Last week I introduced the seven basic visual elements (line, shape, value, texture, space, form, and color.) Everything that we see is made up of those seven elements, and they are all competing for our attention all the time. Maybe that’s why we sleep with our eyes closed.
So how do we cope with all that visual stimulus so that we know what to pay attention to and what to ignore? The left side of our brain only requires us to look at something long enough to identify it and categorize it. Is the red glow a sunset or a fire? And if it is a fire is it a supervised bonfire or the neighbor’s house? Once we determine that everything can be identified and doesn’t require a response from us, we are quick to dismiss it visually.
However the artist doesn’t look at the world from that pragmatic left brain perspective. The artist looks at things as unique combinations of line, shape, value, texture, space, form and color. Sometimes the combinations are pleasing and even inspiring and when they are the artist is prompted to recreate the impression. To do so the artist has to use the same seven visual elements in a challenging balancing act because some things get more attention than others; i.e., big things get noticed more than small things, bright colors more than soft colors, straight lines more irregular lines, and rough texture gets more attention than smooth texture. Additionally you can make an element be visually more attention getting by repeating it.
Sometimes the visual elements get away from us and become visually more important or less important than we needed to achieve our goal. Let me demonstrate this from one of my own projects:
We have a lake cabin that I dearly love. I am always so enchanted by the way the light filters through the trees and glitters in the water of the creek. I took the following picture in preparation for trying to capture the impression in an oil painting.
Here is a copy of my first attempt. The diagonal lines leading upward from left to right became visually too dominating and tend to lead the eye right out of the canvas. Remember that my goal was to capture the impression of the light reflecting off of the water so the lights in the water have to remain the center of attention by being the visually more important. However, since the diagonal line is repeated at the top of the bank, the water’s edge on the far side of the creek and at foreground water’s edge as well as in the leaning trees, that element (the diagonal line) has become the more dominating element in the painting.