Monday, April 20, 2015

Landscape Painting and the Guiding Rules of Design, Harmony & Balance

Throughout painting history, artists have explored and exploited the landscape as a very important theme for expression. Landscape which generally means any form of portrayal of the earth in cognisance of the natural environment is a classical concept for romantic painters. Usually, it is either a mere portrayal or composition of nature per se, or an assemblage of nature with human intervention as regards the land, and or with an attendant body of water to it like the sea or river, etc.

I like to further describe landscape painting as the artist’s portrayal of any view of countryside, town, land and sky, water or even sea, in a panoramic, grandiose, local or intimate style. In drawing and painting landscapes however, all the elements of design and the ingredients of composition must be brought to bear because in the final analysis, no matter how colourful or populated your expression may be, if it tends to make the viewer overtly uncomfortable, then something must be perhaps technically wrong with it.

Watercolour painting: (c) Morgan Nwanguma

Thus a sense of balance and harmony must be enjoyed by anyone who views your landscape painting. There must be a sense of design which welds your composition in a harmonious and rhythmic fashion: the plains, rolling hills, the rivers or sea, must correspond with the sky and the entirety of nature, animals, human beings and structures, while producing a successful ‘piece of visual enjoyment’. 

When considering landscapes, I am forced to bring to mind old masters such as the duo of British greats - JMW Turner (1775-1851), and John Constable (1776-1837). Turner was an English landscape painter whose treatment of light and colour is said to have influenced the French impressionists. These old masters were outstanding and eloquent in the use of the two most important mediums of painting i.e. oil and watercolour. Personally, landscape painting is one of my favourite themes, and it draws with it and for me nostalgia and romantic sentimentalism. Quaint and natural landscapes especially of (rural) country sides, and even ruins, are just it for me, while some artists I know are also able to portray urban and city landscapes in a manner that will make you just fall in love.

Sometimes in a bid to show how much there is about a particular location or subject matter, I find myself dwelling on a subject or theme over and over again. But this is the reality of artistic attachment and view on composition because you could actually depict a particular concept from ten different interpretations or perspectives, and each one will definitely be distinct from the others.

It is a well known fact that for instance, Turner visited the Salisbury Cathedral (England) several times and gave the world a good number of views of the spire to enjoy; so did he of the Thames River and the Houses of Parliament, etc.

'Venice, from the porch of Madonna della Salute' - Painting by Turner

In executing landscape paintings, some other basics such as guiding rules are well worthy of mention here. I particularly find it exciting discussing landscapes in regards to these guiding principles and rules because of the nostalgic feelings of my basic art classes in secondary school, etc. And of course this discipline was upped in full measure in studio training in art school in later years. Perspective seems to be the most important of the basic technical skills bothering on the understanding of drawing, and landscape for that matter. In this wise, you are being called to higher heights in which foreshortening for instance as a major trick of composition must be understood and mastered. 

Also, landscape painting affords you the opportunity to encounter and understand more the interplay of the climate in weather and atmospheric conditions such as – aerial perspective. Thus you are able to understand with deeper insight the feeling and the sense of distance and by extension, foreground and back ground, by sheer power of observation. By this same token, you are able to properly apply your skills to achieve illusion of space and distance through colour perspective. 

For maximum success with your landscape pictures, I urge you to ensure this discipline while emphasising and focusing more on the main areas of your composition. For instance, the foreground should be given less space and details just like the camera already does for us in ‘professional’ photography, by blurring out the less important areas and concentrating the more on the main subject matter.

By Morgan Nwanguma

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