Compounding Design

posted in: Painting | 3

The Gestalt principle of similarity reveals how we organize visual fields using similar characteristics to group, identify and place shapes. We gather and arrange these similars in fundamental shapes like the “T”, “V”, “S”, or curved “C” forms.  The “T” is a foundation architectural shape as well as being the basis for describing geometry with the crossed X and Y axis (see example 1).  If the “T” form is compounded, overlapped, and arranged with varying sizes we have an example of how to create space and rhythm with a group of variable “similars”. This process was distilled by Piet Mondrian and Bauhaus artists and architects of the early 20th century but, it has been used since the earliest Egyptian architecture.

Example 1.  “T” form along with compounded “T”s,

Another organizing shape is the hub-and-spoke pattern (see example 2). This principle relies on radians fanning out from a central point or hub.  It begins with the “V” form and then fan-radiates. If an artist compounds the two principles of radiating hubs with compounded “T” forms then, a dynamic asymmetrical composition with a strong feeling of space and motion can be created (see also example 2). You can find examples of this in the work of contemporary artists like Julie Mehretu.

Example 2.  Hub-and-spoke pattern and, compounded,

If we take these patterns and fit them to the principles of linear perspective (i.e. using vanishing points and a common eye-level) then, we can persuade the beholder (viewer) that we have a persuasive illusion of space. Linear perspective manuals from the 17th and 18th century did this.  Examples 3 and 4 present two pages from perspective manuals of the 1700s.

In Example 3 observe a central vanishing point which creates a hub-and-spoke pattern as the walls all converge to the vanishing point. Notice in example 4 how the rising and descending stairs offer two “V” patterns but, with different vanishing points than those on the central eye-level. The ascending stairs use a vanishing point above the eye-level and the descending stairs use one below the eye-level.

Example 3. From Kirby’s “Perspective of Architecture “ 1761, form and shadow study.

Example 4. From Thomas Malton’s “A Compleat Treatise on Architecture” 1779.

In my following examples I use the compounded “T” and “hub-and-spoke” patterns along with rising and descending vanishing points.  These images help flesh out the ideas presented above.

Example 5 is a variation on the schematic design  featured in example 2. I double layered images of the Brooklyn Bridge to help amplify the feeling of compounded designs.

Example 5. Brooklyn Bridge painting on laminated aluminum, 36×36,

Example 6 presents my experience of an approach to NYC’s 59th Street Bridge.  This image offers rising and descending vanishing points as well as rotation and curvature.  By blurring the image of cars I can imply speed to the movement of the painting. Notice how I adhered to the shadow demonstration in Kirby’s example 3.

Example 6. Approach to the 59th Street Bridge, 24×48,

Mirroring as seen in reflections  can use a common eye-level and vanishing point. Example 7 presents an example of this with a puddle in Midtown Manhattan.

Example 7. “Electric Reflections”, 24×24,

If you find yourself in the Portland, Oregon area for the first Friday of September (September 1st)  then please join me early that evening  for a reception and exhibition of my new works at the Attic Gallery in Camas, Washington (just across the river from Portland). The Attic Gallery is at 421 NE Cedar Street, Camas, Washington.

If you find yourself near Sharon or Lakeville Connecticut on Saturday, September 16 then join me for a reception and opening of my works at the White Gallery in Lakeville, Connecticut, 342 Main Street. The exhibition is titled “David Dunlop’s Electric Cities”. The reception runs from 5 to 7 pm.

Join me this November at Art of the Carolinas November 10, 11, and 12.  Contact Jerry’s Artarama.

November 10 workshop is: New Tools, Techniques and Textures. Use registration code FR1709.

November 11 workshop is: Methods of the Ancients with Flowers and Landscapes. Use registration code SA1709.

November 12 workshop is: Fast City Life. Explore new methods, tools and perspectives to evoke cityscapes. Use registration code SU1709.

Visit then, enter art of the Carolinas in their search box to register for the workshops or, go directly to or, call 800 827 8478 ext 156.






3 Responses

  1. David, these are superb. And thank you for the insights. Very helpful.

    p.s. I love your new Youtube video. I’ve ordered Dibond panels!

  2. David, your teaching is brilliant, your examples are as well. Thank you always for giving me a piece of your brain, your methods, your thinking.

  3. Patricia Scanlan

    These examples explained so much. Thank you for sharing your knowledge in your classes. You always put so much into each blog and into each class. Example 5 is a crystal jewel on canvas.

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