Keeping In Shape

Last week the blog was on the element "Line" and how it can be applied to each of the 8 Principles of Design.  This week the element “Shape” we can use as food for thought as it applies to the 8 Principles of Design.  Only one principle: Conflict or Contrast will be mentioned.  I will leave how it applies to the 7 other Principles as food for thought.  Shapes can cause conflict when geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles and triangles and organic shapes such as circles, ovals, etc. are applied to the same painting.  How and where they are applied in a painting can involve the other Principles of Design.  Below is a painting with geometric and organic shapes.  That does not necessarily mean that I did it right.

Shine On Me Blog.jpg

Stay In Line

I know this can be mind boggling - at least it is to me.  If you take each of the 7 Elements of Design there is the potential to apply each of the 8 Principles of Design mentioned in an earlier blog.  In this blog I will talk about probably the least used Element of Design: Line.  In future blogs I will probably not cover how to apply each Principle of Design to each Element of Design but will just try to put up some food for thought.  These things are not all my own ideas because they have been mentioned in different ways by different people.  

One of the Elements of Design is Line.  Line is probably the least used Element in a painting except maybe when painting a power line or fence.  Lines can be fat, thin, straight or curved.  When using an Element like Line, we must then think how to possibly apply each Principle of Design:

1.Balance: How do we keep the element Line in balance in a painting I.e. are lines distributed right to give balance to the painting?  There can be formal or informal balance i.e. a formal similar line or lines or informal balance where different types and numbers of lines are used to give the appearance of balance. 

2. Harmony: Here we must think about the harmony of line types I.e. lines are similar in ways that give the painting a feeling of Harmony.  

3. Gradation:  Gradation can for instance be from a thick to a thin line or a dark to a light line, etc.

4. Alternation and 5. Variation:  Alternation is like wall paper and Repetition is like maybe repeating the Line  several times in the painting but keeping everything in balance.

6. Conflict: For example we may think thick against thin, curve against straight etc. Conflict can bring interest but too much can make the painting seem jumpy.

7. Dominance:  Is there more thick than thin, more dark than light, more curve than straight. There are other ways I am sure to apply dominance. 

8. Unity: I remember taking a workshop once and the instructor said if you cut your painting into pieces would you be able to tell if they all came from the same painting.

Below is a painting I did where I subtly applied lines in a curved fashion within the flower petals to direct the eye in the painting.

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The Principle Of It

Last week in the blog 7 Elements of Design were mentioned.  This week the list is the 8 Principals of Design:

1. Balance

2. Harmony

3. Gradation

4. And 5. Alternation and Variation: Can be grouped as Repetition

6.  Conflict or Contrast

7.  Dominance

8.  Unity

In the coming weeks the blog will cover some about how each Elements of Design relates to Principals of Design.

Design: Elementary

Design: Elementary

I learned early on about Elements and Principles of Design and how they relate to each other in painting.  I hope to post in future blogs what I have tried to learn about them.  That is not to say I know the complexity of it all.  I just would like to share a little bit about them.  

Below are the 7 Elements of Design:

  1. Shape
  2. Size
  3. Line
  4. Direction
  5. Texture
  6. Color
  7. Value 

Deviled Egg Day

When I painted in acrylic, I used a deviled egg tray with a snap lid for the paints.  By putting the different colors in the trays and using the snap lid, it keeps the acrylic colors moist, although occasionally it is good to spray the paint with a mixture mainly of water and a little flow aid.   The snap lid serves as the pallet.  You can occasionally peel off or wash off the colors on the palette.  With this system and 2 coffee cans of water (one to keep the used brushes wet and one for cleaning the brushes), the start up and clean up is fast and easy.  A good Deviled Egg Day.

Deviled Egg Day.jpg

Where The Eye Is

I remember showing my first mentor a painting of a cabin I did.  She kindly let me know my perspective was off.  I then bought a simple perspective book and studied about how the viewers eye level and horizon are the same.  I learned about vanishing points and how they can be selectively picked.  Then color, value and edges must be considered.  Sometimes it is good to remember that tall buildings also have a vanishing point. Color, value and edges could have been done in so many different ways in the painting titled: Farmers Market. 

 Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Like a See Saw

I took an art workshop around 40 years ago. The instructor said that we have design naturally in us. I asked if that is true why do we need to learn all these rules. He said that we know design when we are children but as we grow up the world influences how we think. He said look at a child’s painting. There is a house in the middle and a tree on each side. He said they know perfect balance but it is boring. However, even perfect balance can be beautiful if the center of interest and the balance on each side are done beautifully by a child. 

The Shape of Things

Many years ago a teacher at an art workshop said to paint shapes and not things.  That really bothered me because I wanted to say paint a tree not a shape.  Over the years I have learned that if the various shapes are painted beautifully then the thing is beautiful and more so the reality of  what you want the viewer to see.  That is not to say that you do not at some time during the painting process think more and more of the thing you are wanting to paint.  Below is an image where I enjoyed the creation of a shape that in the end was a tree trunk.  The joy is in the shape of things. 

Look Up SS.jpg

Expressing It

How do we hold our brush when we paint?  I remember years ago at a workshop watching an artist use his brush.  He was going around the room touching up student's paintings.  He held his arm out full length and his hand was at the end of the brush with it full length.  He could make strokes of paint that brought their paintings to life.  I remember the student paintings looking great to me but after his few strokes of paint they looked awesome.  Years before that I was taught you should move your hand further back on the brush if you are painting too tight.  Sometimes we can paint holding the brush like a baton and other times hold it like we are holding a fork and other times like we are holding a pencil.  It is all in how we express it. 

Color Me

I believe painting in layers can give excitement to a painting.  By that I mean when painting some shapes it is beautiful to paint a shape with a color, then add layers of color over it leaving some of the underlying colors showing.  I will give an example.  The Teddy Bear has a tan look to it, but there are various colors within it. 

Always Friends SS.jpg

Contour and Gesture

There are a couple of drawing exercises.  One is contour drawing.  That is where you cannot look at what you are drawing unless you stop moving the pencil.  In this exercise you are to imagine that your pencil tip is actually resting on the edge of the object you are drawing.  In this exercise you are then drawing what you see and not what you think you see.  I heard an artist say once, “A chair does not sit on the floor.  It SITS on the floor."  I once watched an artist speak out loud what she was thinking as she did a control drawing.  The logical side of her brain was battling the creative side.  Like, “If you don’t turn that pencil now you are going to have a bad drawing.”  

The other kind of practice is gesture drawing where one rapidly scribbles in a form either still or moving.  Try it watching a sports event and do a person rapidly.  It is amazing how you can then put edges around them which gives you a much more live form. 

You are probably familiar with the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. 

Rose Colored Glasses

Years ago I was taught, before computers were in heavy use, to buy red cellophane from an architecture supply store.  You could put it over the painting and see value instead of color.  A couple of years ago I bought John Lennon red lens flip up sunglasses.  I went to Wilson Park and plein air painted by myself.  I think I have plein air painted alone only two times.  I need to do more of it.  Anyway, they really worked.  I could not see my palette colors but knew about where they were generally located.  I blocked in the attempted mixes on the canvas based on the value I could see.  I stopped using the glasses once the values were blocked in then finished the painting.  It was really an awesome day though the wind blew so strong it blew my easel over and spilled mineral spirits on my shoe.  I enjoyed visiting with people who came by that day.  Plein air painting makes for a good day. Sadly I do not do enough of it.  I hope we block our paintings in with not so much thought of color like wearing Rose Colored Glasses.

An Expressive Brush

I enjoy painting sunflowers.  Looking closely In the center of the flower before the seeds begin to form to me it is like looking at a carpet closeup, but that is just me.  When I paint the center then I need to think carpet so that my brush moves loosely in that thought.  I know that sounds like I am out in left field, but I have noticed I have been doing that more lately.  There seems to be a difference between painting something in a structured way compared to letting your thought of the place or thing being transferred to your brush when applying the paint.  I have found fine tuning, if any, is much more creative when applying the finishing touches.  Lately in painting, I believe if we think less and express more we will have an expressive brush.



 I remember 40 years ago I took a piece of my art to a frame shop.  It was a watercolor.  The frame shop owner tossed the painting on the floor to look at it.  Being new at art, I thought that was some kind of an art world thing.  I later learned there are different ways to look at your work to study it for errors like hold your painting up to a mirror or looking at it upside down.  In any case, lately I try to not get into to big of a hurry to say a painting is finished.  At least for me, at times I may become too easily satisfied with the painting I called finished.  It pays to study it over and over again after we think a painting is finished.  An even better painting may result in pausing before we put it out for others to see.  Finished? It is a good question, I believe.

Good To Be Edgy

This probably is not an accurate definition of vignette but I was taught years ago that a vignette painting is one in which a part of the painting comes within an inch of each edge of the paper or canvas.  Anyway the edges of the painting, whether a vignette or not, are important.  Early on I would regularly do a painting and then realize I did not not consider the edges and then fill them in with something.  I was told once in a workshop that if you have 2” along the edge of the painting and it does not relate to the rest of the painting then you have a problem.  Seems I just could not learn.  Once I showed a fine artist friend in Santa Fe one of my paintings and ask her to critique it.  She said just cut off 2” of one side of the painting and it would be fine.  That just irritated me that I still could not see it.  I cut off the edge and sold it.  If the edges are considered first at the beginning of a painting things go a lot easier for us.  It is good to be edgy.

That Is The Question

When I was working in watercolor years ago, one of the things I predetermined was the intensity of the colors.  Back then I determined the intensity based on value.  As an example I might make all the mid-values basically intense (MVI), the lighter values dull (LVD) and the dark values dull (DVD).  That left me several options:

MVI-LVD-DVD                                                                                                                                    MVD-LVI-DVI                                                                                                                                    MVD-LVI-DVD                                                                                                                                    MVI-LVD-DVI                                                                                                                                     MVI-LVI-DVD                                                                                                                                       MVD-LVD-DVDKind of Boring                                                                                                             MVI-LVI-DVI Kind of Garish                                                                                                                    

I know, I know you might not want to do that but it is an interesting design principle.  It is good I think for us to try new things.  It is a creative thing I believe  So That Is The Question - Intensity or No Intensity?

Depends On How You Slice It

Years ago I took a workshop from someone who had the neatest color wheels.  It was like she had taken a world with the insides being all colors and values.  Then she had horizontal slices of her world.  The higher the slices the lighter the values of all the color wheel.  The lower slices had darker values of all the color wheel.  I was just thinking wouldn’t it be beautiful to have vertical slices of that world.  That would be beautifully different.  

I did a still life painting once of a patchwork quilt.  As I remember each had a gradation of color and value and I tried to have the adjacent patch be such that it’s color was a different temperature i.e. warm against cool, etc.  It was a watercolor painting and I wanted to enter it in a competition but an artist said that some of the colors of the quilt were too intense.  With watercolor that meant I had to think opposite the color wheel on each color and value to tone it down.  That was a good exercise in thinking across the color wheel and how you cut it.  

I hope someone does vertical cuts of a color world.  That would be something to see. Beauty can be simply on how you slice it.


I took a workshop once years ago and the instructor said, “Don’t paint flowers like someone is taking their picture and telling them to Smile.  He said that flowers should not all be looking one direction like looking at a camera.  His statement has always stuck with me.  Flowers are so full of life.  Some are young and some are old.  Some are looking for the sun and some are not.  Some are standing tall and proud and some are tired and hanging down.  Some are full of color and some are not.  Some are complexed and some are not.  

There are so many ways to start out laying out the shapes of flowers on a canvas.  They can be blocked in value shapes or they can be out- lined to determine their placement on the canvas.  I have at times outlined flowers with many petals by only sketching in the general angles and not tried to put each little angle of all the petals of the other edge of the flower.  That way you end up with the flower being the right overall shape.  The details can be filled in later.  

Two examples of flowers I hope you study are in the art website under private collections.  One is titled Eternally Creating and Days End.

Flowers smile in different directions.


Papa Bear, Momma Bear, Baby Bear

Years ago I worked in watercolor for 20 years.  I believe it is the hardest and sometimes most unforgiving medium.  Staining color such as Alizarin Crimson cannot be totally removed even by putting the watercolor paper in a bathtub and scrubbing it.  Because watercolor sometimes has an unforgiving nature, I did more preplanning than I do with oil painting.  Of course, maybe I should do the same with oil.  One of the things I did in pre-planning was to paint a value sketch using Paynes Grey and Pro white on notebook paper.  I was taught that there should be three basic general overall values i.e. dark, midtone and light.  I was also taught they should be of different amounts.  By that I mean if you added up all pieces of dark values, all the pieces of mid tone values and all the pieces of light values they should not be of the same amount.  It is like Papa Bear, Momma Bear and Baby Bear.  I think if they are unequal the painting has more interest.  More interesting I think than a two value painting such as a small white dot on a dark background.  In the painting under the tab Still Life in this website there is a painting titled: A New Day.  In it is a Large Dark (Papa Bear), a small mid-tone (Baby Bear) with light (Momma Bear).  Also in the painting under the tab Private Collection is a painting Titled: In a Mirror Dimly.  In this painting the Papa Bear is the dark, the Momma Bear is the mid-tone and the Baby Bear is the light.  Like someone said all rules are there to be broken but the Bears are a thought. 


Edges in paintings can be Edgy i.e. by definition it can be an anxious, uneasy thing to do or it can be original and offbeat.  I was taught early on to paint shapes and not things.  That bothered me because for example I wanted to paint a tree.  I think now that painting shapes in the beginning of a painting is a good thing.  You can block in beautiful values and color in the beginning without being so concerned about things.  Some say a positive shape is an object like a tree and that usually is the subject matter where the negative shape is not.  To me it is more complicated than that.  That does not make me right.  Along the edge of a shape in regard to value there can be dark against light, light against dark, lost and defused edges.  Said another way there can be hard edges, soft edges and lost edges.  If you look at the painting titled: Shine On Me under the Still Life tab in this website you can see when you look at the outer edge of the pitcher shape light against dark, dark against light, defused edge and lost edge. You can also look under landscape on the website at the painting titled: Served Well and following along the edges of the farm equipment you may see hard edges, soft edges and lost edges. Edges can be uncomplicated, peaceful and wonderful or they can be complicated, edgy and wonderful too.  I pray that God guides our paint brushes to Glorify Him.