Saturday, 15 January 2011

Pulling it together

The first in the series was "Morning Inspection". I wanted to convey how many people were involved in preparing for the soldiers to leave for duty at Horseguards — that was my narrative. The major decision when starting any painting, however, is the composition and this has nothing to do with the cast of characters chosen for the work. The layout is crucial, and this is based upon shapes and their distribution on the canvas. I knew that I wanted the captain to be my central point, but there needed to be a dynamic around him or the piece would become too static. I thus decided on a composition based around two interlocking triangles, one large and one smaller, with an offset curve to hold them together at the top (the archway).

Since all the subjects in the painting are vertical, it became important to use other lines to stop the eyes from sliding of the top and bottom of the painting. I tried to do this by creating repeating diagonals throughout the image that form a zigzag leading from one subject to another, leading the eyes around and not out of the painting. These diagonals, such as the red arm on the right leading visually to the arm in the centre then onto the rider and down to the khaki uniform on the left, also serve to bracket the faces which are the important parts of the piece.

Colour distribution also plays an important role in a painting, especially where there are highly differentiated blocks.   Red is a dynamic colour, so I ensured that it created dynamic right angles in the painting to indicate tension and give movement whilst carrying the eye from left to right. The white areas are then designed to carry the eye in the opposite direction.

Lastly, I wanted to pull the viewer into the painting and this means setting up a dialogue where the subject "talks" to the viewer. I had two characters who were in profile, creating a wall to the viewer and one whose face is partially obscured. To compensate, they are balanced by the same number of objects interacting directly with the viewer — the soldier on the left, the horse, and the soldier in blue on the right. The interacting and non-interacting objects form an alternating pattern, to keep the viewer engaged with the characters in the painting even if they aren't attracted to the subject matter or the style of painting.

It might not be immediately apparent, but the dynamics of composition apply just as much if not more to a painting of a single subject. The first decision about the painting must always be one of how shapes arrange themselves on the canvas. There are time honoured principles that can be used to help decide the correct balance of shapes in a painting and Juliette Aristides book, "Classical Painting Atelier" gives a really great insight into how these work in a contemporary context.

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