Tuesday, January 23, 2018

More on Design

Some of my notan designs.  I sometimes push them a little farther than just notan.

In my last blog post, I wrote that the Golden Ratio is just one of many ways to divide up the canvas in a pleasing way.  What are some other ways?  Because the Golden Ratio can be complicated to plot on the canvas, many artists simplify it into the so-called “rule of thirds”:

Rule of Thirds - Divide the picture plane into thirds vertically and horizontally.

In this case, anywhere the lines intersect might be a good spot to place a focal point or center of interest.  (A design can have many foci, but only one center of interest.)  Of course, we get rather tired of seeing these four points used all the time.  The approach is a little too predictable.  And yes, I’m guilty of using this method, especially in the field as a shortcut where time is of the essence.

A page from Edgar Payne's book.

Edgar Payne, in his book, Composition of Outdoor Painting, offers scores of thumbnail templates that the beginner can use to help organize space.  You can literally take the book to the field, face your scene and then flip through the pages to find a template that will work.  His templates are based on tried-and-true ideas such as the “steelyard” and some that relate to the alphabet such as the “S” or “Z.”  But again, these are nothing new.

A page from Arthur Wesley Dow's book.

Finally, there is the thought given us by Arthur Wesley Dow in his book, Composition:  Understanding Line, Notan and Color.  Rather than offering us templates, he gives us principles.  I liken this to the difference between memorizing the “times table” and understanding the rules of multiplication; the “times table” only takes you so far—usually to 9x9=81—but the rules will take you infinitely farther.

Dow also gives us the principle of notan.  This has been touted in workshops in somewhat a faddish way the last decade or so, but it’s an idea that has been around for a very, very long time.  Although I use the “rules of thirds” with a pinch of Payne’s templates in the field, in the studio I go to the notan.  Basically, one “feels” one's way through the design.  I use vine charcoal (sometimes 6B pencil) and an eraser on newsprint, starting with just two values, dark and light, and then introducing a third middle value at the end.  I hope to come up with an intuitive design that is unpredictable but pleasing and thus engaging to the viewer.

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