A zig zag, meander, or serpentine pattern offers much to the artist. It can help unite disparate areas of a painting. It can serve as a metaphorical shape packed with mythical meanings. And, through foreshortening it can provide a strong illusion of infinite space.
Let’s time travel to 1881 where we find a 41 year old Monet on the island of St Martin painting a meadow with distant hills in midday light. He begins with a composition built around a zig zaging path. This foreshortened path takes us from the front of the image back toward the hills. It helps to build a spatial illusion (example 1).
Example 1. Claude Monet, Path on the Island of Saint Martin, Vétheuil, 1881 (in France).
Without referencing the broad and ancient cultural history of the meander/zig zag which I have discussed in previous blogposts here is an example of finding Zig Zag compositions. Rivers, streams, roads, and paths are obvious candidates. On a more intimate scale artists have turned to snakes, rope, and strings. A foreshortened zig zag expands the size of the foreground and compresses the horizontal thickness of the background as you see in my photo of the Saugatuck River (example 2).
Example 2. Photo of the Saugatuck River.
The more I lower my point of view the greater is the compression of the horizontal distance. The more I elevate my point of view the more the image appears map-like with less compression of the horizontal distance. As an example, look at example #3, Spring Pond Patterns. Here the viewer looks down upon the zig zag design and there is less foreshortening.
Example 3. Spring Pond Patterns, an oil on enameled laminated aluminum composite, 36×36.
If I lower my point of view as you see me doing in examples 4 and 5 the illusion of deeper, more infinite space increases. The water zig zags between the islands at low tide collapsing into thinner bands as it winds back to the horizon. There is also a more subtle vertical zig zag employed here which further helps to unite the image. Notice the angle of the clouds (the Zig) is reversed by the angle of the islands (the zag).
Example 4. Sky, Sea and Shore, oil on brushed silver enameled laminated aluminum composite, 24×36 inches,
Example 5. Blue Silver, oil on brushed silver enameled laminated aluminum composite, 24×24 inches.
An artist can layer multiple zig zag patterns. In example 6, “Across a Marsh” the heavier but interrupted zig zag begins in the lower left with another zig zag beginning in the lower right. They take you back into the painting. They lead you back to an area which introduces still another and even more compressed and foreshortened zig zag which winds through the upper or distant marsh.
Example 6. “Across a Marsh” oil on enameled laminated aluminum, 24×48 inches.
The zig zag can also be used with other design forms. A zig zag can augment a design using lines of single point perspective. In example 7,” Brooklyn Bridge Highways” I have built a confluence of curving parallel linear perspective lines above a descending and rising zig zag ramp choked with traffic. This image is at an early phase. I will wait for the paint to dry before possibly proceeding with colors or other atmospheric effects.
Example 7. Early stage of Brooklyn Bridge Highways, oil on brushed silver enameled aluminum, 24×24 inches.
Finally, I have a example of the uniting power of a zig zag pattern on a standing, folding screen with multiple panels, example 8 by Maio Motoko of Japan.
Example 8. A folding screen by Maio Motoko, Japan, 2011.
Please join me this Thursday and Saturday at the CCNS Art Show in Norwalk, CT where I am the featured artist (302 Wilson Avenue, South Norwalk, CT 06854). The CCNS Art Show runs from June 3 to June 5th, and I will be there on Thursday and Saturday. You will need to purchase tickets BEFORE the show (tickets cannot be purchased at the door due to COVID restrictions) Here is the link for all of the activities for the exhibition (https://ccnsct.org/art-show/).
This coming week I have an opening reception on June 4th from 5-8pm at Susan Powell Fine Art at 679 Boston Post Road in Madison, Connecticut. The exhibition, Luminous Mysteries, will run from Tune 4th until July 4th. The gallery is open Tues-Sat 11-5 or by appointment. For more information see www.susanpowellfineart.com or call the gallery at 203 318 0616.
i invite you to join me in June on Tuesdays and/or Saturdays for online Zoom workshops with demonstrations, art history, and personal critiques ( if you desire them).
Wonderful blog post! I’m so looking forward to goin back to Tuesday workshops soon!!!
Denise, thank you. I look forward to seeing you in the workshops. David
So wonderful reading your blog. As I am unable to get to you I treasure your explanations of the world of art. ( and I understand and am enlightened to composition and color etc)
Was taking class on line where they mentioned the “amazing artist David Dunlop”.
Missing you and class terribly
Thank you Elaine, I miss you too. I am glad you enjoy these blogposts. David
Thank you so much learned a lot! Interested in possibly taking an upcoming class in late summer.
HI Denise, thank you for your response. I also hop you can join me in a class or workshop this late summer. You can see a menu of choices on this website. David