Design may mean the presentation and expression of form itself, such as in sculpture, or of some sort of flat ornamentation applied to form, such as in a surface decoration, or it may refer to the particular arrangement of objects in a painting where shading and the principles of perspective have been employed to give them a lifelike, three-dimensional quality.
Sincc in painting our aim is to represent three-dimensional objects on a flat surface, it is this type of design that concerns us here. We shall leave solid design to the fields of sculpture, ceramics, and other three-dimensional objects. However, no matter how it is used, design involves many of the same elements: simplicity of form, planes, color, texture.
For the moment, let us ignore halftone and I shadow as usually associated with the rendering of solid form and consider the elements associated with the flat-design treatment of light and dark areas (chiaroscuro) in a picture.
What is the purpose of our design? Is it intended to be an entity within itself for the sole purpose of creating beauty, or is it to serve as • ornament in a larger scheme, such as an interior? The surroundings can sometimes be made to harmonize with a pictorial design, hut more often a design is made—or chosen—to accent and embellish the environment^ In any event, harmony should exist between the finished design itself and the background upon which it is either hung, or (in the case of a mural) painjed directly.
An abstract painting is a logical choice for a modern interior; on the other hand, any well-
painted picture is at an advantage when hung on the plain background that most modern and contemporary rooms provide. Few paintings, except the classical type of portrait or flower study, look well against a pattern (wallpaper) background, and most pictures in elaborately ornamented gold frames look correspondingly out of place in a contemporary setting.
The trends in interior decoration are toward light, airy treatments, with simple planes of wall, ceiling, and floor, with splashes of color in textiles, furniture, and accessories. The paintings that suited the dark oak-panclcd interiors of the past do not fit a modern interior. Today's realistic paintings, if they are to compete with abstractions as wall decoration, must have more pronounced design, more vivid color, larger pattern, and less halftone and modeling of form.
Contemporary fashions in interior decorating have also swung our taste away from the very ornate rococo type of gilded picture frame and toward simple, or at least simpler moldings textured with gesso. And flat, wide frames are more often the artist's choice than the older narrow and protruding types. Here again, simplicity is the keynote.
Modern art is proving that it takes very little material to make a picture. If a few well-balanced flat color areas can be so effective in an abstract painting, the same can be true of an objective one. The more conservative painter can benefit by studying modern art without prejudice and applying some of the same principles.
What we paint is very important to us, but how
Slumbering Fields by William Palmer, midtown galleries, new York city. Modern ari is proving that it takes very little material lo make a picture. If a few well-balanced flat color areas can l>c so effective in an abstract painting, the same can be true of an objective one we paint it and to what purpose is equally important. The treatment of a subject can be even more important than the subject itself. The artist is free to choose the subjects that interest him most—he does not have to paint clowns 01 fat nudes just because some modern artists do; he does not have to stop painting landscapes or flowers if lie likes painting landscapes or flowers, but he may learn new ways of doing it. Studying modern art does not mean copying it any more than the study of Renaissance painting means that a painter intends lo reproduce a Titian or a Botticelli. Rathei does it mean that by exposing ourselves to various styles of painting we learn a lesson from each.
Today we might wish we could paint as well as, let us say, Gainsborough, but our concept would be entirely different. Portraits in themselves are by no means passe. It is only the overly funiial approach that may at times make them seem so. We live in an era of informality and of speed, and unless our paintings have a light, spon taneous, impressionistic quality, they are likely to seem out of date.
The painters of yesterday used certain patterns and styles that need not be adhered to today. We
East River by Dong Kingman, midtown galleries, new york city. What we paint is very important to us, but how we paint it and to what purpose is equally important. The treatment of a subject can be even more important than the subject itself get to thinking that a woman must be painted in her best low-necked gown, fingering her string of pearls. A more modern approach might be to paint her curled up in an easy chair with a book or magazine, or to paint her arranging flowers, or out walking with her dog, or astride a horse, or doing anything that is characteristic of her. We don't have to imitate Sargent, William L. Chase, or anybody else. Our paintings must be contemporary and as fresh and alive-looking as possible.
What is really needed in fine art is for the artist's conception to be overhauled to fit the times; it is a change in our attitude, rather than a change of subject, that will help us most. And with the change, new techniques may also develop.
When we come to the actual design of a subject, it is easier to enumerate the things we should not do than to try to say precisely what to do, for every artist must develop his own individual style. But there are some simple rules which are more or less obligatory for success:
Shapes and areas of your composition should be varied in form and color and unequal in size. For instance, in an outdoor subject the sky area should not equal the ground area.
Avoid arrangement that split the subject down or across the middle.
Balance large units or spots with smaller ones. A large unit in the foreground can be balanced with a smaller one in the distance.
In realistic painting establish a point of view and an eye-level and stick to it.
In abstract painting, play up color and texture. This is as important as the design itself.
Do not show extremes of proportion, such as a very large head with small figures behind it. It is difficult for the eye—or even the camera—to focus at the same time on an extreme close-up and great distance.
Every good composition gives a route for the eye to follow and strives to hold the eye within the subject as long as possible. This has been called the line of sight, the line of vision, the eye-path, or the leading line. It is an effort to control the viewer's eye, as it travels through the picturc. iiv general, we try to give the eye only one entrance to the picture and one exit from it. It is like choosing a natural path over the terrain as we might do if wc were actually walking into such a scene. We begin the path, or line, at the bottom of the picturc, and then by the arrangement of other lines, edges, spots, and accents our eye is carried comfortably through the subject, and finally, via a focal point, it finds an exit at the top. Should the eye be blocked near the middle of the composition by some obviously impassable object, it should be directed one way or the other around the object by a logical pathway, by lines or spots, and then be directed upwards again by the placement of smaller obstacles at the other side of the picture. If a tree is the obstacle in question, low bushes or rocks might be added on one side of it, while the other side is left open for the eye to travel into the distance. With a portrait, all lines lead toward the head, on the principle of a focal point with radiating lines. Even a still life can be given a pleasing eyepath by arranging the objects in an attractive sequence.
In abstract -rattan eyepath is not so important, since we ordinarily dispense with much depth, and the eye rests upon the whole canvas as a flat plane, as it would on any flat design.
Sometimes the eye may be directed by cast shadows and their edges, by a rut in the ground, by puddles, small streams, bits of deadwood, or patches of bare ground or ilowers. It obviously will follow an actual worn pathway—a road or a fence—and through association go directly to a gateway or door. But a pathway may be developed on a stretch of open country, such as a plain or a desert, and even in a marine scene. In the latter there can always be jutting rocks, breaking waves with sea spray, wave shadows, strips of land, birds, boats, and clouds. Never let the eye-path go straight up the middle. If we look along a railroad track the eye goes straight to the horizon and must come all the way back to see what is at the sides. Let the eye wander easily from side to side, gradually getting up into the sky, where it may also, perhaps, wander among an interesting-formation of clouds. Avoid anything that would carry the eye out of the picture at the sides. If you ¿ have a mountain crest running right to the frame, let a trcetop show above it, or soften the edge with a bid of cloud. The eye might be coaxed from such an edge by a bird a little above it, by an overhanging branch at the top of the picturc, or by a line of a cloud swinging upward from the mountain crest. Curling smoke is another useful device for this purpose. There can be no absolute rules for such details as these; they are a matter of inventiveness. The main idea—or underlying rule—is to be conscious of creating an eyepath.
Subjects with two very similar objects are best avoided. If we must have two, then one must dominate the other. At no time should there be a sense of divided attention, or of competition, unless such competition actually exists, as in a painting of two prizefighters, two battling armies or animals, or other opposing forces. Even in a painting of two prizefighters, the picture will have more unity if they are shown in a clinch (or one up and one down) than if both are shown stand-
SEARCHING FOR ARRANGEMENTS Design and pattern are essential to every painting. After selecting a subject, the artist should make experimental sketches, breaking up a rectangle with three or four tones, and manipulate the patterns until a pleasing balance of masses is achieved. This is great fun.
A Stag at Sharkey's by George Bellows, national gallery of art, Washington, d. c. of two prizefighters, the picture will have more unity if they are shown in a clinch (or one than if both arc shown standing with space between them
Even in a painting up and one down)
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