Composition, Notan, The Landscape Atelier, Value

Four Value Studies and Notan

This week in the Composition class, we have been working on thumbnail sketches, which employ simplified shapes and values to help us explore design possibilities. Thumbs can and should become the main tool we use to both learn to compose and to explore motifs for paintings.  The class worked on applying certain design principles to the task of creating thumbnail sketches. In the coming week, we will explore using four and two value studies to further sharpen our design skills.

Notan is a Japanese word for light-dark, and consists of a two value arrangement of shapes.  It can be used to define and simplify shape and value patterns. Notan (two values) and  four value designs are not based on how we actually see the world; they are constructs that we can use to see and strengthen value patterns.  Both Notan as well as the four value studies require us to make decisions about whether mid-tones will be grouped with dark or light. This allows for a more flexible approach to thinking about design.

It’s hard to overstate the “aha!” moment that arrives when students first begin to grasp the power of using a limited set of values to compose. Here are a few examples of master works.

Here is George Inness’ Sunset in Georgia, a work which immediately catches your eye with its rich color. But the real strength of this work lies in its value pattern.

Onness Georgia Sunset

Here I have reduced it to four values. You can see how Inness has connected all his darks to create a tunnel design. This did not happen because he saw it that way in Nature , but rather because he designed it that way. Remember, composition is something you impose on Nature.

Inness Georgia Sunset 4 values

Here is a painting by the 19th c. Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin.

Shishkin forest dusk

 

In this example I have converted the design to four values. Again, note how the darks are all linked. This is a key factor in creating strong value structures for your paintings. Although there is lots of information in this painting and very close values, with small incremental value shifts, its overall structure and design can be reduced to just a few values.

Shishkin forest dusk 4 values

In this example I have reduced the values to two- Notan. Again the darks are linked. Note that the sky forms a shape as well as the other elements of the scene.

Shishkin forest dusk notan 1

Here is an even more simple Notan.

Shishkin forest dusk notan 2

We can use these same ideas to help refine our own work. The first thumb is about 2 x 3″.

DMP thumb 2

Here I have reduced it to four values and added a lighter value in the distance, Although I liked the right hand side,  the darks on the left were not connected sufficiently.

DMP thumb 2 4 values

Pushing the values to the darker end of the scale.

DMP thumb 2 4 values 2

A Notan to explore how to more effectively link the darks.

DMP thumb 2 notan

 

Working with simplified shapes and reduced values can help to refine out motifs. No amount of color, bravura brushstrokes or detail will rescue a weak design. Working with thumbnail sketches and reduced values teaches us to create a solid structure for our work.

 

P.S. We have a great lineup of online classes coming up including our very popular class on Understanding Values in the Landscape, and a new painting class called The Strong Start. Join us! For those interested in a comprehensive program of training for landscape we are accepting students into the Atelier programs for the January trimester.

 

 

Composition, The Landscape Atelier

Speed of the Line and Stoppers

“Speed of the line” is a concept that plays an important part in landscape design. Often we see strong diagonals at work in Nature- a mountain, a line of trees, or even a roofline of a building. The more steep and uninterrupted that line is, the “faster” it moves the eye- and often it will move the eye right out of the canvas! Here is a little thumbnail showing how that might work.

 

speedofline thumb 2

The eye sails right out the right side of the composition.  The speed of the line can be slowed by creating variety in the line, interruptions so to speak, which slow the movement of the eye and break up the extreme diagonal look of the line.  As you can see, the movement along the top line is much different in this example. The slight upward tick in the line creates a little eye “stopper” .

 

speed of line thumb

 

 

In this thumbnail a stronger stopper in the form of a tree has been added. 

 

stopper thumb

 

 

Here a “redirection” stopper has been employed. Although it does not actually break the line it operates to redirect the eye upward into the sky. 

 

stoppers thumb 2

 

These are all fairly simple examples and solutions. Let’s see how this has been employed by a variety of artists. These first two are by American ex-pat plein air painter Marc Dalessio. I love how he has used the vertical poles here to both break the horizon line and its “speed” to the right side of the canvas. In the second one, he has used trees to break the line of the roof. On the right side the trees actually obscure it and on the left that small tree behind the building disrupts the speed of the line there.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.45.00 AM

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.45.17 AM

Here is Maynard Dixon, iconic painter of western landscapes. That distant mountain on the left side is a stopper and the upward movement of the clouds also works as a redirection.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.47.39 AM

Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole used those trees on the right of the falls to slow down the descent of the mountains behind.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.50.38 AM

 

In a more intimate scene, Hudson River School painter Jervis McEntee used that tree on the left to stop the eye and to redirect into the sky.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.51.49 AM

So learn to recognize “speed of the line” problems and use some creative variety in the line and “stoppers” to solve the problem!

 

PS Our online class Composing the Landscape starts October 31. Learning to compose effectively give us the tools to express our unique vision of the landscape. Nature gives us raw material. It is up to us to make a painting. Join us!

Art History, Composition

A Composition Lesson from Corot

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A View of Volterra Corot
(click for larger view)

As landscape painters, one of our main tasks in composing is to get our viewers into the painting and gracefully out of it. The creation of entrances and exits requires that the viewer move easily and at the appropriate speed through the painting as well. No easy task!

Here the great French painter Camille Corot has used that little hill on the right bottom of the picture plane on which to perch his viewer. The shadowed foreground gets us into the painting and the lit up area surrounding the horse and rider form a natural focal point. The road pulls us up into the trees, and then the trees move our eye over to the distant trees and hills and sky. Look at the painting and squint and you will see how carefully and masterfully Corot has designed the light and dark areas. This is the use of value as abstract pattern which serves the design well.

Enjoy!

PS Our upcoming online class Composing the Landscape (starts October 31). This class covers the fundamentals of landscape composition and gives tried and true strategies for both learning about and creating compositions that work. All the great color in the world won’t save a bad design! 🙂 Join us!