What Makes A Painting Work Art Blog
by art_composition , December 10, 2009—12:53 PM
After deciding which slice of the world will make a good landscape composition, a second problem to be worked out is how much detail to show. When I saw these ducks sitting in the sun on a weathered boardwalk bridge rail at Neary Lagoon I was struck by their bright beauty. There was no doubt they were the stars of the scene. They would make a lovely watercolor painting by themselves. Yet I was also struck by patterns which spoke of the rich complexity of the landscape. The weathered wood had a lavender tone where it had been exposed by the peeling paint, and revealed growth patterns in the wood as the paint held to some layers better than to others. The ducks themselves had an array of colors in their feathers although the male's head and wings made them clearly identifiable as mallards. Beautiful interlacings of reeds obscured the sunny grasses and the trees beyond.
Too much attention to these details would create a chaotic design with no clear focal point. Too little attention to detail would not tie them to their landscape in quite the way I wanted to. Since I was able to get the painting into a juried show shortly after completing it, I suppose I had some success in reaching my goal of detail without distraction.
One way of keeping the spotlight on the ducks was to concentrate light on them, not only are they in the sun casting strong shadows, but the brightest glow of yellow green is in the grasses seen through the reeds just above them. On the boards below them I left no paper white; all of the white has been touched with at least a trace of other color, and the contrasting lavender browns are kept very muted. I tried to show the complexity of the by using negative painting, painting behind the reeds rather than the reeds themselves, and then revisiting those areas with various greens, yellows, and browns. Then a few dark strokes added line where needed. You could count the number of reeds actually shown here. The human eye conspires with the artist to see hundreds.
I find that I am often struggling with how much detail to show. If you are working on scene time dictates simplicity. In the studio working from reference photographs one has time to agonize over the question and ask "What story am I trying to tell in this particular painting? And how can I do it?"