Young Woman by Isabel Bishop, midtown galleries, new york city. In figure studies, hands are often troublesome, and while you certainly can't eliminate them, you can sometimes simplify the problem by suggesting fingers in an impressionistic manner, or painting a hand with the fingers closed
Rehearsal on the Stage by Edgar Degas, metropolitan museum of art, new york. city. Degas was a great in aster of pattern, color, and design. ... He did not hesitate to let a figure disappear under the frame if that helped the design one plane, halftone as another, and shadow as a third, painted simply and almost flat1. I do not mean that the planes should get "tinny" and perfectly smooth. There can, and should, be variation of color. But if you think of the whole light as opposed to the whole shadow, with the inter veiling halftone as a means of uniting the two. your picture will be simpler and, as a rule, more cilective_w
^ The importance of flatness and simplicity is emphasized in the carrying power of a poster. While a painting should not look like a poster, there is, nevertheless, a lesson to be learned here. So often a painting sutlers by the presence of too many subtle values throughout the value scale. With little separation of pattern and little cmpha-
sis on design a picture looks weak from a distance. There may well be delicacies within the patterns, the change of values may be subtle, but the design should embrace these subtleties within the stronger patterns. Perhaps no painter used more subtle values than Corot, but an examination of his paintings shows that he held his pattern and design; in fact his work seems always to be based upon design.
Degas was a great master of pattern, color, and design. His pastels are patterns of broken color, with the patterns lying nearly flat, though full of different colors which are close in value. He did not hesitate to let a figure disappear under the frame if that helped the design.
Rehearsal on the Stage by Edgar Degas, metropolitan museum of art, new york. city. Degas was a great in aster of pattern, color, and design. ... He did not hesitate to let a figure disappear under the frame if that helped the design illustrators to realize the true pictorial value of organized pattern, if we study his work, we note that he gave great consideration to keeping lights, middle tones, and darks generally separated into large areas of each. In some pictures he built his lights and darks into a general overtone of gray; in others he put his middle tones and lights into a dominant field of dark. With four general values he shows us the following combinations:
(1) halftones and darks against light
(2) lights and darks against light gray
(3) lights, darks and light grays against dark gray
(4) lights and grays against dark
This is the key to pattern-making in pictures. Whole areas may be enveloped in shadow for the dark pattern or left very light to produce patterns in a high key. In a landscape, the foreground might be in shadow and the distance in light. Or the reverse might be true. Cloud shadows or cast shadows on the ground can produce interesting patterns, and so, at the other end of the scale, can rays of direct or reflected light.
We can use busy patterns with simple ones in the same picture. But never should all our patterns be the same. Suppose you have decided to paint a stream bed filled with rocks, and then you find there are mountains above it with equally-broken up and busy formations, and above these mountains a sky broken up with many small clouds. One or more of these areas will need simplification in the painting. If the river bed is your main interest, concentrate detail here and keep the mountains and the sky areas relatively free of conflicting patterns. You might even omit the clouds entirely for a better measure of contrast. Nature provides copious material for our selection. We cannot effectively duplicate everything exactly as we see it; therefore it is in our selection, first, in our ability to scale down and organize contrasting areas of pattern into a harmonious composition, second, and in our technical skill with pencil or brush, third, that our stature as an artist is weighed.
'\3 After considering the pattern areas of your subject, next think about the planes. These are the lines which characterize each object and make it recognizable. They should be kept as simple as possible. Like the sculptor, the painter eliminates unnecessary line. He may flatten his forms, work for masses, strive for rhythmic relationships, even distort where distortion enhances his idea.
If a surface has many small and complicated planes an attempt should be made to reduce them to fewer and larger ones. A woman's dress looks better after it has been ironed—when little wrinkles have been smoothed out and when the material falls in fewer and more flattering folds. The result is more beautiful because the simplicity of line has been restored. If we paint a dress and add so much detail that it begins to look messy and in need of ironing, the painting will fail in its attempt to be beautiful. A dress should be neither painted like sheet metal nor overmodeled. And the same principle holds for other subjects. Find enough planes to define the form, then stop before the area gets messy.
Even a head may be reduced to larger planes without loss of form. Just as you try to find the underlying design of drapery as it hangs in folds, watch for the same sort of pattern in hair. Connect the planes of light, halftone, and shadow. Then put in only as many smaller planes within these areas as you need to suggest the character of hair. The shadows will stand more simplification than the lights, for detail and textures belong to the light, while shadows are more obscure and opaque. Muddiness in a picture most often results from too many and loo dark halftones in the lighted areas.
Much can be done in the way of simplification by ihe handling of edges. Too many sharply defined edges confuse a subject with patterns and reduce the picture's carrying power. They cut up the material into small bits, where masses are called for. The "lost and found" edges of objects againsl a light or dark background—unify the whole picture, and the artist's job is to pull these together, to blend and interlace and modify patterns that would otherwise remain hard and separate.
Finally, simplification can be achieved by reducing the number of values used. The picture with three or four main values or masses will be simpler and more effective than one with many values. It is possible to produce fifteen to twenty slight variations of value between black and white. But a few feet away these values will merge into what seems an unseparatcd gradation of tone from while to black. The same thing happens lo a picture in which the values are not more widely separated. This, of course, practically eliminates pattern and design.
The best working plan is to use about eight 'values, with a division of two values to a pattern. While this would mean using four patterns, it does not necessarily mean dividing a picture up into four separate areas, as the patterns may interweave or be broken up in any way the composi-
lion may require. Furthermore, some of the patterns may well be separated more by.lhe difference of. colorOhan by value. The possibilities of design, using even a limited range of colors and values, are almost limitless.
Arrangement and design are more easily controlled in portraits and still lifes than in any other types of paintings. In portraits, the artist can design his subject as he sets it up, placing his patterns of lights, middle tones, and darks as he wishes, through arrangement of costume, background, and accessories. For example, knowing that he will be painting a subject in a while satin dress, he can choose cither a middle or a dark tone for the background. And the actual costume and head of the sitter may provide enough design in itself for the elimination of all other patterns. With still life the problem is even easier, for the ariisl can select anything he likes from a world full of material and arrange his objects and colors at will.
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