Friday, October 22, 2010

A Little 'Shop Talk'

A little 'shop talk' this morning. A couple of weeks back, I posted this completed small work of three horses which, coincidentally, is one of the new works that will be hanging at McBride Gallery for the opening on Sunday of the current gallery group show. It's a small work, being 5 1/2" x 6 1/2" but though small in size, I wanted it to have big appeal. As with any of my works, I wanted a well balanced, interesting, eye catching arrangement of composition and subject matter and even though the juxtaposing of the three horses may seem, at first quite arbitrary, a great deal of thought went into the overlapping and grouping of these three in a relatively tight spatial plain.

After digging through reference and finding a number of images that 'spoke to me', and having established a basic size format for the work, dictated primarily by my desire to use a certain frame on hand, I laid out all the photo reference on my drawing board and began zeroing in on certain gestures and body positions that seemed interesting to me. I had already, in my mind's eye, decided to do a work that would have a tight focus on three animals relying on layering of the subjects to achieve what I thought would be an interesting composition in a semi abstract form. Through the layering of one horse in front of another in front of yet another, it would also give me an opportunity to play with light, shadow, overlaying textures and finding ways of separating three dark colored animals from one another and making a convincing arrangement with appropriate depth.

As the frame, which was slightly off square, dictated an almost square compositional field, it was important to have a good balance across the entire image as well as to establish a nice movement around the work for the viewer's eye to be able to move through the work without being pulled out of the image or getting 'stuck' someplace. Yes, this may seem like a lot of thought for such a small work, but as I have said time and time again, this is the stuff that gets my creative juices really flowing; working out all the elements of a composition to make it the best that it can be. And, even on such a small work as this, the time spent in the preliminary arrangement and getting the details worked out just so, for me at any rate, is time well spent.

I settled on four or five images that seemed to embody what I had sort of been working out as an interesting arrangement in my mind as I carefully looked over my reference photos, of which about a dozen or so I had culled from well over 50 initially sifted through. I set to work now on doing some small, quick tonal sketches of one gesture over another on pieces of tracing paper so I could set one sheet on top of another to see what the over layering would look like. After finalizing the three gestures and body positions that I thought would work best within the almost square parameters, I set about to determine the best way to incorporate them into an interesting composition.

Looking at the completed drawing once again, noted just here split in half, you can see that the main or forward positioned horse has its head directly on the center line of the vertical split of the compositional area. I often will do this, position one of several important subjects directly on a center line as it generally gives me a nice challenge to establish the other subjects of a work in such a way as to counteract that intensity of a centrally placed figure and spread balance across an entire composition so the viewer will not necessarily be aware that it does occur directly on center. This works especially well, for me, when dealing with three major subjects and, as I have also spoken of many times before, I do like to use odd numbers when arranging subjects as I find they just work better than evens, with the exception of a pair.

Concentrating on that vertical center line split, I next had to figure the addition of the two other horses and where their main weight would need to fall to balance the composition. Since I had basically set the position of the forward horse, with its head on center and coming into the picture from the right margin, it made sense to me to have one each of the other two animals to either side of that center split to work out the balance. Looking at the image below, where I have delineated the left vertical rectangle, you can see that I decided to work with the rear most horse first and felt the placement of its forelegs almost on center helped to bring added weight to that part of the composition and also that brought stronger focus to the central area of the composition. In doing this and since both of these horses were looking directly out at the viewer, I could then shift, side to side, the middle animal till I found the spot where I thought its head and interest level of detail would best balance what was going on to the right of the center line. By using small scraps of tracing paper with rough outlines of each of the three animals, it was easy to shift that middle horse back and forth until I found where it worked best.

Once I had a pretty good idea of where the three subjects worked best across the horizontal of the compositional area, I wanted to make certain of it by looking at the balance from top to bottom across the diagonal. Looking at the image below where I have split the composition into four equal parts, you should be able to determine, as I did, that the diagonal balance from lower left to upper right worked, and that the diagonal balance from lower right to upper left did as well. Once I was certain that balance was achieved I could do the final full size sketch in prep for transfer to my bristol board and begin the drawing.

There were still a few minor details to be worked out though, being the picky person that I am, and a tweek here and there plus the alteration of some of what was in my actual reference photos, became necessary. As I have mentioned here, there and everywhere, it's important to take what you want from reference but not be a slave to it; make it work for you, make the reference yours, pull from it what you need and leave the rest behind.

First, in the photo of the horse that I placed in the forward position, its mane, flopped across its neck, came down further on its side back and to the right toward its shoulder, than the way I wound up describing it in the final drawing. When I worked out the full size sketch for transfer, I realized that if I had drawn the mane as it was in the photo, it would have brought too much weight to that part of the drawing and there might have been an overbalance on the right side of the work. This too, was more apparent to me when I decided to add the white blaze to the forehead of the rear most horse to add a bit more interest to it as it did not have in the photo reference. By adding that white patch, it also helped to balance, once again, the diagonal weight of the profile of the middle horse with all its added detail of the leatherwork and the hanging metal identification tag. That glint of light bouncing off the id tag was nicely balanced by the addition of the white blaze in the upper diagonal box.

A few more minor additions, like the wispy little hairs rising from the mane of the rear most horse, which were not indicated in the photo reference, brought I felt, not only a bit of movement to the static pose but also helped to eliminate what otherwise would have been a rather stark separation between the dark of its mane and the white negative background space. Also, I intentionally brightened the light highlights on the right side of the forward horse, especially around its eye which I felt added a bit more weight, balance and interest to the right of the center line.

Again, it might seem that spending time on all of these seemingly picky little points is a bit of overkill on what would seem a rather small and not terribly significant work but to me as an artist, that is the sort of 'pickiness' that not only is fun for me but, in the end I feel, makes for a much more interesting and enjoyable work of art, no matter what its size.


Rebecca Taylor said...

Really amazing work!
I'm such an admirer of your art - it is truly fantastic :)

Unknown said...

Yes amazing!! Wish I was able to go to the Waterfowl festival this year to see you again. Ah maybe next year.

Jim Bortz said...

Great post, Terry. I enjoy the thought process behind the art almost as much as the finished piece itself. Thanks!