A man who employs such freedom in his spare-time experiments may easily find that he can apply some of his personal discoveries in his everyday work, and thus improve it.
There is one thing we must not do, and that is to let time go by without doing anything. Nothing can lead to such frustration and discouragement. One may be tempted to look forward to the day when one is rid of present responsibilities with nothing but idle freedom ahead, but idle freedom is its own worst enemy. Where there is no achievement there is little happiness.
In choosing a subject let us give great consideration to simplicity. Not only is a simple subject more within the scope of the average artist, but the result, even from the best of painters, will be more forceful and telling. We have learned from poster art that simplicity will make a design "carry" when viewed from a greater distance. It is safe to say that the smaller the picture, the simpler the design should be. A painting may be considered most effective if the viewer can stand at least ten feet away and get the full impact. If it is exhibited in a gallery, the effect should carry at least twenty to thirty feel.
It follows that subjects with intricate pattern and detail should be painted on a large canvas, but even in larger pictures simple patterns stand out most effectively. Therefore the artist should select his subject with this in mind. He has the choice either of simplifying the material he includes or of eliminating enough material to simplify the picture. Wide-vista subjects must usually be simplified much more than more intimate close-ups. In landscape, sometimes whole mountains may be eliminated, especially when they occur in scries, for the sake of the larger, more dominant ones. In busy skies, about half the clouds may give place to fewer and larger ones. Sometimes as much as two-thirds of the scattered material may be eliminated without apparent loss. The aim of the artist is not to make a complete record of the place, but to create a beautiful canvas.
The student is urged to experiment with designing pure pattern without reference to actual material or subject. This can be done as well in black and white as in color, and is an excellent way of developing a "feel" for design.
With any of the black-and-white mediums use for a background a white, gray, or black paper. Chalk may be used on the darker papers. Now
White Canadian Barn, No. 2 by Georgia O'KccfTe, the museum of modern art, new york city. Not only is a simple subject more within the scope of the average artist, but the result, even from the best of painters, will be more forceful and telling
simply start to produce interlacing patterns of about four values. The paper background may be the dominant pattern. Try to balance one area with another. Try large, simple patterns at first, and then some that are a little more intricate. These pattern sketches need be no larger than three by four inches. Though you start these without any particular subject in mind, they will often suggest subjects. Try not to have any two areas of pattern the same size or shape.
When we speak of three or four values of pattern this does not mean distinct and separated areas of pattern. If we have four spotted or interlacing patterns, they may be cut up into as many separated areas as we wish, and still be considered a four-value pattern. One pattern may jump over another, be surrounded by or placed against another. One pattern may be quite simple, and another considerably broken up. You may do anything you like to create design, but keep it all in about four values.
Some of the best pictures start out this way. If your design suggests something, try working it out with further manipulation into the kind of subject it suggests. fThis is an abstract approach to which realism is added later. You might work out the design with colored pencils, crayons, or chalk. Once in a while you will come up with a little gem. Save these for your subject file; they can be life-savers.
Another trick which can be a help in finding subjects is to take your palette scrapings and dab them on a piece of paper, fairly close together. Fold the paper and step on it to squeeze and blend the palette scrapings together. They will penetrate the absorbent paper. Then with your palette knife, scrape off the surplus paint. The design will remain as it first penetrated the paper. Now take your little finder and move it over the colored areas. With a pencil, trace around the opening and mark off the little compositions that arc interesting. Then cut these out and mount them on gray or black paper. You will find some acci dental compositions that are unusual and beautiful and they can be developed into whatever subjects they suggest.
There are other ways of arriving at abstract designs which often lead to suggestions for compositions and subjects. Take two sheets of gray paper, one lighter than the other, a black sheet, and a white one. Tear these into different-sized pieces, shake them up in a box, then lay a finder over them as they happened to fall. If you get a good design, sketch in on a pad beside the box with a soft lead pencil. Or you can fill the bottom of a box with scraps of colored papers, shake them, and lay your finder over them. You may get some very interesting patterns of color.
Try moving a finder over a large photograph. You may either choose an actual bit of the subject for a composition—which may be much more interesting than the whole—or by turning the finder and moving it around, discover some fascinating abstract patterns.
You may come across a good color subject in a magazine, perhaps one with a fairly large and complete figure. Run the small finder over the head and shoulders and an idea for a portrait may be the result. These may also be interesting accessories in a large picture which, when cut down to a smaller surrounding area by the finder, suggest excellent still lifes.
I know one artist who carries a small black box around with him. It has a small round hole in the back, and a rectangular one, also quite small, in the front, so that he can look through the small aperture in the back and on through the front opening, which squares off the view. This is like a camera finder and is a tremendous aid in picking out nice arrangements. It also helps to line up the values of the subject, which are discussed later.
A most interesting way to create abstract pictures is to take a color print and try to create a design out of those colors only. Build your own shapes and patterns, or, if you wish, try to reduce
Was this article helpful?