Rhythm in nature is another element of beauty, one that is perhaps more felt than seen. There is rhythm of line, of form, of color, and even of values. In music rhythm is the tempo, the beat— , the swing, as we call it now. ¡In art it is the flow of ' repetitious line, the sweep of "movement within ' the design and arrangement. A line may continue its movement, disappear, and be picked up again elsewhere, to carry out the main lines of a design. This is true in almost any pose of the human figure. But there is rhythm in other forms, as well. It is typical of all forms of growth. There is rhythm in the arrangement of bark on a tree, as well as in the branches. There is rhythm of line and form in all animal life.
In order to study rhythm in growing things we look at the edges of mass and form to find the main direction of line. Then we follow that direction, skipping across the form if necessary, to find whether the line can be picked up again, and either continued in the same direction or swung gracefully in another direction.
The sparks flying off a pin wheel make a good illustration of rhythm. The circular motion is gently carried out into space. Rhythm is very ap parent in the eddies and flow of water. There is rhythm in the strands and flow of a woman's hair. There is rhythm in the shavings curling off the carpenter's plane. But we must do more than j/Jook for obvious rhythms. Sometimes we must j deliberately create rhythm, by adjusting the line and form we sec to include this unifying element.
I give them stability by establishing contrasting horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines in the picture. Lf there were nothing but curve and movement the result would be a veritable cyclone of movement which would be both unrealistic and unpleasant. However in most pictures rhythm is more likely to be missing than excessive. Comfortable rhythm in drawing is a happy combina- ■ tion of curved lines with straight. Sometimes more solidity and structure is added by drawing curves with straight blocky lines. But the relation of the rhythm of one form to that of another should always be in evidence.
Rhythm is achieved by noting how one part fits into another, and thus joining all the parts to create the whole. In the human body the limbs unite beautifully with the torso, merging form with form. We seek to unite the forms in the ground plane of a landscape, and to join the hills and mountains to these. The base of a hill or mountain usually has a sweep where the sharp slant slopes off gradually to meet the lower ground. We find this same sweep of line from the vertical to the horizontal in the roots of a tree as they spread to meet the ground. There is rhythm in rock strata, and there is much of it to be found in cloud forms. Poetic license can be taken by the artist in exaggerating the rhythm of any object where a more graceful or dramatic picture will be the result.
We should always group the material so that the patterns of our subjects unite gracefully and beautifully and so the edges are woven together in repetitive or long flowing lines.
Upside Down Table and Mask by Yasuo Kuniyoshi. downtown gallery, new york city. In drawing rhythmic forms wc must be sure to give them stability by establishing contrasting horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines in the picture
1 Hfc, t,YJb UF 1 Hfc, FAiNlIiK
Expectation by Frcdcric Taubes, associated american artists, new york city. Comfortable rhythm in drawing is a happy combination of curved lines with straight
A linear analysis of paintings by the old masters can be useful. And so can the study of oriental art, where rhythmic line plays such an important part in drawings and paintings. For actual practice, lake any photograph and trace rhythmic lines over it to create a more unified and exciting design.
If you are painting a still life, watch for rhythmic lines in the arrangement. A line may be picked up in the folds of a drapery, and allowed to flow gracefully out of the arrangement. In still life the objects may be so placed that the contours of the group are suitably related to one another. Flowers can be arranged so the blossoms and stems repeat or extend the lines of the vase in which they are placcd.
I think one of the most beautiful instances of rhythm is the uniting of the loose material of a costume with the more tightly fitted material over the form of a body. This is really uniting the body with the costume. Because of this rhythmic relationship, a garment is much more beautiful on a body than by itself. Even the law of gravity seems to create rhythm in the shapes thai a fabric takes, all in relationship to one another.
Rhythm in growth is illustrated by the way the leaves of plants are arranged around the steins or stalks, and by the position of the pitta Is on a flower. Clouds arrange themselves with rhythmic lines according to the direction of the wind. Water does the same. If we cast a stone into still water the rhythmic motion begins. A second stone will cause rhythms that beautifully transverse the first ones. The wake of a boat streams out in beautiful rhythm in direct relation to the direction and even to the speed of the boat.
Rhythm is not confined to line; it exists in color too. One is united to another through the colors of the spectrum. Thus we may move through red orange to orange, to yellow orange, to yellow. Then from yellow we move to blue by going through the intermediate tones in sequence. Therefore if you have two widely separated colors in a subject, you may adroitly incorporate the natural sequence of the colors between them. These need not necessarily touch, but be placcd close enough to establish continuity and rhythm between the two unrelated colors. This applies to designs as well as to pictorial subjects. Good use can be made of the transition of color at the edges \ of a pattern.
The same sort of thing can be done with values. When there are two widely separated values we can contrive to get some of the intervening values into the picture, to alleviate harshness. This occurs in nature with the halftone gradations between light and shadow, and with reflected light. Even within shadow there is usually some variation in tone. Although we try to keep our shadows simple, we seldom paint them black or completely flat in value.
Both in values and in color, rhythm is also produced by repetition. A bright color is usually ' repeated somewhere else, perhaps reduced a little and not left as an isolated spot. By adding the near relatives of the color somewhere else in the same subject we bring unity and rhythm to our picture. For example, in a portrait the flesh colors of the head and neck arc usually repeated effectively on the arms and hands.
Color rhythm is also produced by varying the color but sustaining the value, as in broken color.
Examine a flower closely and you will notice that the color varies within the flower and is often repeated in the stems and foliage. This color pigment has so to speak flowed through the plant to appear in varying degrees through foliage and flower. Thus the leaves become related to the flower in color. You could not transpose the flower of one plant to the stem and leaves of another variety and keep the same harmony.
The rhythm of color is something like that of sound. We know that sound travels in rhythmic vibrations or waves. Color does the same thing. Rvery color has its individual rhythm of waves or vibrations which register in the eye as that color. There is a definite connection or relationship be tween sound, color, and light. All operate on vibrations but at tremendously different speeds.
Today there are methods of drawing, some of them quite remarkable, in which the artist, without looking at the paper, tries to move his hand in the rhythms he sees in the subject before him, allowing the pencil to set these rhythms down continuously on the drawing surface. I find that 1 have to look at the paper in order to hold one part in proportion to another, because I have never trained my hand to "feel" these rhythms as my eye sees them. But it can be done. Those who are interested in learning to draw in this manner should read The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides.' It is a wonderful book.
At first it is natural to think of scrolls or ornament of one kind or another in connection with rhythm. But rhythm is more beautiful when it is not obvious. It is more concerned with the underlying structure of a composition than with the surface detail. This is what is meant by rhythm's being more felt than seen.
It is good practice to lay a few curves that seem related to each other on your drawing surface, then see if you can subtly build in your subject over these curves. Parts, of course, may vary from these lines, but the curve or line is picked up somewhere beyond these protruding or overlapping parts. See also how far you can go in including the natural sequences of color in the spectrum or color wheel. A sky may be a purplish blue at the very top, where the deepest tone is to be seen, and the color may then move downward through blue into bluish green, and finally to a greenish lone near the horizon. The distance starts at the horizon with blues and blue purples, then nearer to us come the blue greens and warmer greens, and finally the yellows, oranges, and reds, associated with the near foreground. You will note that this includes most of the spectrum colors; and this is one of the great secrets of nature's color. The colors you use in your painting need not be the spectrum colors in
'Boston: Houghlon Mifflin Company, 1941.
their pure state, but softer reduced tones of these brighter colors.
Always associated with these colors is a similar sequence of values which makes color seem to flow through the subject rhythmically instead of jumping about without relationship.
Let us also consider the emotional effects of rhythm. We know how painful it is to listen to a pianist who has little or no sense of rhythm. While rhythm in painting is much more subtle, its absence can be equally unfortunate. Much modern art is constructed only upon straight lines, with many sharp angles and little or nothing to relieve them. Sometimes blocks arc piled upon blocks without proper regard for structure. Such artists should take greater note of how the bricklayer staggers his joints for unity and strength. This staggering actually binds the shapes together, rhythmically, as well as making a stronger wall.
However, exact duplication of line or form usually becomes monotonous when repeated over and over. Where it is necessary, such as in the pattern of a soundly constructed wall, we accept it, but if the rhythms in a mountain crest, for instance, were made identical, we would find such a picture very uninteresting. Furthermore it would be inaccurate. Rhythms in nature repeat, but never in identical shape. There are always smaller waves with large ones. There are bushes with trees, and the forms in one tree, though similar, never exactly duplicate those in another. Big stones are strewn with small ones, all of dif fercnt shapes. When there must be repetition of line and form in a subject, the artist should strive to give it variety by size, grouping, color, value, or in any other manner.
As we produce variety in the shapes and areas of our patterns, this same kind of variety should appear in the pictorial material itself. Rhythm pictorially need not be a representation of actual movement, but a suggestion of movement in line and form. This is in the sense that the letter S suggests movement while the letters T and L are sl&tic. Sometimes I think the letter S might have derived from the movement of a snake. At least the snake in movement is one of the most perfect examples of rhythm.
The deeper we look into the subject of rhythm, (he more we realize that everything living, and the universe itself, pulsates with it. There is rhythm in breathing, in walking or running. Days and nights, months and years, follow in rhythmic cycles. Rhythm is what gives life to a picture, and when we realize this fully we will never again allow ourselves to paint a static picture.
Was this article helpful?