Unity in a painting is an intangible quality. While it is difficult to set down a procedure for attaining it, an approach can nevertheless be suggested. Each picture presents a special problem in this respect, but the initial conception of the subject is always important.
It is obvious that the unity must begin with the design and pattern, to bring about a relationship and balance of the areas of the picture. Such balance is affected both by the distribution of values—the lights, middle tones, and darks—and by the placement and amount of area of each in relation to the whole design.
A light area can be brought into relationship with a dark area in two ways, first by contrast, and second by means of intermediate values between the light and the dark. Through such ma nipulation we form the masses and design of the subject. Nature does a great deal toward setting up these relationships before us, but nature presents us with too wide an expanse all at once. And there is no assurance that when a bit of the whole panorama is enclosed within a rectangle or frame, the patterns within that particular area will be in balance and in good design 01 arrangement. The artist must create such balance and design within his subject. This is why we cannot hope to produce good design without conscious effort in this direction. It is the reason why we can seldom reproduce nature exactly as we find ilL
Of first importance is the necessity of training '1 the eye to see masses flatly and more or less un broken. That means we must save until later the variations of values within the mass, the highlights and accents of dark, adding them only after we have established a good design of flat pattern. Then as we break this down into planes, color, and detail, we can keep the basic design in mind and not allow it to escape us. By approaching the design this way, you will be surprised at times to find how little must be added to the flat patterns to bring about a third dimensional feeling or an appearance of receding into space. This can often be done by color without much change of value within the pattern.
This is especially true of the middle ground and distance in a landscape. The foreground car-iies most of the detail and accentuation, and as the material recedes, it becomes simpler, softer and hazier.
Perhaps the best way to begin in the study of composition and pattern is by painting still lifes. Here we are not so much concerned with space and depth, and can concentrate on the immediate study of pattern. For use in still-life experiments, the artist should have several heavy curtains. The color of these is a matter of choice but one should be of dark value though not black, another of a low middle tone, a third of lighter middle tone, and a fourth of a light tone but nor white. Two should be used at a time, one as a ground and the other as a background.
For light objects, a dark background is the logical choice, and for dark objects a light color provides the necessary contrast. With a middle-
Black Lace Parasol by Morris Kantor, phillips memorial gallery. Washington, d. c. Perhaps the I best way to begin in the study of composition and pattern is by painting still lifes toned background, both light and dark objects may be used. Subjects whose values are close together may be set up against cither a light or dark background. Experiment with both, and also with different colors until the most suitable pattern, tone, and color relationship is established with the objects at hand.
The reason neither black nor white is desirable for curtains is that some reserve should be kept for the highlights or dark accents within the subject.
Since the unity of a subject is of prime importance, let us talk for a moment about unity of line. Every picture, though not always obviously, is basically composed of hue. All lines in a sub ject bear a relationship to one another in the way they are placed in the composition and also in the mood they convey. Horizontal lines are associated with tranquillity, vertical lines with growth, diagonal lines with drama, and curves with graceful movement. The greater the curves the more energy and motion are expressed. Subjects may range from peaceful or restful ones all the way to those of violent action according to the kind of line used and how lightly or boldly it is drawn. Here lies a way to unlimited variety.
Such line either may be felt beneath the masses or the movement of the masses, or may be in actual contours within the masses or their edges. The boundaries of any form on a flat canvas produce either stability or some kind of movement. The eye follows line, any line, straight or curved, and it will stop at any crossing of straight lines or merging of lines into a point. Lines radiating from a point lead the eye to that point, and this can be a very valuable device for establishing the focal point, or point of interest, that every composition should possess.
In nature we so often find unity in values, one perfectly related to another, that for the most part values can be accepted as they are, so long as we arc able to reach them in our pigmentary range. This is not so true of line. We can of course accept the contours of living forms, but even these may have to be arranged to fit into a rhythmic pattern. People may be posed for graceful and rhythmic line. Animals may be so placed in the arrangement or design that they become a part of it. The contours of land and those of trees and other growing things may be set into design.
Any design is more effective when the halftones within the design are minimized and the larger and flatter areas of tone take their place .among other simple tones. For power^and.simplicity the large flat, tones are best. The more contrast, the more intense and dramatic effect. The closer in values the masses are painted, the more reserved and quiet the subject will be. There is quiet unity and forceful unity. Close values permit more variety of shape and contour, without upsetting and destroying unity, than strongly contrasting values do. But it is safe to say that the stronger the contrasts in a subject, the simpler its patterns should be.
The same can be said of color. When colors are close in value a wide range of colors may be used with beautiful effect. But huge patches of con-trasting color may easily become garish and over- ^"v ' powering. One way of achieving unity with colors is to mix a lillle of one color throughout all the ' colors of the subject.
To find the color values of your masses it is best to experiment with shades of color on your palette, or on a separate piece of board, before you actually start to paint. This will show you the range of values at your disposal. If you arc painting outdoors the chances are that you cannot reach the whole range you see before you. You then decide whether you wish to sacrifice the values at the top or those at the bottom of your scale. But bear in mind that the light values ^ in your picture make the picture. People gener ally do not like dark and dreary paintings. It has always seemed to me personally that low values will not be missed as much as the bright ones. In portraits, if you have to paint some values lower than they appear to the eye in order to maintain the brilliancy of your lights, this docs not matter
William Rush Carving Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River (Final Version) by Thomas Eakins, Philadelphia museum of art, Philadelphia. People may be posed for graceful and rhythmic line
In portraits, if you have to paint some values lower than they appear to the eye in order to maintain the brilliancy of your lights, this does not matter ... so long as you have achieved brilliancy where it belongs
Portrait Study by Raphael Soyer, associated american artists, new york city too much, so long as you have achieved brilliancy where it belongs. Outdoors perhaps the reverse is true. An over-all lightness and airiness in your subject may cause you to lose a little of the brilliance of the sky by contrast, but it keeps you from making the kind of heavy, dark paintings which were so common during the eighties and nineties, and which are for the most part now resting—face to the wall—in the storage rooms of museums. It was to get away from this type of picture that Monet, Pissarro, and Van Gogh turned to the high-keyed impression.
There is a great deal more latitude in respect to values in still life than in landscape. Still life may be painted in a higher or lower key to good effect either way. This is simply like raising or lowering the curtain of your studio window, or seeing more or less light on your subject. In fact, you might start a still life on a dark or cloudy day and pick it up again on a brighter day to find all the light areas raised in value, while the dark objects or areas seem even darker. That is simply because light increases contrast between lights and darks. Darkness draws them closer and closer together until all is dark. Twilight is a good critic of your canvas. If the patterns and design hold up in twilight you may be sure they will in good light.
Consistency is another important element in the unity of a design. Whether your subject is objective or abstract, to make a good painting it must have consistency. Realism should at least be plausible. This sort of consistency always seems to exist in nature. For instance, during the seasons, there is a consistency of form, color, and texture that quickly identifies the season. When the leaves turn in color during the fall, the ground has undergone a change also. The bright green of the grass is gone with the green of the foliage. Reds, browns, and low-toned yellows appear on the ground along with the fallen leaves. And because these leaves have changed to warm colors, the mountains which looked blue in the summer now appear purple, for the blue atmosphere cannot absorb the red as it did the green. Because it is shining on more warm color, the sunlight itself seems more golden in the fall.
The colors of winter are consistent in their drabness, even when they appear in sharp contrast to brilliant blue skies and glistening snow.
In the spring color starts coming to life. The drab colors of winter become interspersed with bright new color. The budding trees take on more red; the new grasses and mosses become brilliant and the dark, wet ground offers greater contrast with the sky.
Midsummer usually sends the artist to the sea-coast or to find subjects other than the pastoral landscape, for when all is green the play of color is lacking. He seeks the cottages, the mills, the barns, the stables, rather than the fields and the woods. He finds streams, docks with boats and their reflections, rocks and surf—subjects with color and action. Or else he may paint still lifes and flowers or occupy himself with portraits and figure studies.
It takes an observing eye to recognize the consistency that is so vital to a picture. In this connection 1 would like to call attention to the work of Andrew Wyelh, who is still a young man and one of the most popular American painters of today. His work is popular not only with the public but with artists and the most exacting critics. It is steeped in the interest of observation and is consistently good all the way down to the last carefully arranged detail. Wyeth finds drama and excitement in ordinary things, proving that if the artist has enough insight he need not go far to find a subject.
In the matter of lighting, consistency means that light from the same source pervadcsjhe subject, and each value is related to it. In nature everything seems to be just where it belongs in its scale of values, and unless the artist takes his cue from what nature teaches, his values are likely to appear jumpy and his colors dead. Consistency of light pertains not only to value, but to direction. The direction of the light source will de-
Seed Corn by Andrew Wycth, knoedler galleries, new york city. It takes an observing eye to recognize the consistency that is so vital to a picture
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