Intimate to Infinite

posted in: Blog, Composition, New Lectures, Painting | 14

Over a thousand years ago Chinese painting scholars advised artists to follow some basic principles. They included presenting a landscape with an experience of the near, middle and far distance. Vertical arrangements should consider the earthly or worldly lower domain and the higher more distant heavenly domain. In the earthly near domain should be an experience rich in particulars, rich in description. This is where the viewer begins his poetic journey through the painting.

Example 1. 1000 year old landscape on silk, Sung Dynasty,

Five hundred years ago DaVinci expressed the same concerns for a painting with landscape. It should have a near and far differentiation. These opposites were as essential to DaVinci as dark vs. light or stillness vs. motion. By the 16th century artists painting landscapes like Albrecht Altdorfer and Pieter Bruegel the Elder gave relied on this principle, near and far. Near is where we live, the people, the activities of life; It is intimate. Far is vague, blended and a distant place from us, the viewer, to some day dream of exploring.

Example 2. Pieter Bruegel the Elder with a collaborator Pieter Van Bloemen from the 1560s,

Both examples demonstrate a composition which features a river or water area serving to frame the design and carry the viewer from the Intimate, nearby area into a mysteriously vague distance. The mind’s eye can wander and wonder into that distance while closely observing the more richly described effects of the intimate proximate area.

With the compositional structure and principles presented in both the Chinese painting and the Bruegel’s Dutch narrative landscape I constructed my following examples.

By comparative observations you will notice how my examples subtly borrow structural ideas from the older historical examples. In my works see how the water winds itself from the bottom up into the distance. See how it wanders in and out creating a meander pattern, also known as a serpentine or dragon shaped pattern.

We begin in a secluded private intimate space and wander off toward the diffused light of the distant horizon.

Example 1. Step one of Autumn Solitude, oil on brushed gold Dibond, 24×36,

Example 2. Step two of Autumn Solitude. The work is incomplete and will require further edits and atmospheric layering.

Example 3, Beaver Creek Preserve, an oil on brushed silver Dibond, 24×36.

I invite you to my next lecture: “Blind Spots: How to Expand Visual Perception” Sunday, October 13, 4:30 to 6:30PM, $20. At the Silvermine School of Art in New Canaan, Ct.  Call 203 966 6668 ext 2 or see






14 Responses

  1. John love

    Would love at attend that class..wonderful stuff as always..Scotland leaves it a bit far to travel..

    • dd_admin

      John, Thanks for your comment . Sorry for my late reply. I do teach in Europe about once a year. Best, David

  2. Christine

    Thanks for this David. For me, this is the most clear and creative explanation of near, middle, far composition. Do you live stream your lectures?

    • dd_admin

      Christine, forgive my late reply to your inquiry. I wish we had the time and resources to live stream the lectures and demos.. I would love to.

  3. Pat Fory

    Wish you would post more on YouTube. Love the posts from several years back.

    • dd_admin

      Pat, every now and then we ( Connie Simmons, producer, editor, director and I, painter and talker) try to put up another Youtube video. Thanks for you encouragement. Best, David

  4. Janine

    Beautiful renditions of marsh grasses. Really captures the delicate sway and variation in colors found in nature.

  5. Stephen

    Very fine details in the grasses; you are a very patient artist – must have taken a long time? A lovely piece of work David – have just purchased your Skies DVD and am looking forward to viewing it.


    • dd_admin

      Stephen, thank you for purchasing the skies DVD. I am sorry about this late reply of mine. Best. David

  6. Patricia Scanlan

    This blog was so interesting. The near and far concept dating back is so clear with your examples. Your last example 3 is wonderful.

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