Angling For Infinity

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A big question in art has been how to build the illusion of space on a flat two dimensional surface. The answers are many and have unfolded differently in different cultures and times.  There are also many shared and overlapping solutions.

The chase for deep space begins by occluding one form with another.  With overlapping shapes we easily decide which is in front and which is in back.  From here we go on to explore other methods, color recession, linear and atmospheric perspective,  texture gradient shifts, amalgamating textures, diminishing edge acuity, diminishing ratios of contrast and on and on.

Compositional design can help build a feeling of space. Constructing a design which can conjure space depends on our familiarity with other pictures, geometry, and an understanding of what circumstances stimulate us to see depth in a 2D image. I will begin with a few simple geometric foundation designs. I like the hour glass shape and the zig zag shape, although contorted or foreshortened geometric shapes like rhombuses and ellipses serve us equally well.

Imagine a foreshortened hourglass with its reciprocal “s” shapes. At its heart this form is just a self-reflecting (as in a mirror) soft or curvy zig zag.  Make the bottom ellipse larger than the top ellipse.  Think of a figure “8” in which the bottom circle is an ellipse and the top circle is a smaller and flatter ellipse. I offer example 1 as my first illustration of this system.

Example 1.  Foreshortened figure 8 diagrammed in red over a photo also known as a foreshortened hourglass.

Now consider the zig zag form again. This time we start with the longer legs of a repeating zig zag which begins at the bottom or ground plane of a picture.  This progressive perspective illusion will work if you begin the progression from any side including the top and bottom. The angles of the zig zag change from more acute to more oblique as we move back into space or, in our case, as we progress to the high horizon. The angles of the zig zag get shallower and the space between angles gets slimmer as we proceed toward the distance. (Note the diagrammed example 5).

I begin my painting by referring to Claude Lorrain, a 17th century landscape painter (example 2). Claude uses a darkened form (coulisse) to frame his picture on the left. We can observe the flattening of the subtly angled sequence of dark and light horizontals as they lose contrast proceeding to infinity.

Example 2. Claude Lorrain landscape with Narcissus.

National Gallery

I begin my painting by using some of the same structural design components as Claude (example3). My sequence of receding angles is more acute than Claude’s. This is a first step in designing a later larger image as Claude would have done.

Example 3. My model and first approach uses a smaller image to begin. It’s just 12”x 12.

Example 4 presents a red-lined diagram of my angled design. Notice how this design follows a sequence which first presents longer acute angles and then skinnies the angles down with an increasingly more oblique angles. This gives a sense of deeper and deeper space.  Example 5 Presents the larger revised painting (now 24×24) without the distracting red diagram.

Example 4.  Red diagram of receding Zig Zags superimposed over the painting.

Example 5. Image without red diagram.

The triangle can also be used as a foreshortening tool depending on its context. Example 6 presents an “A” shaped form as central to the composition. With contextual suggestions of space behind this central triangle I can make it slightly appear vertically inclined. Notice how surrounding forms create a matrix to hold the “A” shape up. We enter the space through scale shifts and lighting shifts. I presented this image in an earlier blog post  but, it has since be revised.

Example 6, Wild meadow in Red and Green with a central triangle.

I invite you sign up for my two-day January painting workshop, Natural Elements at the West Hartford Art League. It is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday January 19 and 20, 2019. You may register on line at the West Hartford Art League’s website or call the registrar at 860 231 9019 ext#2.





5 Responses

  1. Jen

    Is the workshop for students to paint or lecture only? If so, what are we painting? A topic of our choice or something else? Thanks

  2. John Love

    I love those colours in the wild meadow…and the invaluable information, insight and understanding that David shares…

  3. Diana Baughan

    I love your paintings. I will get some dvds, this week, too late for your sale. I’m selling my house, and thinking about traveling and taking workshops from many artist. I could very well get up to your workshop this january. I live in georgia, not that far away. Thanks for your wonderful and information.

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