Hierarchy and eye flow 2

Here's the part 2 of John's question from the last post. How do I (you) pick a scene so as not to end up with the muddle of confusion. There is no easy answer to this question, which is akin to asking how do you play an accordion. But I'll start by saying, if you are picking something to paint, try to pick something with an obvious focal point and build the painting around that. The simpler the constructs in the beginning, the easier it will be to get more complicated scenes down the road. John's painting in France was probably easier because he had more variety to choose from, on the other hand painting a wall of green trees is something that only the most experienced painters can make sense of. I'll start with a few of my favorite compositions going from simple to complex and attempt to explain the what and the why of each.

Let me start with this simple visual explanation of the relationship of all the parts to one another. Every piece of a painting influences the other and this image highlights the relationship of the masses showing the hierarchy of one thing over the next. Usually there needs to be a dominant thing, a secondary thing and so on. In this case, the large dark tree is the dominant element, the flower bed second, the shadow plane of the grass and the distant trees are in a race for third. This let's the eye bounce around through the image, if there's no stand out element, there's nothing to keep the eye involved.

Next is this lovely cypress painted in Carmel, it's a simple construct, chosen entirely for the poetic nature of the tree, the path (an overused element to lead the eye) leads the eye into the painting, it's called an entry point. The tree is the Dad and the rest just supports the tree. As you look at these try to be aware without controlling it, how your eye moves through. Also be aware that I'm pretty darn careful not to repeat shapes and weight. If you look at the orange clumps in the green stuff, none of them repeat exactly.

This painting started out being simply about the tree relationships, until halfway through the block in came a herd of cows. The youngsters (brown) came up close and stayed for about 10 minutes and the wiser cows (black) stayed back. It was a scramble to get them in but it really helped the composition, after I got back to the studio, I went through and culled the cows that were unnecessary. There's a pretty clear hierarchy here. You may want to notice how the shapes and lines of things start to lead the eye to the back, I'm talking about the shadow shapes as well as the lines of cows.

In this one, chosen for the array of boats, the clear boss is the smallest of the bunch. Why? Because of the weight of it's color. Eye goes first to that, then bounces around the boats in the foreground to the background. Lines, shapes, values all working together to get the eye to move through.

This one has a clear focal point, the table, which leads you right to the couple playing. But there's another compositional concept at play here. Pattern and rest. Lots of busy in the background but lots of space to break it in the foreground.

This is a more complicated balance (another thing I strive for) of mass, value, and color. the three main elements of the tree, the blue store and the stop sign have similar relative weights. The central tree acts in a way like a fulcrum point and the other two things are the secondary/tershiary elements.

An equally complicated scene is this portrait of a guy and his world. Nothing has weight like the human element, the brain goes right for it. The man, framed by the dark values of the interior, is tucked in the bottom corner to create a kind of tension between that and the need to wander into the background. Both tricks I learned by studying the work of J.S. Sargent. The rest is a careful orchestration of size, color and value.

Last is this piece of complexity that I was always proud of. I love trying to make sense of complicated scenes. Though there is a slightly dominant lamp, the painting is about groups of elements that create the hierarchy. Clusters of lights that have a variety of weights against large masses of darker stuff. But I think what helps is the areas of rest that play off the busy stuff.

Hope this helps. Choose carefully, start simply, look for variety, and develop and support the hierarchy as you go.