Painting and Composition: Tried & True Tips for Art Teachers

By Greenman, Geri | Arts & Activities, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Painting and Composition: Tried & True Tips for Art Teachers


Greenman, Geri, Arts & Activities


Like a composer works with rhythm, melody and harmony, an artist works with balance, unity, rhythm, proportion and emphasis. (1) Each principle creates a sense of balance and interest while weaving many parts together into a pleasing whole. These principles are different than the elements of art: line, shape, color, form, texture, space and value, which we can see; whereas, we can feel the principles of design, not tactually, but with our art hearts and our natural senses. Eventually, using these concepts seems effortless--every now and then visual rules need to be tweaked to achieve our desired effects, but it comes naturally.

By giving your students a basic understanding of placement on the picture plane, an understanding of perspective and how to use color to suggest distance, and other tried and true techniques, your students will use this knowledge to find their own aesthetic and create their own unique art.

TIP #1

I NEED MY SPACE Show examples of how space and distance in a composition are achieved using warm and cool colors. Generally cool colors recede, while warm colors advance toward the viewer. Colorist Franz Marc is an excellent example of how color affects the viewer, with his red horses or yellow cows in the foreground.

On the other hand, da Vinci's Mona Lisa is familiar and a good example of the blurring of objects that are farther away from the viewer, highlighting his sfumato technique. There are myriad examples of how to use color to give the illusion of distance or depth.

For extra excitement, show your students a selection from Bridget Riley, the Op (optical art) artist whose use of curvilinear lines and proximity of those lines create tension on the viewer's eye, creating the sensation of movement on a static surface.

TIP #2

GENERALLY SPEAKING ... No matter what the age of your students, it's a good idea to work general to specific. Everyone has tried to avoid this at times, wanting to get to the meat and potatoes of a subject, but we all discover that if you paint a lovely little flower with eight perfect petals and then try to convincingly paint a sky around it, the sky is usually a disaster.

Details appear closer, and are lower on the picture plane, while objects that are higher on the picture plane appear further away and are lacking detail. The old adage--work general to specific, background to foreground--has some merit.

TIP #3

PETER PIPER PICKED THE PERFECT PAINT If you're working with acrylic paint, extenders will sometimes help, but acrylics do dry quickly so your students will need to learn how to cope with them. If you're teaching a specific class in painting, acrylics could be used for an alla-prima (all at once) painting, then there wouldn't be a problem with dried-out paint, as the painting would be done within the class time. This is an amazing experience because it has a tendency to force us to describe things in a general way without focusing on details.

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Painting and Composition: Tried & True Tips for Art Teachers
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