Simplify: To clarify; to make easier to understand.
Greetings! I have been thinking about how to “simplify” lately and how the term applies to creating paintings. You see, I have a mini workshop coming up with the Watercolor Society of Oregon (WSO) this fall.
But, what do we mean by simplification as it applies to painting? And, why would you (the artist “you”) want to simplify?
These are the types of questions I’m wrestling with plus the BIG ONE: how does one simplify?
In the meantime, I’m working on some research by doing article searches and brain storming.
Create A Silhouette!
However what I’d like to share with you is one of my favorite ways to simplify. What I’m talking about is creating a silhouette shape study of my designs. This is a type of value (light and dark) study. You may also have heard of the Japanese term notan, which also refers to lights and darks. I’m adding a list of terms to show you how the meanings of these terms overlap.
Silhouette, Value Study, Notan! (Oh My!)
In other words, a silhouette can be a value study which can be notan as well. Its all about the underlying light and dark pattern of my painting!
So. It is my intention is to show you a silhouette study I did plus some of the “work-in-progress” (WIP) states of my latest painting.
Link Dark Shapes.
Back to silhouette studies, how does this result in a simplified painting? I’m massing my shapes; that is linking all the shapes of one value which, in this case, is black or white. The linking of shapes creates a black silhouette against a white ground. Then, I can see the “big picture” – a shape and value pattern, without the distracting details.
Oops; ahem, the truth will out. In case you were wondering, I do not make a silhouette shape study for every design I use for paintings. Oh? Yes, that is even though doing so is a great practice and pays dividends. I am thinking I might need to make a new habit of doing silhouette shape and value studies all the time!
Get It Down On Paper.
You see, my current practice is usually just to think the design through in my head. The downside of “just thinking” is that you don’t see it clearly. Plus, you need to trust yourself to remember your intentions over time. Hmmm….could be a problem for someone who takes a while to complete a painting!
So, not surprisingly, I’m finding in the articles I read that it pays to really do the extra work when you’re developing a concept for the painting. That is, do the preparatory drawings, silhouettes shape and value sketches. Get the ideas down on paper.
Its my experience that doing the studies helps me see the strengths and problems of a composition.
Silhouette Study: “Three Minute Egg No.12”.
Therefore, better late than never, I worked up a silhouette shape study for a design I’m working on (please see above).
Now, I can see the concept as a series of inter-connecting bold shapes. I’m not distracted by the details. Instead, I have a map of my lights and darks to use as I develop my watercolor.
Plus, I had fun creating the silhouette.
Paper & Scissors Are Good.
You can do this with construction paper and scissors, just like you might have done when you were a child. Its an enjoyable exercise, but a LOT harder than I recall from childhood! Why? Because you have to think ahead and make it all one shape!
Digital Works Too.
Since I didn’t have any construction paper around the house, I used the digital art program “Painter®” by Corel™. To explain, I scan in an outline of my drawing. Then, I use the program to draw and fill shapes. There is a fair amount of adjusting because, as I’ve mentioned before, you see problem areas.
Link Dark-to-dark and Light-to-light.
In this particular design, I am concerned that my dark shapes touch or neighbor another dark shape. Put another way, an isolated dark shape, surrounded completely by white, creates a hole. You, as the observer, might get stuck in a dark hole as there is no path out into the light. So, if you want to, look for black holes. Do you see any?
Back to the idea of simplification, do you see how the silhouette shape study helps you see a simplified composition? That is, some of the details are gone and you just look at the structure.
To summarize, there are two key points to consider:
- Silhouette shape and value studies are one way to simplify a design or composition.
- Doing studies ahead of time, that is before you start the painting helps. You have a better chance of seeing the strengths and problems of composition before you get to far into painting.
PHEW! Speaking of simplify, this was not a simple blog post! Isn’t that funny? Writing an article on simplifying design certainly seems complicated!
Thanks! I welcome your comments, suggests and discussion.
PS. I’m still working on this painting!