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

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