As I was finishing up my workshop this past weekend, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the overall abstract shape in a painting. Most of the time, I don’t immediately recognize this or it just comes through naturally, but I find myself drawn to it more and more, especially when I notice it in other artists work. Edgar Payne was a master at composing it, particularly in his boat scenes. And a lot of other great painters utilize this as a foundation for their paintings. So here’s my take on it using a piece completed for the San Luis Obispo plein air event two months ago. The painting above, “The Cheryl Sea” is a 12" x 9" scene in Morro Bay, CA.
How I view the abstract shape is figuring out what the overall image would look like if you stripped it down to a black and white contrast. (I’ve done this to my painting in the insert as an example). When I view the composition in this way, I can visualize the effect of the light and dark relationship and whether it holds an overall dynamic interest. If this shape is pleasing, then the final painting has a good chance of success. I can do this quickly in my sketchbook before I start by blocking in the dark mass and adjusting the composition accordingly. Once completed, I’ll sketch this in on my canvas and position it so my focal area is where I want. As I begin the painting process, keeping my values in the same range will hold this shape together. Then I can simply alter the temperature and colors to define the different elements in the painting.
While I don’t think this holds true for every painting, looking for it and using it as an option has helped me discover scenes I might normally pass up. Enjoy!