Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Composition Part 8 - Diagonal

Dynamic Diagonal

The slope of mountains

The shape of sailing ships

The sweep of the Nike “swoosh”

But buildings are usually rectilinear; the cross is a more architectural pattern… Yes?  

Actually, no.  

Look down your street.  The tops of the buildings recede into the distance at an angle, a diagonal.  The urban environment is chock full of diagonals: streets running into the distance, sky scrapers receding into the sky, roofs angling up like mountain slopes.

But let’s rewind everything here. Diagonals have been found in compositions for centuries. The diagonal line suggests movement or perspective. In this regard it is a conflicted pattern; movement is obviously dynamic, but perspective is the orderly reality of the built environment.  The subject of the painting or rendering sets the tone.

Madame Raymond de Verninac (above) by Jacques-Louis David mates the diagonal with Hogarth’s curved “Line of Beauty”, creating a calm, designed look. The lady is not about to zoom out of the picture frame.

Self Portrait with palette in hand and wife Martha by Viggo Johansen utilizes the diagonal as a hidden line on which to hang the faces (and noted palette) of the double portrait. As with any of the composition patterns, hiding the actual shape is a good idea.

The painting of Jockeys in the rain by Edgar Degas uses the diagonal specifically to enhance the sense of speed and space. It suggests the starting line and the receding perspective of the race track.

Frederic Remington uses the diagonal shoreline in Moonlight Wolf to counter the centered subject. The jagged edge of the diagonal gives the scene a certain eerie sense of foreboding and danger. 

Piz Bernina, Switzerland by Albert Bierstadt, is well balanced and convincing in spite of the stark abstract quality. The diagonal of the dark foreground is almost as geometric as a ship’s signal flag, but works as a foil to the brilliant abstract of the snow covered peaks.

Sticking with the “uplifting” theme, this mountain view by Edward Theodore Compton marries the typical diagonal with the subtle atmospherics that I remember from my misspent youth. 

This photograph of Grand Central Terminal in New York City is a perfect example of a static scene creating a dynamic feeling through perspective. Without the sunbeams, the view would produce a refined, almost sedate convergence, but with the addition of the angled sunbeams the perspective becomes an unstoppable march of power.

A similar approach to an image is this rendering by Hugh Ferriss of a long line of pylons in sharp perspective. It is the Permanent World Capitol at Flushing Meadow Park in New York City; and if you never heard of it, you’re not alone.

Otto Rieth was a German architect and photographer of the late 19th century. His ink and wash sketch uses an unusual perspective to create a curious composition; partly diagonal, partly ‘L’ frame, all “sturm und drang”.

My small oil sketch of sculpture over a building entry uses the natural shadow to suggest a line dividing the painting into two equal triangles. 

This architectural rendering of a Residential Building on Logan Circle by Kai & Ming Hu illustrates the normal streetscape diagonal. 

This enticing watercolor of Shindagha in Dubai, UAE by Michael Reardon uses the perspective diagonals to establish a counterweight to the detail on the right. The repetition of wedge shapes makes it a fascinating image.

Michael Reardon also created this aerial of the Officers Club at Abu Dhabi. He strings a series of sculpted buildings onto a diagonal seashore. As with his Shindagha rendering, the repetition of shapes, in this case crescents, makes the image especially interesting.

This unusual “worms-eye” view of the Mabarak Center in Lahore by Jaroslaw Bieda invites the imagination to wander into fantasy, while the details bring you back to reality. I see a close-up of a human eye myself.

The linear patterns of our transportation infrastructure will always show up as a diagonal sweep across an image. This pencil sketch of the Taipei Pop Music Center Competition by Anthony Grand nests a strong diagonal into a complex matrix of angular lines.

With diagonals scattered all about the man-made world, finding the pattern is easy. The trick is to disguise the angle with the busy detail also found in human construction.

A caveat for all posts on composition.
You don’t want to produce total chaos.
You don’t want to create banal order.
You do want to entice, hint, and suggest.
You want to create mystery, even if the subject appears to be obvious.

 - Composition Part 17 - Value Studies

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Composition Part 7 - Circle

I’ve never been interested in paintings of flowers, but this one hanging in the house of my mother-in-law has grown on me over the years (no pun intended).  It is composed in an iconic circular pattern, which is appropriate since the circle connotes unity, wholeness and family.  There is variety and asymmetry, but the circle is the unmistakable theme.

Although the circle seems to be no different than the light or dark spot motif, the reality is that a circle can be suggested in any number of ways.  And, the circle doesn’t need to have anything to do with the pattern of light and dark values.

 Portraits that include only the head are natural circle compositions; faces are roughly oval shape after all.  Rubens’ A Child’s Head leads the eye around and into the face.  It is a familiar, almost inbred behavior; to flit from eyes, nose and mouth to cheeks, chin and hairline.  Rubens gives us the hair and clothing as a tease, but we return to the area of the eyes, nose and mouth.

 Cranach’s portrait of Luther’s Father is less inviting, yet has the same lure.  The blue eyes are especially lively as the face emerges from the scrummed background.

 Morning Sun by Lovis Corinth doesn’t zoom in on the face, but instead creates a revolving composition using the arm and head of the subject, as well as the shape of the bedding.  In fact if you squint your eyes the shapes describe a circle within a circle.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that the subject is a friendly, smiling person, and the “story” is pleasantly vague. 

Joseph Mallord William Turner leaned toward the dynamic and abstract in his later years.  Music Party, Petworth follows that line, but the circle is caught in the mix of suggestive figures.

This illustration from the children’s book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by P.J. Lynch, is much more specific and realistic than Turner, but still produces the same swirling circle.

Of course you can be blatant about it and simply frame the scene with arching trees as in this image by Watteau.  He has essentially created a floating donut shape, with the figures and activity happening at the base of the circle.

Rembrandt was nearly as obvious in his painting, Parable of the Rich Man, although in reality he describes a spiral.  The symbolism of the ledgers engulfing the miser is dramatic, and could be the basis for a fantasy computer game.

A.I. Keller’s painting Calvin Cooledge Inaguration, (the swearing in was performed at his father’s farmhouse in Vermont on the unexpected death of President Harding), uses a similar lighting as the Rembrandt.  In this case however, the circular pattern suggests stability and controlled drama.  The placement of the lamp at dead center is reminiscent of Winslow Homer, another New Englander.

Some compositions can seem contrived, such as this oil sketch called Sky at sunset, Jamaica, West Indies, by Church.  However, in this case there is no doubt that this is exactly what Church saw.

Another example of accidental circles is Claude Monet’s Study of Olive Trees. 

An obviously contrived design is Gustav Klimt’s Schloss Kammer am Attersee, where he goes out of his way to isolate the white of the building wall.  The resulting circle is more like a pair of parentheses, or two pale skinned aliens talking to one another.

A vignette can create a simple circle composition.  Above is a sketch idea for the Cleveland Clinic Christmas Card from long ago.  It was a small ink sketch with a thin smear of pastel to suggest a winter evening.

Above is another ancient rendering; this time of a residential tower entrance using wax pencil on board.  The interior lighting and the shapes of the glass awning and floor create a pleasing circular motion.

This low aerial of Rhodes College by Wesley Page shows how a courtyard or cloister falls naturally into a circle.

So, let’s all get out there and circle the wagons near the Arctic Circle.   We’ll eventually come full circle, but be sure to avoid the vicious circle.  Time to end since I’m spiraling out of control.

A caveat for all posts on composition.
You don’t want to produce total chaos.
You don’t want to create banal order.
You do want to entice, hint, and suggest.
You want to create mystery, even if the subject appears to be obvious.

 - Composition Part 17 - Value Studies

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Architectural Faces

I try to make a birthday card for my kids every year. This one from several years ago takes an old drawing of an arched double window, and makes it into a weird face. People have been making buildings that resemble human and animal body parts for a long time, as well as pretending that buildings can talk and act like humans. But that is a blog for another time. Here, presented for your viewing pleasure, are a collection of building faces (or facades), and the faces they really want to be.

Insect faces are so varied and geometrical that it is hard not to make comparisons. I imagine that the movement toward non-rectilinear modern design will show more and more connection with insect ‘design’.

If I could have found a picture of someone in a helmet sticking out their tongue, it would have been perfect. As it is, Bismarck will have to do.

Droopy mustaches seem to be everywhere…

Snaggle-toothed churches are as rare as a redneck with all his teeth.

There are towers that grin at you (insincerely)…

And, rather startled facades.

This set of windows seems to be appalled at something. Perhaps he has lost his parents, and he is “home alone”.

This mosque has more in common with the Bashi Bazouk than their shared religion.

I like to think of this paring as the Facebook fa├žade.

There is a certain exuberance in both the lady and the “Lodging”.

So, what does the image from the birthday card suggest to you?