My Work – Repeating Shapes for Rhythm and Balance

Rough Wall - 2013 - 9¾ x 13 in - mixed water soluble media

This recent still life is an excellent example of using shapes for continuity or rhythm in a composition.  Repeating shape motifs organize my considerations, permitting me to search for an interesting arrangement within the context of my chosen shapes -(rectangles, half ovals and triangles).  I begin with the basic rectangle of the table.  The rest of the composition is not predetermined, but rather develops through playfully scratching in the paint, then removing and rearranging the shapes until I respond to their relationships.

Next I playfully marked in two parallels which define the edges of the tablecloth.  Can you feel how your eye moves up and to the right along the angle determined by the edges?  I also played with the half oval shapes of the chair and the place mat, adjusting their relative positions and sizes until I found myself marking three rhythmic half ovals on the wall above.  I then refined the shapes which were formed by the tablecloth painting them blue to represent the table.  There is a very important triangle at the bottom (on the tablecloth) which leads you  towards the boxes and a playful small one just below the boxes.  I also indicated a partial triangle above on the wall.  I am now responding to the painting and continued to orchestrate with various markings to enhance the viewer’s participation

I love spatial planes which also can be read as shapes.  There are two in the painting, which I marked in just after the half ovals.  One is the sense of a rectangle protruding above the top edge of the table and the other on the wall, which appears the come forth.  I like the sense of depth they provide and their relationship with the shapes of the boxes and the blue cup.


My Work – Working with Shapes and Spatial Planes

Blue Table - 2012 - 10 x 12½ in (24.7 x 32 cm) - mixed water soluble media

I find it interesting how restriction can lead to new considerations, such as becoming involved with spatial planes as we see in my painting  “Blue Table”.  Presenting a harmony with planes and shapes can be quite elusive and I love the challenge. They always seem fresh to me because they are not predetermined, except for the primary shapes, which intentionally read as a still life.  I then play with the shapes and planes until I begin to respond to their relationships and I must say they are not meant to be apparent.  I wish the viewer to “feel” rather than see them.

Let me begin with the shapes which provide the lyrical unity of the composition.  To ensure this, I used an arrangement of rectangles and triangles, conveying harmonious relationships.   I actually adjusted their sizes, colours, values and locations several times until my sense of harmony was satisfied.  I enjoy this immensely, and working  and reworking water soluble media permits endless play.

Now to the planes which providing the sense of space.  They are both shapes and edges of shapes which connect or integrate elements in the painting.  For instance. the left side of the table integrating with the edge of a plane above, which then takes your perusal to the cool rectangle above the orange stripe.  You then take in the yellow triangle.  Can you feel the yellow triangle sitting on a vertical plane which seems to come forth?  The feeling of space is also felt where the top edge of the table shifts, merging the table and the wall as well as providing the sense of movement.  The small box is also sitting on a plane, and I love that small angle below the rhythm of black dots and how it comes forth.

I mustn’t finish without pointing out how the blue triangles provide a base for the composition and I’m very pleased with the triangles at the top corners as well.  I then provided a curve within the soaking pan which leads you towards the box through the four dots, which were rearranged a number of times.  There is another relationship providing an important rhythmic support for the prominent black sides of the soaking pan.  It’s the long parallel rectangle adjacent to the blue triangle to the right.  This came forth during the process.  I am grateful for having the patience to allow a composition to evolve, no matter how many revisions are required.

I hope you enjoy finding other subtle notes, such as the little black line at the top of the blue triangle at the left .  Can you feel it’s impact?

Balthus – ( Rhythmic Integration and Motifs)

Balthus - The Bouquet of Roses on the Window - 1958 - 53 x 51 in - oil on canvas

Balthus shows us how elegant a very popular subject can be.  It’s not the subject, but rather his interpretation and knowledge of composition that makes the painting great.  In this posting I will focus on how he supports, or as I prefer, how he integrates the flowers with the fields and trees behind.

Lets begin with the tree to the right and how the circular shapes in the foliage harmonize with the flowers and also lead your eye towards the bouquet.  Another great relationship is how the top shape in the tree echoes the shape of the largest rose.   Balthus rhythmically uses a circular motif, which is very sensitive and sophisticated.  Also, can you feel your eye being carried upwards from the lower part of the rose through the smaller rose then connecting to the tree through the leaf?   A great example of how poetic integration can be.
I should mention another very sensitive integration.  There is a small “S” like vertical line in the field at the upper right.  I hope you can feel how the line rhythmically integrates with the delicate tree at the bottom right.  It is meant to be felt, even subconsciously, more than seen.

Now to the left of the flowers where the rhythmic movement of the foreground trees integrate beautifully with the bouquet.  I am taken with how the small rose bud flows into the large tree and how the leaf just below the bud integrates with movements in the field, especially the curved one below the tree which harmonizes beautifully with the curve in the leaf.

I have only touched on a very few of many sophisticated considerations in this painting and I hope you will try to discover more of them.  One I would like to mention is how Balthus emphasized the shading in the shutter to connect to the distant hill, the green field as well as the hedge.  Everything is assessed with composition in mind.  I also love the triangle motif harmonizing the fields with the windowsill.  His thoroughness is masterful!

Influences – (Cezanne on Matisse)

Henri Matisse - First Orange Still Life - 1899 - 56 x 73 cm - oil on canvas

Permitting the work of notable artists to show in your development has a great tradition, and can lead to a commitment or direction.  The key is being aware of the difference between influence and copying.

The above development level painting by Matisse is a good example of having too many considerations .  We have difficulty moving gracefully through the painting because he is more focused on information (what he sees), rather than adjusting for the sake of composition.


Henri Matisse - Still Life with Oranges II - 1899 - 47 x 55 cm - oil on canvas

In this painting, done in the same year, Matisse is permitting Cezanne’s considerations of  reduced modelling by allowing shapes and colour to come forth.  He has become aware of the power of shapes and colour and how to use them to create harmony in composition.  We see this in the fruit, the cup and the pitcher as well as the large shapes in the background.  How he chose where not to use shadows is impressive because he is freeing himself from depiction.  He reduced the fruit on the table to coloured circles because through studying Cezanne, he realized that modelling would only disrupt the rhythm of the circles and unnecessarily clutter the painting, as we see in  “First Orange Still Life” above.

He did not copy, as he flattened the fruit more than Cezanne had done.  We see the influence as well as the next step towards what we see as a Matisse.

Showing influence and acknowledging it is a great way to develop.

Influences – (Cezanne on Mondrian)

Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Jinger Jar I - 1912 - 65 x 75 cm - oil on canvas

This painting by Mondrian is an excellent example of master painters permitting influences to show in their work.  Mondrian is acknowledging the importance of the great considerations of Cezanne, and his refinements are wonderful.

In this painting he provides a balance between traditional representation and the new approach to creating the sense of space.  We see this at the bottom right where he provided a couple of angles and a horizontal line.  These create planes in space which are meant to be felt more than seen.  Can you feel the space in front of the table?

When we focus on the drapery we sense volume and space through the feeling of overlapping triangles which also are raised towards the picture plane.  What impresses me is that diagonal which seems to come forth and how it also parallels beautifully with a second angle, the one connecting to the top of the blue ginger jar.  Again try to feel the space between the parallels.

When these spatial considerations were coming to the forefront in painting something interesting also took hold. It was the idea of suggesting rather than explaining, and Mondrian displays this idea in how he treats the subject matter in the upper right of the picture.This is just one of the seeds that will eventually lead Mondrian towards abstraction.


Balthus – (Shapes and Rhythm)

Balthus - Large Landscape with Trees - 1955 - 114 x 162 cm - oil on canvas


This great landscape by Balthus is a superb example of the power of shapes and rhythm.  Before we get to that I would like to emphasise that Balthus is conveying a poetic scene  for our engagement, and very aware that most of us will sense the sophistication without the need to analyse the composition.

Now to the great pleasure of analysing his masterful composition.  Lets begin with the powerful large shape formed by the wall at the right and the hedge leading us across the painting to the dark trees at the left edge.  Also the fields could be combined to form the feeling of a very large shape which dramatically draws us in.  For me, the key of this brilliant arrangement of shapes is the power of the angle formed by the wall and the hedge, which contains and embraces the focus of the man and the horse.

The rhythms within this shape are wonderful, and I marvel at his level of contemplation.  I love how poetically every tree supports the communication between the man and the horse.  How the rhythm of the delicate light trees harmonize with their gestures and how the wonderful vertical ones gracefully support the figure.  Note how the right leaning rhythm of the trees ends with ends by connecting to the tree leaning to the left, which in turn is supported by three trees at the left.  Can you feel the harmony?

I will finish with the relationship of the dark tree just above the figure and how it relates, in shape and size, with that fantastic pull in the field above.  One of the best pulls I have seen.  You may carry on, as there are many other beautiful notes for you to discover.

Balthus was a great master of composition.

Balthus – (Rhythm, Integration and Motifs)

Balthus - The Sheep Farm - 1957 - 1960 - 50 x 102 cm - oil on canvas

I find myself revisiting Balthus for his work to remind myself how thoroughly composition can and should be assessed.  I always discover something new, reminding me that there are no limits to refining a composition whether representational or abstract.  I think it’s rather comforting knowing a work will never be fully realized. Time and experience will determine how well we do or assess.

Painting cultivated land provides a wonderful opportunity for integrating and developing rhythm in a painting and Balthus has done it beatufully in this serene farm scene.  We are harmoniously guided through the landscape to the gorgeous group of buildings which Balthus adjusts to harmonize with the land.   There are a number of pathways and rhythmic lines and shapes leading us to the buildings and I will guide you through a few.

Lets begin with a series of parallels which lead you towards the focus from the left of the painting.  Your eye will run along the line with a little shed and you will then feel yourself gracefully moving to the buildings when you sense the rhythmic parallels below.  You are also sensitively directed towards the buildings from the upper left and right of the painting.  I marvel at how he supports the rhythmic movements with absolutely wonderful structure,  integrating the fields with the buildings.  He accomplished this with triangles which provide the primary motif of the composition.

I am very impressed with how Balthus adjusted the shapes of the buildings to harmonize with the land and discovering the reason for that small dark vertical at the bottom was a pleasure.  It provides subtle structure and integrates with a leaning bush above which directs you to the buildings.

I must also the beautiful embracing arch above the large building and how it integrates with the buildings bringing us to the wonderful white shape, which is actually the focus.  When you view the light areas on the buildings can you feel the pull of the tiny white shed at the left?

I will always return to appreciate and learn.



Hopper – (Rhythmic Pull, Integration and Shapes)

Edward Hopper - American Landscape - 1920 - 7.5 x 12.5 in - etching

This wonderful etching is a superb example of how important the knowledge of  composition is in all forms of expression.

Hopper’s exquisite use of rhythm is one of the best examples I know of.  The three cows rhythmically lead us into the landscape to a wonderful light patch, just above the cow crossing the tracks.  This beautiful consideration takes us beyond the cows to the powerful shape of the trees and beyond.

There is also a superb integration of the centre cow with a small triangle structure just beyond the tracks.  Can you see how the back of the cow’s neck connects to the triangle and then how you harmoniously read the other triangle at the right of the house?  Another sensitive relationship is between the cow on the tracks and the sunlit side of the house.  They harmonize in value and size beautifully.

The foundation of three horizontal rectangles in this composition is a great example of reducing to a few shapes.  The power of shape motifs is very important and master artists are very aware of how superfluous detail can weaken a composition.

Great composition does not need to rely on size or detail.

Mondrian – (Integration and Rhythmic Shape Motifs)

Piet Mondrian - Farm at Duivendrcht - 1907 - 87 x 109 cm - oil on canvas

This beautifully rendered painting by Mondrian is a superb example of sophisticated  integration.  We see this in how he poetically harmonized the trees with the house.  Let’s begin with the tree at the left and the subtle parallel of the lower branch with the roof line.  The relationship provided is a form of integration and can also be considered harmony and structure as well.  Now to the next tree and how it blends with the roof line.  The third tree from the left also parallels the roof line, then connects to the chimney.  The fourth tree follows the roof at the right and then continues up to form a triangle shape with the large tree leaning in from the right. This triangle form echoes the triangle shapes of the house, providing a beautiful rhythm, or triangle motif. We then continue with the rhytms of the earlier trees with the large branch going to the right in this large tree.  The group of trees at the right form a large shape which provides a counter movement paralleling the right sides of the triangle shapes in the house.  There are more waiting to be discovered.

I would like to mention the birds, which Mondrian used as a refinement to the composition.  Note how they extend, or integrate with, the large shape of the trees, guiding you down to the left tree.  And how two of the birds integrate with the large branch of the large tree at the right, and how that little bird at the right of the trees connects to the tree below.  If the bird was further from the trees  the connection would dissipate.  The location of the bird would also integrate work elsewhere, the key is the distance between the chosen branch and the bird.

A master painter is very aware of the importance of every mark and how it relates to the composition.

I would like to take you to the water at the bottom right of the painting and why he choose not to show the reflection of the sky.  The reason being it would compete with the focus of the painting by drawing us down to the bottom.  This is an excellent example of composition before information!


Another note:

It’s good to be aware that the movement towards abstraction came through figurative painters, as we see in Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Nicholson and many others in this period of great change in painting.


My Work – Shape Motifs, Parallels and Rhythm

Don Farrell - Blue Stripes IV - 2004 - 21 x 29 in - mixed water soluble media

This is a composition which I will continue to revisit as I feel it has endless possibilities for refinement.  I think it is very important to establish a personal and recognizable feel for my paintings.  I have learned this from painters such as Morandi, Mondrian, Matisse and many others.

I am intrigued with the possibilities presented through reduction, and I usually find myself focusing on spatial considerations. This requires removing the superfluous and bringing the composition to the forefront.

Using shape motifs is a great way to establish the foundation of a composition.  In this painting I provided a rectangle motif supported by an oval sub motif.  And I rearranged their sizes and spacing a number of times before I was satisfied.  The white oval above the table appeared late in the painting and I felt it provided both balance, and a little competition, for the shapes and colour on the table.

The three small white lines just above the left edge of the table provide rhythmic movement and keep you in the composition.  There is a vertical at the right directs your eye movement, connecting to a subtle line which loops over the white oval, returning you to the three white lines and then to the shapes on the table.

I must mention the line in the white oval which parallels the blue stripes.  This provides a very important rhythmic integration.

In composition all of the above should be “sensed” rather than seen.