Saturday, 5 December 2015

Composition Research

I started learning about composition for this topic by reading the section in 'Contemporary Drawing: Key concepts and techniques' by Margaret Davidson (2011, Watson-Gupthill Publications NY), and in my sketchbook thinking about how each idea related to my reworking of my assignment 2 piece.

Universal Fundamentals of Composition
Using a flat rectangle automatically suggests to the viewer a deep and wide image with depth to it.
Hence the feeling that if there is a lot of water around the duckings, that the intention is to emphasise the size of that.
I hadn't actually thought of it in this way before - that there is a message in the shape itself. Duh!

Even if you try to bring the viewer focus to the object itself by making the object enormous, all it does is make you look past it to the depth and breadth of the image again, just because of the landscape format!

Using a rectangle in this orientation automatically conveys a feeling of
an enclosed, more intimate space, with less depth to it, with the focus
more on the object itself.
This relative flatness and focus on the object rather than the
space holds true even when the object is relatively small, if the
format is vertical.

Other formats, according to this book, are imbued with this kind of meaning to the extent that they refer to the oblong shapes above. I thought I would visually think about this in reference to clothing eg a hoody being nearly but not quite portrait format would suggest relative flatness. Unless you make it into a landscape rectangle deliberately.

Oh so flat- looking - decorative rather than representational
Even referring to the actual three dimensions of the body doesn't make it
stop looking flat.

But magically, putting in a horizontal format creates the illusion of space where
you know there isn't any.


The landscape format still makes you see space.
Looking down on it makes the viewer feel powerful, and the object look small, contained, restricted, powerless
These ducks are obviously on a pond, rather than free, simply because I am looking at them from above.
This makes the image more personal and familiar
Perhaps this duck even has a name. I found myself sketching in a domestic scene, with depth suggested by the landscape format, the intimacy prompted by the eye level.

This makes the image more imposing/ huge/ possibly dangerous
Am I going to get kicked/ eaten?!
After these revelations, I tried looking at portrait format from above, level and below to see whether the effect was altered with the format.

FROM ABOVE - Portrait
The words that come to mind are squashed,
inferior, rejected, dejected, cramped
disrespected, dismissed, forgotten
EYE LEVEL - portrait
This gives a very straightforward what you see is the plain truth
rather flat image with little in the way of subtlety or nuance.
Like a childrens' book or a scientific illustration - factual.
FROM BELOW - portrait
On a pedestal, looking down it's nose at me,
puffed up, grand, out of my reach,
The Duck God

Thinking about balance in a drawing, and the path the eye takes across and within the picture, it helps to think about the things we are naturally drawn to:
1. Faces
2. Vectors (arrows, pointing things, or directional marks)
3. High contrast points
4. Power centers (either side of the middle of a horizontal rectangle, or just above the middle of a vertical one)
5. Focal points created by the artist for the viewer to return to repeatedly (or deliberately have no focal point)
This list was condensed directly from Margaret Davidson's book.

I did some sketches thinking about how to make a composition for my duck drawing that would draw the eye round the picture to come back to the eye of the mother duck.

First, the format is landscape as I want to give a feeling of space.
The images are larger than in my original assignment drawing so that the space is the one between the duck and her duckling. I think the power centre of the image is the part of the skeleton duck wing which has the markings on it (because of the parallel lines perhaps?) But the viewer most likely enters the picture through the eye/head of the mother duck, just to the right of the centre (1). This would lead either to the vector of the beak, or down to the power point. Following the vector (2) the eye reaches the high contrast duckling (3), and from there through the other beak/ vector back to the power centre. There may be some movement along the ducks back, which would give some balance to the image, but I think there may be room for some use of background contrast or vectors to balance it vertically a bit more.

Attractive but static
Re: meaning, there is a formality to this that brings its own meaning
that trumps anything else you might want to say, unless you use it deliberately.
Eg to contrast something wild (or out of the pattern) against the formal arrangement.
I could I suppose have one skeleton in a formal balanced arrangement of rubber ducks.
This is the elaboration of the image of the mother and baby ducks above,
but using detail and contrast in the background to keep the viewer looking.
More complex, subtle and engaging - I think this is something that
would make me continue to look at an image after I'd had it for a while.
Not so much about meaning, but about viewer satisfaction!

The Golden Section or Golden ratio - proportion of 5 to 8 which is thought to be
a frequent ratio in nature and therefore intrinsically satisfying for human brains to look at.
Has been used by classical and contemporary artists, architects etc to guide composition.
There is also a rule of thirds which is that it looks interesting
to have images on the lines between thirds of the paper.
I didn't explore these ideas today.
Deliberately creating an image with no focal point or eye pathway, giving a different kind of unity and balance. This can either be by having a uniform texture over a symmetrical format (eg a square), or a different format with marks with equal emphasis so the eye moves across the surface evenly with the same level of interest in everything there.

Skin close up
An example of overall composition (well, almost, as the difference in focus in some areas does produce a slight focal point)
Thinking about what ideas this brings into the mind of the viewer, I'd say it makes us more aware of the detail, and lose some of our perspective on skin as a familiar useful thing that doesn't need our attention.
Could I make the great patterns and colour variations of the bones of the duck skeleton 'become' the overall composition
 in a way that would not produce vectors and focal points? I don't know, but I could try!

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