Saturday, January 27, 2018

Even More on Design: 2D v. 3D

One of Cézanne's many depictions of Mont Sainte-Victoire.
Look how the middle ground, especially, is flattened.
(From Wiki Commons)

Cézanne and the other Post-Impressionists introduced the idea of flattening the landscape.  Many of us landscape painters use the concept when we start a painting.  We squint with the goal of “removing” color from the scene and to soften edges, but also to remove the visual clues that create a sense of depth.  This flattening of the scene makes it easier for us to transfer it to the canvas as an abstract pattern.  We then build upon this pattern and re-introduce depth with linear and atmospheric perspective, thus making the scene look more real.

How the real Mont Saint-Victoire looks.  In this photo, the middle
ground is absent, but see how much farther away the mountain seems.
(From Wiki Commons)

Foremost in our minds when we are establishing that initial abstract pattern is designing the two-dimensional plane of the canvas.  We make sure not to put the center of interest in the center of the canvas.  We make sure that if we have a big shape here, we counterbalance it  there.  We make sure that we have one member of each contrast pair dominant, such as more light than dark, more warm color than cool, or more rich color than dull.  As abstract painters, we get pretty good a two-dimensional design.

But as landscape painters, we often fail in the third dimension.  When we reintroduce depth into the painting, it’s often not enough.  We don’t push the depth sufficiently, especially when out in the field.  This is because we are rushing to finish before the shadows change, and we haven’t accurately observed the difference atmospheric perspective makes in the actual scene.  (I always like to consider the viewers of my painting to be, in a sense, visually handicapped; when they look at the painting, they are looking at the scene, in effect, with just one eye.  I try to push the depth a little more than I observe it to enhance the illusion.)

December Morning in the Desert 24x30 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson (Available)
For this one, I really tried to push the mountains back.  I also did a little 3D designing of the foreground.
This painting was done mostly in the field with tweaks--especially relating to depth--in the studio.

What’s more, we may have not designed the three-dimensional space well enough.  The viewer needs to be able to step into a world where not only a mile looks like a mile but also where there is a pleasingly unpredictable arrangement of three-dimensional shapes.  Think of the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and the beautiful grounds he designed.   A landscape painter must be a landscape architect, as well.

John Singer Sargent's portrait of Olmsted

By the way, I still have room in my March 27-30, 2018, Sedona, Arizona, workshop.  Let's go designing for depth!  www.PaintTheSouthwest.com


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