Today's post is by Lori Woodward, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. 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. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
This is part two on using straight lines to block in subjects in the drawing stage of a painting.
Below - a Sketch By Edgar Payne. Notice how Payne draws in the shapes of the tree masses using straight angular lines. This method works very well to give the tree volume and character.
What advantages does using straight lines afford the artist while painting landscapes?
One, designating shapes in straight, angled lines enhances the character of the object. Two - we are less inclined to repeat similar shapes in hilltops, tree limbs, and rocks. Repetitive shapes with similar sizes are boring, and although in nature, each tree, rock and mountain crag has its own personality, for some reason, we humans have a hard time seeing and drawing the variety that is there. Drawing with straight lines has helped me make those shapes, masses and layers interesting.
Perhaps it's because nature is "just one little bit" this side of chaos... Humans build homes with straight walls - up and down, no diagonals - so that the house stands straight without leaning, so if we're not careful while drawing, we'll make all our trees perfectly vertical, symetrical and rounded like balloons. In reality, trees lean this way and that, and all their limbs have different sizes that point in a variety of directions. Even in a stand of tree groupings, each one has its own color and character.
Below: Photographs, plein air sketches, and re-designed studies of Somes Sound, a scene at Acadia National Park in Maine.
Below: A photograph taken at the apex of Somes Sound.
Below: A plein air sketch I did of Somes Sound (detail). I often record a view in pencil or charcoal from life. I changed the shape and character of the smaller tree on the left because the original shape is too rounded - like a cotton ball.
Below: A pencil study where I redesigned the mountain and tree shapes in preparation for a larger painting. While I like the detail in the plein air sketch (which I needed in order to remember what the actual scene looked and felt like) drawing the scene with straight, angular lines produces a more powerful compositional statement. I particularly wanted to emphasize the unusual shape of the background mountain.
Below: A detailed drawing that I did several years ago based on the plein air study. This drawing is fairly true to the scene and the original sketch, yet I "angularized" the shape of the mountains, trees and shorelines.
Somes Sound, charcoal over acrylic wash 5"x10". Private collection.
Keep in mind that photographs look flat, but dividing each part into receding layers with lines creates depth. If I then put a veil of atmosphere in each receding layer, the final painting will show distance and not feel flat, as it does in a photo.
Below: Photograph of the Beehive at Acadia National Park. Below Right: divided with straight lines. Notice how the lines determine which mass of trees is closer to the viewer, and which is slightly farther away. When I paint these layers, I'll make each slightly different in value and color temperature from its neighboring layer - to show depth and visual interest. Our job as artists is to make photographs boring by camparison to our paintings even if we are representational painters.
Below: another example of defining shapes with straight lines. Notice how dividing up the trees on the left gives them individual character while avoiding repetitive dagger like shapes.
Below: A preliminary, re-designed composition.