Friday, January 13, 2012

The Food Pyramid for Painters

Re-post from Loosen Up

Most of us are familiar with the pyramid used to show the 4 basic food groups and their nutritional roles. I’ve done the same thing with the components of successful painting in the diagram above. The process of painting can be broken down into 4 components: drawing, composition, color and creativity. Each of these components is needed to produce an end result that is likely to be successful in terms of technical proficiency and expression–you have to have both of these in order to have a piece of “art”.

Drawing – the drawing is the structure of the painting, it must accurately depict what the artist is trying to represent, whether that is something that actually exists in real life, or an abstract concept that comes from the imagination. The artist must have a command of proportion, perspective, form and value in order to create the structure. Drawing can be done in any media–pencil, charcoal, or paint. Get the drawing right, and you have a good foundation to build upon, think of drawing as the bottom layer in the pyramid, the grains in the food pyramid. If you have good drawing skills, YOU are in control of how realistic you want to be, not the other way around.

Composition – the composition is what will keep viewers engaged in the painting. It needs to be balanced and dynamic to keep the eye exploring the piece without getting bored or stuck in one spot. It should support the mood of the painting, it can be busy or calm, containing resting areas for the eye as well as connecting points to keep the eye moving. Composition is key, therefore it is also at the base of the pyramid, just above drawing–the subject needs to be depicted accurately and placed in the painting in a way that keeps the viewer engaged. In some respects, these first two layers are of equal weight and importance and the process of getting them on the canvas takes place in the first stages of the painting process. It is best to not go beyond the under painting stage until the composition and the drawing have been worked out to the artist’s satisfaction–in food terms, eat your grains and veggies first.. All the color and creativity in the world will not make a poorly drawn or poorly composed image successful.

Color – Color is a tool to be used for expression, it is not a necessity. I place color toward the top of the pyramid because I think of it as something that a painting should be able to exist without (think of all the great works done monochromatically). It would be like the meat, fish and dairy group, ok for some but you can live without it if you are a vegan. If an artist chooses to work in color, the color must be harmonious. Mud and garish contrasts should be avoided through a thorough understanding of color theory. If you are planning to work in color, take the time to understand color theory, make yourself a color wheel, know how individual pigments will mix with one another. If you are a beginner, start working with only the primaries and mixing all of your secondary colors. I RARELY use secondaries out of the tube, I prefer to mix all of my greens, oranges and purples. I find I get a much more natural looking color, as well as a more harmonious overall feeling to the painting.

Creativity – This is what will set your painting apart! It’s like dessert, the reward you’ve earned by doing all the hard work. In this case, dessert is something we can’t live without, because in order for your painting to be more than just an example of technical proficiency, it has to have that unique spark of creativity. The problem with just having the creativity and not the skills is that while you might have great ideas and concepts, you won’t have the ability to successfully execute and communicate them. Logical understanding and hands on practice of the first three components is needed in order for the fourth component to come to fruition.

To get into top form with your painting:

practice your drawing skills from life whenever possible
think of objects purely as shapes and forms to divide up your composition in a balanced and dynamic manner
understand color theory and how to work with color to create harmony and cohesiveness in your paintings
don’t be afraid to be creative! break rules and experiment, that’s what it’s all about!

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