Sunday, December 29, 2013

Composition part 14 - Silhouette

While at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, I took a snapshot of one of the rock formations. The resulting silhouette was almost as informative as a sunlight photograph and was quite dramatic. An object with a distinctive shape can gain strength when rendered with a silhouette-like technique.

Self Portrait, by Jacek Malczewski, is an unusual and daring use of a near silhouette. The likeness is more difficult to read, but the effect is quite striking.

Riders on the Beach, by Max Liebermann, features a very familiar form which doesn’t need much elaboration to be effective or recognizable.

Flowers in a glass vase, on the other hand, create a more complex silhouette. Izsak Perlmutter took advantage of that complexity, and walked a fine line between reality (in the red flowers) and the competing complexity of the stems, glass and lace curtains. Cyclamen is a masterwork in the still life tradition.

The Charles Bridge, in Prague, has a distinctive look and is adjacent to several buildings that are recognizable in silhouette. I have seen many paintings of the same view, but this one, by Alexandr Onishenko, is perhaps the most dramatic.  

Skylines are often distinctive. Most large cities have groupings of buildings that have become iconic.  This painting of Chicago by Ronald Schatz is one of my favorites.

Amsterdam Bridge Amsterdam NY by Eric Whiting takes the silhouette to an extreme, but without sacrificing the information needed to understand the subject. The combination of abstraction and realism is quite striking.

There are times when you can use a mix of differently toned silhouettes. This house elevation is a nice combination of dark roof silhouette and lighter brick wall silhouette. Even if you were to remove the detailing of windows and doors, you would get a fairly complete sense of the building.

This rendering or the Tom Ling Son Road Mixed Dev by M. Tamada shows a balance of silhouette and detail. Like the portrait by Mr. Malczewski above, it is an effect that can be read both ways. In this case the details show an asymmetric trend, while the silhouette reinforces the formality of the composition.

Silhouettes may seem obvious, but when you are in the scrum of rendering a building it is easy to forget that a silhouette can unify a composition. Toss your unfinished rendering into Photoshop and simplify it with a filter; you might be surprised by the result.

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