Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eye Path part 2

James Gurney's,  Marketplace of Ideas, and the  computer research performed on his image.  From the     book Dinotopia:  Journey to Chandra.
The first comment posted by Mary Byrom took me to some interesting research on eye tracking.  The information was posted on the blog of James Gurney.
The research is found under the index of composition and is extremely revealing about how we look at images.  I have attached below the six conclusions drawn from the research.  We know the brain is a pattern seeking organ and wants to make recognizable sense out of what it sees.  The more obscure the image  is the harder the brain works to detect something recognizable.  When painting a still life, having a "mystery" that makes the viewer's eye linger to understand what something is, is a great technique. 

These experiments force us to question a few of our cherished notions about composition and picture-gazing.
1. The eye does not flow in smooth curves or circles, nor does it follow contours. It leaps from one point of interest to another. Curving lines or other devices may be "felt" in some way peripherally, but the eye doesn't move along them.

2. Placing an element on a golden section grid line doesn’t automatically attract attention. If an attention-getting element such as a face is placed in the scene, it will gather attention wherever you place it.

3. Two people don’t scan the same picture along the same route. But they do behave according to an overall strategy that alternates between establishing context and studying detail.

4. The viewer is not a passive player continuously controlled by a composition. Each person confronts an image actively, driven by a combination of conscious and unconscious impulses, which are influenced, but not determined, by the design of the picture.

5. The unconscious impulses seem to include the establishment of hierarchies of interest based on normal expectations or schema of a scene. For example, highly contrasting patterns of foliage or branches will not directly draw the gaze unless they are perceived as anomalous in the peripheral vision.

6. As pictorial designers we shouldn’t think in abstract terms alone. Abstract design elements do play a role in influencing where viewers look in a picture, but in pictures that include people or animals or a suggestion of a story, the human and narrative elements are what direct our exploration of a picture.

As Dr. Edwards succinctly puts it, “abstract design gets trumped by human stories.” The job of the artist, then, in composing pictures about people is to use abstract tools to reinforce the viewer’s natural desire to seek out a face and a story.
           Because a still life doesn't usually have a face in it (some do have photos, etc.), we have to think        differently about what draws the eye in.  If you are a still life painter, how do you plan your compositions?  Once again my thanks to Mary Byrom who brought this research to my attention.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eye Path

               Memories of Key West    11"X14"
Blogging about beginnings provided much needed insight on the process of starting.  Was there one right way?  From all of you who gave me insight into your beginnings coupled with what the master artists said, the answer is a resounding No.  I do know that the beginning you choose plays a large part on how it will look in the end.  Consequently, have the end in mind before you begin.
Now I have another issue that has plagued me for a long time.  The idea of composition and the placement of the elements that create an eye path for the viewer.  Countless books demonstrate how your eye moves throughout  a painting.  Arrows are drawn showing the movement around the elements.  Although academically it makes sense, my eye doesn't move around the way the arrows show.  Usually it goes directly to the most interesting aspect of the work and it stays there.  Only then do I look around at the other elements.   Then last week I read in an excerpt from a book on composition that said,   "One enters a painting from neither the left nor right, but from the front, going straight to that element of greatest contrast nearest the center."  BINGO!  That's what happens to me.  Someone had finally described my experience.  So my question to you is--am I not understanding eye path?  Are these eye path arrows more about good composition and not so much about how the viewer looks at a painting?  Or is this movement so quick that our brain only registers the final stopping point (focal point) in the painting?   Memories of Key West (above and with the top cut off) seems to have an eye path but it's the shell where my eye goes to first and lingers.  It's only after going to the shell  that I look at the glass lantern and crinkled paper.  Another thought might be that painters look at paintings differently than the general public. In your experience, do you compose your composition with eye movement in mind?  How do you view a painting?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beginnings-More of Richard Schmid

Richard Schmid's beginning

After a short “sick” break, I continue now with two more ‘beginnings.’ These are from Richard Schmid’s book Alla Prima.

The first three methods I blogged about earlier provides much more support for the novice painter. These two methods below require a greater skill in judging correct value, color, and shape. I would not recommend them for the beginner. The Full Color Accurate Block-In begins with a tonal wash applied over the entire canvas. Pick a large mass/shape and lay it in with correct colors and values. Schmid reminds the reader to paint it as correctly and as completely as possible with its true value, color, and edges. The adjoining shape is done next in the same way, and continues connecting each shape that borders the previous one. He cautions that excessive modeling with value changes in the lights and shadows will undermine the design structure. Use color changes instead. I also find temperature changes work as well.

The last method is called Selective Start. This is Schmid’s favorite way of beginning. Although it sounds like the previous method, the difference is he begins with a point, not the largest mass. Begin by painting each little shape as carefully as you can from the start. Do it in as finished a way as possible, and use each correct color shape to guide you in painting all adjoining shapes. Build your picture in this way from a single accurate point, painting outward from that center, until you have the painting you want before you. He calls the final stage “mopping up.” Here Schmid checks for drawing errors, eliminates any unnecessary value changes and checks the overall design for simplicity.

As you can see, this is not for a beginner but it does sound like a goal to move toward. I’ve seen him demo portraits this way and he begins with the eye and works out from that point.  Looking at all the previous methods for starting a painting, do you have a different method that you find to be as valid as the ones featured here?  Please let me know so I can share with my readers.

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