If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Principles of Composition - The Psychology of Shapes

What we know about shape and size come from personal experience. This is how we become emotionally attached.

1. The larger a shape, the stronger it feels.

Bella Donna, by Georgia O'Keeffe

The smaller a shape, the weaker.

Hello Up There, by Amy Lind

2. Sharp, pointy shapes

are more frightening than soft, round shapes.

Sparks, by Heather Horton

3. When an artwork has two or more similar or identical shapes, they relate to each other, like members of a family. Look how the one boy without a hat stands out among the girls:

In the Church in Volandam, by Elizabeth Nourse

4. The farther away shapes are placed, the more isolated they feel. It creates tension.

All Saints Day, by Emile Friant

5. Space also implies time. When two shapes are far apart, it will take longer for them to come together.

6. A tangent is when two lines or shapes meet at just one point. You commonly learn about this in geometry, where a line just touches a circle:

But, every shape can connect with another at a tangent. It's something to be aware of when you're drawing:

James Gurney drew this example of tangents.

The problem with tangents is it flattens a picture. It's hard to see, for example, if the wing of that airplane is in front or behind the gas truck below it. Remember, overlapping shapes show perspective, near and far, and establish which objects are most important. Without that, everything is equally awkward and confusing. And don't say, "But that's how it looked! I drew what I saw!" This is where you have to remember Stapleton Kearns, who said,

"You can't observe composition into a picture."

If what you see is objects touching each other at a tangent, then get up, walk around and find a better view. Here's another example:

Provencal Farm, by Henry Herbert La Thangue

Each of these goats is tangentially connected, as if they were biting each other. One more example:

Pirates, by Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle placed almost every shape here tangentially, as a way to flatten the work, like a playing card. He did it on purpose, maybe as an example of what not to do? Maybe as a joke? Try to count all the tangencies.

7. Shapes with hard edges stand out, separate from the rest of the work, like stickers you can peel off. 

Young Lady by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Soft shapes, however, suggest atmosphere, and fit into a picture better. You can soften your shapes by blurring them like a camera, or by transitioning your values so that the darks get lighter and the lights get darker as they come together. The edge is still there, but it's softer.

8. One way to provide clarity to shapes is counterchange. A shape gets lighter as it touches a dark background, and darker as it approaches a light background.

The River Hornad, by me :)

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