Sunday, March 31, 2013

Artist Tip #13 - Principles of Design (Part 3)

We've been discussing the seven Principles of Design:
  • Contrast
  • Gradation
  • Repetition with Variation
  • Harmony
  • Balance
  • Dominance
  • Unity
We saw how contrast, gradation, and repetition with variation help us to make our paintings more interesting and less boring.  We'll now begin discussing the final four principles that balance these first three, and help us pull our painting together into a unified whole.

Harmony refers to elements that are similar, and mainly applies to color.  For example, green is harmonious with yellow or blue, since it is near them on the color wheel.  Harmony need not be applied to the entire painting, and can provide peace and rest even when used only in parts of our paintings, but let's look at some extreme cases - paintings with a strong harmonious overall color-temperature scheme.

In Country Christmas, the overall purple, blue, and green colors - near one another on the color wheel - give the entire painting a cool feel.  Notice that there are touches of warm, mainly in the wooden fence and the distant trees, to provide some color contrast:

In The Old Guard, on the other hand,  reds, yellows, and browns dominate, giving the overall painting a warm feel:

The principle of Balance that we will discuss next applies mostly to shapes, though it can also apply to other elements - particularly value.  An unbalanced painting, with most of its shapes on one side, is disturbing to view.  If we think of balance in terms of weight, large shapes "feel" heavier than small shapes, and dark shapes "feel" heavier than light shapes.  In addition, balance can be either formal, with similar shapes in similar positions on both sides of the painting, or informal, with larger shapes on one side close to the center, and small shapes on the other side, nearer the painting edge.  Think of informal balance on a seesaw or teeter-totter, with a large child near the fulcrum balancing a smaller child near the end, and you'll have the idea.  We generally find informal balance more pleasing than formal balance.  Balance applies to paintings horizontally, not vertically - a painting that is "heavier" on the bottom "feels" fine.  But if it's heavier on the top, it can seem odd.

The painting Making Headway is a very good example of informal balance:

The small sailboat on the left further from the center balances the larger sailboat on the right which is closer to the center, making the painting feel well-balanced.  Another example is Hobie, where the large sailboat near the center is balanced by the two smaller sailboats further away:

The balance does not need to be this carefully contrived to make the painting feel right.  Our final example is Concentration:

In this painting, most of the weight of the painting, in terms of shapes and value, is on the left.  But just having the fishing rod extending to the right, out of the painting, is enough to give the painting a balanced feel.  The "weights" need not be accurately computed, there just must be something to balance a large weight on one side of the painting.

Our next artist tip will cover dominance and unity, finishing up our discussion of the principles of design.  Stay tuned!  And if you've found the discussions of the elements and principles of design worthwhile, realize that in this blog I can only scratch the surface.  If you want "the whole story", attend my upcoming 1-day seminar titled Design for Painters on April 30 in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.  For a description of this seminar, go to my Workshops web page, and for more information about registering, go to my Events web page.

If you've missed some of my artist tips, you can retrieve all of them by finding the search box in the right-hand column of this blog, and searching for artist tips.

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