Sunday, April 21, 2013

Composition Part 9 - "L" Frame

When you look at something you are often looking through  or around something else; a window, a door, under a tree, or through your glasses (my constant view frame). People also like to frame pictures and objects; it makes the picture more focused, and the object more important in some way. Paintings and photographs often use a frame within the image itself: for instance the view of King Charles Street, Whitehall, London (top, above) or the Tower Bridge (both from the Picture Book of London published by Country Life in 1951).

Painters have always played with framing devices, using some foreground object to give scale and frame the view. The painting above by Gustav Bauernfeind called, At the Entrance to the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, is a straight forward “through the arch” approach, mirroring the photograph at the top of the page. 

Of course conveniently located arches are not always available, so the usual fallback tactic is the side of a building, or looking out from under a part of a building, such as Egyptian Landscape with a Distant View of the Pyramids by David Roberts. 

Paintings of a town or city provide windows, doors, arches and other manmade foreground opportunities. In the country you need to use an entirely different set of objects. Albert Bierstadt used mountains, trees and clouds to frame his Landscape, above.

In the Deer at Sunset, Bierstadt used what I call the “L” frame, a contrasting form following the bottom and side of the image. Such a “frame” helps focus the image using a fairly commonly occurring form. In this case it is the rocky base of a cliff and the shadow cast by the cliff.

In  The Conquest of the Amazon by Antonio Parreiras, the shadowed tree trunk and people in the foreground form the frame to the ceremony taking place in the sunlit clearing.

Frederic Edwin Church was always able to capture the drama of any landscape. His painting called The River of Light uses not only natural lighting effects, but the foreground frame to heighten the effect.

Terra natal by Antonio Parreiras includes enough detail in the darker “frame” area, to make it the focus of the viewer’s interest.

Winslow Homer didn’t use framing very often (tending to center the focus), but when he did, as with At the Window, he broke the rules in the most interesting way. In this case he contrasts the frame with the view out the window, giving the frame the primary emphasis.

La Siesta, Memory of Spain is a typical composition by Gustave Dore, using strong foreground shadow, and high contrast and detail to draw the eye.

Architectural renderings can be easily improved by using an “L” frame. Green Study by Aleksander (Olek) Novak-Zemplinski takes an already interesting abstract sculpture, and adds immediacy by framing it with interior space.

ASB Bridge Kansas City by Dick Sneary puts the bridge in context, while giving depth to the rendering.

W-Project Theoretical by Tomoaki Hamano creates a frame and a balance using trees and foreground objects. The inclusion of the “professorial statue” gives a nice narrative to the otherwise dry subject.

Frames can be made from almost any object. People are always around just begging to be placed in a rendering, and most locations have trees and adjacent buildings. Don’t worry too much about the accuracy of the placement of foreground objects; there is a surprising degree of forgiveness when you get a composition right.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Inspiration - Dore & value studies

In 1832 Gustave Dore was born to a family of the professional class in the Alsace region bordering what soon became Germany. He began drawing from a very young age, and showed facility and speed. In Paris with his parents, Dore, age 15, impressed a publisher with his ability, and was offered a 3 year contract to illustrate magazines. At the amazingly young age of 17 Dore became the family breadwinner, and a Paris celebrity. The combination of need and fame drove him to produce work at a phenomenal rate; a rate that he kept up until his untimely death at age 51.

Although lacking formal artistic training Dore observed and copied everything he could find in Paris, from the statues in the Louvre to the crowds in the streets. At first he drew the lithographs himself, but with fame came more and more commissions, and he took to designing the illustrations which were then finished in wood cut by others.  He illustrated many books of the time, but he is best remembered for his illustrations of the Bible, Dante’s Inferno, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Dore always wanted to produce paintings that would be recognized by the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Although this goal was never realized, he did create beautiful landscape paintings that proved that he was not limited to black and white engraving.

His view of Le Mont Cervin, above shows a subtle handling of earth tones and vivid sunset pinks. His view of the Scottish Highlands, below, presents a similar handling of a green palette accented by browns and reds.

So why am I bringing up Dore, who seems to have nothing to do with architectural Illustration?
Simply, because his sense of composition is amazing, and the hundreds of engravings that he designed are a treasure trove of inspiration.

To illustrate this compositional genius look at the three images above. They are from left to right, Blondel hears Richard, from the Crusades, The Levite bearing away the body of the Woman, from the Bible, and Jesus in the Garden, also from the Bible. Each is a composition of white, light grey and dark grey, and each is a unique, yet uniquely satisfying thing. Only the center image suggests a realistic picture, and in fact, the center image is the weakest compositionally.

In this shot the three images are filtered in Photoshop to reduce the detail. It is now possible to guess at the general subject, and imagine the settings as variations on a landscape with human figures. The compositions are more nuanced, but are still quite strong and compelling.

The final images, above, show the exquisite detail, and full modeling produced by Dore’s talented engravers. In spite of the detail, the compositional foundations shine through, holding your attention and drawing you into the story.

The Sermon on the Mount from the Bible looks compositionally like a field of flames with a “circle in a circle” form in the center. In the final engraving the mysteriousness is gone, but the hierarchical pattern of dark, medium and light is there instead.

The story of Elaine comes from the Arthurian legend, and Dore’s use of high contrast for the foreground subject is similarly traditional. I love this composition’s ability to entice me without giving a solid idea of what I’m looking at. 

Slaughter of the Prophets of Baal, a story from the Bible, starts with a light spot composition. The rather tortured shapes suggest violence and the macabre to me.

This picture of the Massacre at Antioch suggests architecture at once. The cascading brutality comes into focus fairly quickly, turning the architecture into a symbol of evil.

Skewed shapes define this view from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It is a brash concept which perfectly captures the mysterious chant that forms the base of the poem. The truth is, I never liked the poem, but always loved the illustrations.

The story of Absalom, King David’s son, is one of the many tragically bloody stories in the Bible. This composition emphasizes the stormy and dark relationship that developed in the royal household. Absalom can be seen in the dark spot to the right, hanging suspended by his hair tangled in the tree branches.

Some of Dore’s strongest images are found in Dante’s Inferno. In this picture Virgil and Dante stop to talk with a damned soul. The lighting is highly dramatic, and threatening. There is nothing “normal” about this place.

This image from Paradise Lost is an impressively avant-garde mix of chaos and unity. My first reaction was “there is no focus”, but the more I studied it, the more I felt a perfect sense of roiling movement, and endless conflict.

Dore occasionally created a composition which didn’t bow to realism much at all. This view of the Hypocrites from the Inferno, is a simple and powerful image that I could imagine Salvador Dali producing.