“It’s all in how you arrange the thing… the careful balance of the design is the motion.”
– Andrew Wyeth
Yup… composition is king.
I didn’t appreciate Wyeth’s paintings in regard to composition until relatively recently. Composition has become a near-passion for me starting about 12 years ago, but before then it seemed to be a constant struggle to find “balance” and yet “motion” in a piece. “What the heck does that even mean?” I would ask myself. Now I have a better sense of these abstracts and yet it is still a struggle. And it is still time-consuming to plan and to execute a good composition, but now I know good design when I see it.
A painting is an entire entity. There is no “front and center” and then the background… some artists seem to forget to plan the backgrounds in their paintings and it can wind up like a huge hole in a piece. Elements need to talk to each other. “Backgrounds” can be supports- flying buttresses if you will. For me, I love to see the intentions of the artist. A clear path of focus that shows the artist had control over the image. Sometimes we artists think we are “locked in” by our work or subject matter. Not true. Don’t like something in your work? Move it. Don’t like the way something feels? Change it. Don’t like the way you did it? Design it this time and start again.
In these paintings below it is clear Wyeth wanted us to see how she was part of the landscape. Think about it- he could have positioned her anywhere. She is linked with the trees and the design is simple and strong. A huge “Y” shape. She and the tree are linked. To me it is a tangible thing. I feel his intention.
This one I especially love. Look at the linked shapes (pink) and the “arcs” (green) flying through the image… with clear purpose.
Look at the links… leaves into hair, branches pointing to face. Shoulder part of the tree. Ever design a painting like this? How about this week… Go ahead… turn a realistic painting into an abstracted interlinked composition. I dare ya.
In this drawing below he is playing with how she is part of the window and framework of the building. A slightly different story, but the same concept. He uses the figure always to tell a story and he is not backed into a corner by rendering every little nuance of the window. It is not important. The relationship is.
So I challenge you… what are you working on? Can you get all the elements to talk to each other? Can you get the “background” to become an integral part of the whole?
If you get the Pastel Journal Magazine, the May issue just came out with a “5-Minute Coach” article I wrote for a checklist for when a painting is done. I plan on having it beside my easel… (yup- I need my own help)
The very first thing I list is Intention. Set the story or meaning you want in your work and the rest will follow. Challenge yourself this week to make a WHOLE painting. Interlinked and clear. Worry less about how it looks and more about what it says… channel your inner Wyeth… let me know how it goes.
I saw “Flying Buttresses” and immediately went to “something added on afterwards to correct a potentially fatal design flaw” (my structural engineer past coming to the fore). Had to switch gears when I realized you were discussing something carefully constructed from the beginning to shore up the whole beautiful creation. Thanks for your wonderful insights, even if my engineer brain goes in the opposite direction for a moment or two.
hehe— I guess I always thought of flying buttresses as a way to make “supports” beautiful. But you are right It was originally used to correct structural problems I think. thanks for the comment!!!
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Christine, I’m an Andrew Wyeth fan, especially his watercolors which are poetry. Thank you for the “Is my painting finished?” this is a wonderful succinct summary.
hi! glad you liked the article in the Pastel Journal. 🙂
Never before has this subject been addressed as thoughtfully and beautifully as you’ve presented it to your fortunate readers. Thank you! This book is a treasure. Thank you for bringing it to light.
Your home is valueble for me. Thanks!… SB Com
Christine, I have so appreciated your blog. I think I’ve read every article and learned from all of them but this one has been exceptionally helpful. Thank you for writing and posting your magazine article. What a gem! I have copied it and it will remain my guiding light as long as I am able to paint.
wow! Thank you so very much. What an amazing compliment. I have copied your comment and will keep it as long as I am able to paint as well!