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Abstracting the Landscape

All good paintings begin with an abstract design.

Gestalt or composition, is the overall design of the finished painting, not just the passages and parts that stand out, but the negative spaces as well. Starting off with a good Gestalt is key to making a good painting.

To determine the Gestalt, you may need to abstract the design down to the basic shapes and values. Let's try this together.

Here's a photo that has some potential but needs help to be a good painting.

Photos are already cropped and show you exactly what the photographer wants you to see. Painters need to interpret the photo, and decide what they want to focus attention on and downplay.

First, I make a Notan which is a simple black and white drawing (usually with a marker to keep me from getting details). This shows the very basic composition. What you want to see in a Notan, is the eye moving around the page and not coming to abrupt halt or running off the page.

Think of the dark lines in the Notan as being paths that the viewer's eyes take. Do they follow the path to a focal point or does the path take them right out of the painting to the next painting hanging in the group show?

Once you've established the Notan, you have an idea of the composition and focal point. The focal point is where your lightest-light meets your darkest-dark. You have some control over this and can put it where you want to in any painting.

Then you can establish the values. Here's a quick value sketch showing just basic shapes and values 1-5.

The simple shapes in this composition according to value are:

  1. focal point of the sun coming through the trees

  2. (cool color) triangular shape of the water also the sidewalk is a 2 (warm color)

  3. grassy areas

  4. cast shadows of palms on the pavement

  5. palms

Once you have the values in place, you no longer need the reference photo to finish this painting! You can literally paint by numbers!

I assign numbers to values so that I can simplify my colors and shapes. I assign color temperature to make colors that are the same value read more accurately.

Tune in next week to see how to make a color study of this and a finished painting.

Want to see this happen live? Join me for Abstracting the Landscape online class starting Weds. 6-8pm in October. Register on my page online classes.


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