perceivable is achieved through a process of
creating a visual integration. Since concepts are formed by selecting
essential criteria, and abstracting away any non-essential characteristic,
the resulting mental unit consists of only the important features.
Similarly, a visual integration is possible. By abstracting away the
non-essential visual features, the painting is left with a visual equivalent
of a concept. If done correctly and well, the painting will portray the
essential characteristics of an object.
The result of such a visual integration is that the subject will look not
only real, but will appear to be the perfect representation of an object.
This in spite of the fact that one may never have seen an object that looked
quite like it. It will look like the subject should look, and not what it
does look like.
What is Esthetics?
Esthetics is the study of art. It includes what art consists of, as well
as the purpose behind it. Does art consist of music, literature, and
painting? Or does it include a good engineering solution, or a beautiful
sunset? These are the questions that are aimed at in esthetics. It also studies
methods of evaluating art, and allows judgments of the art. Is art in the
eye of the beholder? Does anything that appeals to you fit under the
umbrella of art? Or does it have a specific nature? Does it accomplish a
Why is Esthetics important?
Art has existed through all of recorded human history. It is unique to
humans because of our unique form of thinking. Its importance is based on
this nature, specifically, man's ability to abstract. Art is a little
understood tool of man to bring meaning to abstract concept. Esthetics is
important because it delves into the reason why art has always existed, the
burning need of mankind through the ages to see the world in a different,
clear way. It further evaluates art by the standard of human life, and
whether it accomplishes the job of satisfying man's intellectual needs, or
whether it tends to hurt or make worse those needs.
What are the key elements of a proper Esthetics?
Art is a selective recreation of reality. It's purpose is to concretize
an abstraction to bring an idea or emotion within the grasp of the observer.
It is a selective recreation, with the selection process depending on the
value judgments of the creator. These value judgments can be observed and
evaluated via the field of ethics.
Art satisfies an important
need for men. It brings complex abstractions closer to the perceptual
level, enabling men to more fully grasp them. Art accomplishes this through
a process of embodying the abstraction in the form of a concrete.
Art does not just concretize the abstraction by merely creating an
instance of it. Art attempts to embody the abstraction. It creates a single
instance, but the instance is based on the essential nature of the concept.
When we form a
concept, we omit all of the non-essential qualities. The abstraction
that remains is based only on essential characteristics. It is these
characteristics that art tries to produce in a single concrete form.
The result really is an embodiment of the abstraction. The product
retains only what the artist deems important. Since it consists of just the
essential aspects of the abstraction, and contains all of the essentials, it
allows the abstraction to be grasped directly as an entity.
The importance of this tool of cognition is incalculable. By portraying
the abstraction in this way, it gains the immediacy of a perceivable
concrete. It magnifies the usefulness of the concept by allowing a more
integration and understanding of it. Instead of trying to understand
things in term of an abstraction of many entities, the single concrete
embodiment serves as a perfect example of the abstraction.
To bring the abstraction into clarity, it needs to be created in its
essential form. To be meaningful, it needs to be created in a recognizable
form. To this end, art is a selective re-creation of reality.
Art is selective. The artist must pick not only the form in which he
intends to create the art, but he must pick a subject. This subject is not
random. It is picked by the artist for some significance it has for him. The
choice of the subject is based on the artist's philosophy. Importance to the
artist is based on his world-view. The subject is that which the artist
believes has a wide-reaching importance to himself. The content is based on
sense of life. His emotional evaluation of the aspects of reality he
Art is a re-creation. It is created in order to grasp clearly an aspect
of the artist's world view. If the concretization of the idea happened
naturally, one would not have a problem of bringing the abstraction to a
perceivable form. It would already be done. Art is an attempt to fill a gap.
It is an act of creation to bring into the world a clear representation of
an aspect of one's world-view.
Art is a re-creation of reality. Its purpose is to embody an idea,
showing that it can exist in reality. If the creation required non-real
qualities in order to be able to embody the idea, it could not be
convincing. If an artist, in trying to show that man should live a life
devoid of 'materialism', had to resort to describing an imaginary being that
required no food, protection from the elements, or any other human need, it
would rob the creation of the ability to concretize an abstraction in order
to achieve further understanding or efficacy.
An artist does need to create that which doesn't exist already, or in a
sufficiently consistent form. To this end, the artist isn't replicating
reality. Fiction is a form of art that doesn't mirror reality. But the
artist, in order to convey the message, must not only show what the message
is, but how it can exist in reality. If he fails in the second half, it will
undermine the first. To this end, the imaginary or impossible can supplement
the art, but cannot serve as its foundation. This is why art needs to be a
selective recreation of reality.
Why Men Need Art
The word "art" is used so often and so loosely, it seems it can be
applied to anything at all. A word that can be used to describe anything,
though, is a word that has no meaning. To derive the meaning of the word, we
must first explore what human need it fulfills.
Man is a
conceptual being. He thinks not only in specifics, but in abstracts. To
gain further knowledge of the world, he builds abstracts on top of
abstracts. Each step higher brings him a wider grasp of reality.
Each step also takes him farther from the clarity that comes from direct
perception. This is not to say that his abstractions are false. If his
reason is vigorous enough, the abstractions will correspond to reality.
The difficulty is in then using the abstractions for further reasoning.
integrations of particulars. They can be formed through integration of
perceptions directly, or they can be formed through abstractions of other
concepts. The second route, while producing valid concepts, does not require
the perception of the particulars. They are
induced, but need not have been directly perceived.
This brings us to the crux of the problem. Many abstracts lack the
immediacy of those based on perception. The higher the level of abstraction,
the more difficult it is to fully grasp it.
Art is the tool that makes it possible to grasp complex abstractions.
More Painting Secrets:
The Secret of Values New
The Secret of Emotion
The Secret of Critiquing
The Secret of Composition
The Secret of Visual
The Secret of Borrowing
The Secret of Tonalism
The Secret of Style
The Secret of Maxfield Parrish
of Plein Air
The Secret of No Solvents
The Secret of Water Mixable Oils
The Secret of
The Secret of the
The Secret of
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Blick Art Materials
Please read and digest the material in the left column
that I have assembled from all over the place. Read and digest.
It's a little disorganized and not finished, but worth the time to study it.
I think you will find it very interesting and instructive.
with any questions, comments or suggestions.
These are the best books on my shelf. Some are
more advanced. No particular order. These links will take you to
Amazon.com, but you might check your local library...ask about interlibrary
loans, or a used book store.
Theory and Practice
Don't have a degree in art? Want to fill in those gaps
in your knowledge? Follow the link above for a used copy or new. I was lucky
to find a used 9th edition with the Core Concepts CD unopened. Email the
seller to make sure the CD is there and it works. 10th edition is out now
and available from the publisher.
website content for this book:
Quizzes, crossword puzzles, key terms, flashcards, etc. Think you know all
the answers? This is not easy! Highly recommend.
Lynch 100 Watercolor Workshop Lesson Charts
If you could only choose one
book this is it. His major theme is "think like an artist". He
makes that point from every angle imaginable in an entertaining way.
Great paintings, colorful, inspirational, clear. Intended for
watercolor, but very useful for any medium.
"Read" a Painting
Elements of Visual Design Explained
Sunflowers on Yupo Paper
The Elements of Art
Painting Critique Checklist
How to Critique a Painting
Mr. Picasso Head
Cybernetic art program -
Daub - abstract art
Cityscapes - artificial creativity, good one
Generative Art - program <300k
“There are mighty few people who think what they
think they think.” So wrote Robert Henri, author of The Art Spirit,
speaking of the various answers to the question, What do I do
when I paint? Beginners in art usually think of themselves as “painting
that ” – say, a landscape. So they include every visible cow,
barn, tree, and cloud. In reality, their first artistic impulse sprung
from a rather quick glance, which is something far different from a
photographic visualization of everything stimulating their retinas. What
attracted them to notice this landscape was the massive, quiet
dignity of a weathered-red barn surrounded by wind-shook acres of grain.
In their original glimpse, they never saw the cows, they didn’t notice the
clouds, and they barely registered the trees. Later, upon reflection,
they think they did, and that mistake in thinking accounts for many
an ineffective painting.
Accomplished artists do not think of themselves as
painting the total landscape seen after inspection. Rather they feel moved
by some image, and they lay paint on canvas in a way that they hope will
create a similar reaction in a viewer. They will leave out the cows and
rearrange the clouds to enhance the impression of the majesty of that barn
rising from those fields. They often remind themselves, “I am not painting
that – a visible figure over there. I am painting this – a
melange of paint that expresses my disposition when I see that and
promises to evoke the same disposition in someone else.” This image may
be something in nature, a sitting model, the memory of several experiences,
or even the pure image of colors in a pattern.
...the specific symbol most
significant to us is the human face. Infants, in their earliest
differentiations of consciousness, learn to notice faces. I am always
amazed how they spontaneously look at our looking organs – not our ears
extending out from the sides, not our noses sticking out in front, not our
lips that sing them lullabies and smooch them with kisses -- but our eyes.
They “read” a frown far earlier than they understand a word. This
image of the face and eyes is loaded with feeling and remains at the core of
their sensibilities for the rest of their lives.
Achieve a Sense of Light
a corruption of the Japanese word Boke, which means
"blur." Backgrounds, particularly, are often rendered out of
focus. You may be familiar with what are called "circles of
confusion," those round spots of light that occur in photos.
Photographers spend some effort to get "good bokeh" as opposed
to "bad bokeh." Bad bokeh draws attention to
itself--particularly "donut bokeh" with hollow centers that
result from the use of mirror lenses. Painting Bokeh in the
negative area--Swiss Cheese variety is commonplace these
days--I do it myself. I've asked Andrew to put up a few
annotated examples at the top of the current clickback. See URL
"Fringing" is the fringes of light and colour
In photography it's often due to extreme magnification and the
inability of some lenses to focus all colours of light on the
same spot. This colour or light intrusion, when painted, can be
arbitrary but is often a complementary of a local colour.
Fringing adds a welcome and mysterious interest.
"Auras" are those intensified glows that form
around and within
objects--particularly when seen against the light. Bright red
tree branches against a sunset are an example we are all
familiar with. The nice thing about auras is that they operate
in predictable, somewhat scientific ways. The tree aura
mentioned above, for example, generally picks up its colour by
sliding down the colour wheel from the colour of the light
behind it. Thus an orange sky would yield a red aura.
"Dazzle" is the common state where light simply
detail. Difficult to do in traditional film photography,
digital does it better by looking around and opening up to
shadow areas. Painters can always add "truth" to their work by
putting details into shadow rather than the lighter spots.
Combining dazzle and aura requires the softening of transition
Simple blending goes a long way toward
illusion of light. As always it's a case of "commit and
correct." I've never met a painter who got the balance
perfectly in the first go.
From Robert Genn
Newsletter, Oct. 21, 05: Playing with Light