In Control of Design
By JOY DE GEUS
Talking with confidence about your own art is tricky as you are your own worst critic. I have no excuse - I started early and realised that if I didn’t paint I became crabby!
Teaching was an obvious step as I do like talking about Art. For this article I have been asked to discuss composition and how I go about it. When I talk to Alan Aldridge of the Kiwi Arthouse (my mentor) about what makes a painting good, we both agree that it has to have ‘zing’. ‘Zing’ is either there or it is not.
One of the contributing elements is definitely composition, but light and colour also play a big part.
To illustrate how I go about my composition, I will use the painting Bush Walk as an example. I wanted to do a painting with native bush as I love the earthy colours and the way the sunlight plays on the foliage. So my oldest daughter and I headed to the Gully beside our house. I saw a spot where the light was forcing its way through the pungas and knew that it would give my painting that ‘zing’. In the composition of the painting, Mabel stands high up on the paper. The lines of the foliage under her feet draw your eyes towards the light.
The punga leaves were scattered haphazardly on the ground, but with a few simple adjustments to the lines, I accentuate the direction to create a less haphazard design. The detail of leaves and bush turns the painting into a mirage of shapes and shades of green and brown and the outlines of the areas become blurred because of the excess of light.
Light is a very dynamic element and because of its temporal quality it is well suited to watercolour. It plays with your eyes and makes you ask yourself what is really there. I like the way it sometimes makes you think you have a blot on your glasses! Once I had an elderly gentleman tell me quite emphatically, that I had missed an area of my painting!
When I find the spot and the moment, I look at the composition and decide what I want to emphasise. The painting is often a combination of many views. This is where a little experience of 5th Form Tech drawing comes in handy, as it allows you to incorporate everything you want into the painting and still make it look credible. I was also lucky to do Perspective Drawing in my Art Degree in Amsterdam, and I draw on these skills often in painting and teaching. I always say to adults and children that you are in control of your painting. The way you define composition and colour use is your own personal signature. This is what makes your painting interesting and is the luxury you have as an artist.
I started as a Graphic Designer and this can be seen in the illustrative detail of my paintings. After training and working in Design for five years, I stopped as I felt it was restricting the spontaneity my style. However the training in design seems to have stayed with me. I did have one of my teachers at Art School say that my style was too ‘virtuous’, and he made me draw for six months with my left hand. A very good exercise! When applying colour, I will do this in layers, as I love intensity of colour. This can only be attained by first putting a wash layer over my paper of the purer lighter colours. Then to get the intensity I desire, I will often use liquid paint out of the tube, which I mix on my tray with other colours. I never use black out of the tube as I feel this kills colour. My darker colours are always a mix of the other darker tints I am using on my painting. I am continually squinting with my eyes to maintain the depth of colour appropriate to the area, so that I do not lose the contrast of lights and darks so important to the composition.
Technical knowledge is valuable and it can give you more control over your materials and methods. This has always been the goal of my lessons, but as Peter Coates said in the last newsletter, ‘use of technique is good when you are saying something, but if you are saying something boring, then it is not art’. I do paint en plein air, but more and more I relish the detail I can achieve at my painting desk. I can tell the story, rather than portraying exactly what is there.
I try to achieve the ‘zing’ by capturing that special moment of magical light with my camera and then adding my own composition and colours.