Today's post is by Lori Woodward. Lori earned a bachelor's degree in Art Education from the University of Arizona. As a freelance writer for various art publications, she has written more than 60 published articles for American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and International Artist Magazines since 1996. Her paintings, along with instructional articles, have been featured in Watercolor Magazine since 2007, and in American Artist's Highlights Issue, Step by Step 2011, with the article: "Moving into Acrylics". Woodward has co-authored the book, "Watercolor Step by Step" a Walter Foster Publication, and authored a chapter for Calvin Goodman's "Art Marketing Handbook for the 21st Century". She has been a member of the Putney Painters since 2004, a small invitational group of painters who are mentored by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.
During the late 1990's, I studied during summers with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Sondra taught the most amazing watercolor class, in that she knew every property of watercolor materials and technique, her husband Jack instructed about composition principles. I attended 6 or so summers and came away with an incredibly valuable education.
In this blog, I'll demonstrate a compositional concept that Jack Beal taught each summer... what he called, "The Door Jamb". Essentially, it boils down to this: Using a darkened foreground causes the viewer's gaze to step over the foreground and into the middle and far ground. Some instructors call this tool, a foil. In any case, I think of it as a curtain at the side foreground or a dark step at the bottom of the painting - that sets the base of the stage for the more important areas farther away. Incidentally, after I learned about this from Jack, I began to notice this concept in paintings everywhere - in magazine articles, museums, and galleries.
Above: Two paintings by Edgar Payne, where he casts the foreground into shadow. This tool, "the door jamb" causes the viewer to gaze around or over the area at the side or bottom of the painting and into lighter elements in the distance.
The door jamb application has largely fallen out of use with living artists, but I have seen it used here and there by representational artists. It's not a trick or something to be used on every painting - It's just a tool, and even historically, artists used it... sometimes, but not all the time. I use it because I like the way it looks, and it makes rendering a detailed foreground less complex because when it's cast in shadow, the values are tied closely together.
BELOW: #1 a plein air sketch I did in Putney VT - #2, Vermont Fields - by Lori Woodward, oil 12x18. The second painting is a re-designed interpretation of this scene. Here, I employed the door jamb look by making-up the foreground and placing it in shadow. This brings the viewer's attention to the lighter areas in the distant hills and accents the tree where its dark value meets the lighter distant hills.
Below: #1- plein air watercolor sketch. #2 - Jordan Pond by Lori Woodward 10x15 acrylic. On the 2nd painting, I designed the painting with a dark foreground jamb on the left so that the mountains in the distance command the scene. The darkened door jamb makes a complex foreground less important than the farground.
BELOW: Rosy Dusk, by Harriet Winchester Pastel 12x18. A friend of mine, Harriet Winchester, used the door jamb tool in her painting below. Not only did she darken the trees on the left, but she also re-designed the painting by moving the distant mountain into view - over the stream. In reality, the mountain cannot be seen from this vantage point, but this is one of the ways artists can tell the visual story their way.
Rosy Dusk, by Harriet Winchester Pastel 12x18
Below: The two examples: #1 by NC Wyeth,The White Company, and #2 by Vermeer, Officer and Laughting Girl, both show how artists can form a door jamb (darkened foreground) with figures. Door Jambs work for other subjects as well as for landscapes.
There are many more examples I could have included here, but doing so would make this newsletter too "big" to download easily. Here are two more examples - BELOW: #1 by Frederick Mulhaupt, Hailing From Gloucester, and #2 by Henry Pember Smith, Gathering Wood. Squint at these paintings below and you'll clearly see the silhouette of the door jamb.