When confronted with the last piece of pie my mother’s solution was to have my brother and I divide it. One of us would get to divide and then, the other would choose. Our scrutiny was fierce. But, my brother invented a new system. He divided it unevenly into a large piece and a small piece. As I went to make my choice he spit on the large piece. Oh the injustice! And, he is a litigating attorney and judge now. But, he was onto an arresting idea. Instantly, the unevenly divided pie drew more of my attention. We tend to order our world evenly and regularly. It relieves us of having to pay too much attention to everything. Order suggests artifice, the evidence of human activity. If you are planting a garden you don’t want to space your tulips to regularly; they will draw comic attention to themselves with their suspiciously conspicuous order. When John Ruskin (John Ruskin, Elements of Drawing) explained his principles of consistency and continuity he stressed that painters should repeat through variation not through exact duplication. Da Vinci advised artists to use flawed symmetry not perfect symmetry.
For example, whenever we think of making trees we tend not to construct a single mass for a group of trees. Instead, we think of trees individually therefore, we paint them that way even though our retinal image is of a single variegated mass. We find ourselves helplessly making individual tree shapes which we assemble in a line. We do this with everything we find in groups. Avoid this tendency unless you want to arouse alienating suspicions on the part of the viewer.
Here are some solutions around the problems of redundancy. Remember the more ordered and redundant your imagery the less attention the viewer will pay to the painting. No one pays attention to redundancies (repetitious regularities) because, we don’t need to pay attention. One look at a small section and we extrapolate the whole program; the remainder falls out of our attention. A pattern of bricks only gets our attention when it changes.
I will illustrate how to thwart our tendency toward redundancy, toward regularity. First I will illustrate the problem with continuous shapes then, I will illustrate how color too can fall victim to too much predictable regularity and must be arranged in transitional sequences just like shapes.
Example 1 presents a stand of conifers behind a rocky edge. In the first example you see how the diagrammed red line zigzags toward a summit, a principle singular up-reaching shape. The zigzag progression ascends then descends with flawed symmetry. If I had succumbed to thinking of this stand of conifers not as retinal singularity but rather as a linguistic thought as series of repeated conifers in a line then I would end up with the unvaried green zigzag line. I would have made a suspicious regularity. Because the conifers principally ascend from left to right I made the line of rocks descend in counterpoint from the left. Their edge has one dominant triangle while the others all go through a series of minor variations. Example 2 presents the image without the diagramming.
Example 3 presents an asymmetrical foreshortened serpentine design with superimposed diagrams. The red diagram illustrates regularity and without foreshortening. The shape would become suspiciously redundant, flat and unarresting like repetitive brickwork. Notice the green diagram line indicates the serpentine pattern I selected for the image vs. the regularized red serpentine. Example 4 presents the image without the diagrams.
Example 5. presents a forested image, the larger darker trees frame the outside edges of the image. They are flawed echoes of one another not twins.
Example 7 presents the evolution of an image. I first presented this image (example 6) in an earlier incarnation in a previous blogpost. I decided the image needed both more organization and more sequence variation (example 7). The asymmetrical cruciform design demonstrates a new organizing structure for the painting. The layers of sequential variations as seen in the floor, walls, and arrangement of abstracted figures have all been augmented with series of sequential variations.
Example 8 considers not only shape sequencing but, color progression as well. I also used color progressions in all of the above examples. Here the color transitions present colors loosely adhering to shapes contrasting with complementary colors vaguely inhabiting other adjacent shapes. The overall progression (from bottom to top) moves from more saturated colors to less saturated and lighter colors always in complementary arrangements. Flawed elliptical shape patterns overlay and underlie the color progressions.