Composition Talk: The Golden Ratio & The Rule of Thirds

Understanding composition fundamentals is so very important, but how many of us really do understand it and/or how to use it effectively? We all know when something doesn’t look ‘right’, but how do we figure out why and how do we fix it? The following is an excerpt from a talk on composition that I give to all of my workshops. It’s a bit technical, a bit boring maybe, but knowing these simple rules may be helpful to you when something not ‘right’ befalls you in the studio. Read on…this is going to be fun!

Understanding composition fundamentals is so very important, but how many of us really do understand it and/or how to use it effectively? We all know when something doesn’t look ‘right’, but how do we figure out why and how do we fix it? The following is an excerpt from a talk on composition that I give to all of my workshops. It’s a bit technical, a bit boring maybe, but knowing these simple rules may be helpful to you when something not ‘right’ befalls you in the studio. Read on…this is going to be fun!

There is a reason why some compositions look better than others and that is because the relationships between the colors and forms in the work are proportionate and likely somehow follow one of the following rules: The Golden Ratio and/or The Rule of Thirds.

First, let’s take a look at the Golden Ratio, also known as the Golden Mean and Golden Rectangle. The idea was started by the ancient Greeks, who believed that all things, both tangible and intangible, have a perfect state of being that define them and felt that one should always strive toward achieving this ideal state. Greek mathematicians, after repeatedly seeing similar proportions in nature and geometry, developed a mathematical formula for what they considered an ideal rectangle: a rectangle whose sides are at a 1:1.62 ratio. –Nelson. Ever wonder why the Mona Lisa is so pleasing to the eye when she’s actually not conventionally beautiful? It’s because she’s perfectly proportionate from the tip of her nose to her knees..see how she fits perfectly into the Golden Rectangle in the image below. This same idea goes for buildings and rooms, furniture and other forms of design. The closer to the Golden Mean they are, the more comfortable they will feel and the better they will look to us as humans. This is because our bodies are also proportionate and also fit the Golden Ratio, we are all familiar with the image below which illustrates these proportions. If you’re really bored and want to test this out, consider your comfort level in the room you’re in right now and rate it on a scale of 1-10. Now measure the room and see how close it comes to the Golden Mean. Interesting, huh? Now try it with one of your paintings that just isn’t working and see what happens.

Next up is the Rule of Thirds, which states that if you divide any composition into thirds, vertically and horizontally, then place the essential elements of your image either along these lines or at the intersections of them, you’ll achieve a more pleasing arrangement. Edmund Dulac was a stickler for this Rule and it’s perfectly illustrated in his painting below of the Little Mermaid. Here Dulac has placed the column, figures and the horizon line perfectly along a line of thirds. The empty space leads the eye to the action in the composition, therefore creating a more interesting composition. These images were borrowed from the informative Art With Nelson.

Now, watch what happens when the rule is ignored and the action is centralized…kinda boring… and why is that? The column now dominates the image, which takes away from the figures, the source of the action in the image. The viewer’s eye goes directly to the strong column shape and there is no empty space calmly leading the eye into the image.  In any painting, one design element must be more dominant than the others, which creates an imbalance, thus creating tension and attracting the viewer’s eye. When the canvas is segmented in half, there is no imbalance or tension, which makes for a not so interesting composition. Imbalance and tension can also be applied to many compositional elements of your painting including value, color and contrast. I’ll talk about this a bit more in my next post, which will also include a nod to mathematician, Fibonacci.

600071436

A word of caution…don’t go crazy trying to make your composition fit exactly into these Rules. For example, you can apply the Rule of Thirds to any grid as long as you keep the major design elements on the segments and/or at intersections. The same goes for the Golden Ratio. These tools are not to be used as starting points necessarily, but as check points when we are trying to figure out what’s gone wrong. If you spend too much time thinking about these things when beginning a painting you won’t have any fun and your painting will feel stiff, technical and sad. Click on the images below for some proportionate famous and not so famous works of art and photography.

 

 

Encaustic PaintSmash: Tips, Composition & Things to Think About

I hope you’ve been getting into the last two Encaustic PaintSmash How-To’s and having some fun with it. In my last post I discussed a bit about how to carve out a composition from the hot mess slather of paint. Here, I get a bit more detailed regarding composition, plus some tips and things to think about while you work.

I hope you all had a great summer and are getting into my favorite fall season. I love feeling the crisp air, moon and star gazing through clear skies and being inspired by those amazing fall colors.

Fall also inspires new ideas, techniques and methods. I hope you’ve been getting into the last two Encaustic PaintSmash How-To’s and having some fun with it. In my last post I discussed a bit about how to carve out a composition from the hot mess slather of paint. Here, I get a bit more detailed regarding composition, plus some tips and things to think about while you work. For a review of Encaustic PaintSmash, visit this post for a How-To to making an alternative encaustic brush from flashing material and this post for a How-To and video link on how to use it. Also, visit this post for my favorite tools in which some of the tools I mention in this article are highlighted.

Go to my YouTube Channel for fun PaintSmash videos demonstrating scraping, carving, color use and using alternative brushes.

  1. Some tips to keep in mind.
    • Glide, don’t scrape with the razor blade. Make sure you hold your razor blade at a 45 degree angle, not straight up and down. Resist the urge to dig in, rather think of the word GLIDE and not SCRAPE, as you work with the razor blade.
    • Focus on small areas. As you begin to scrape all that slathery paint may be a bit overwhelming so make sure you focus on a small area and then another. Don’t try to scrape it all back at once. Some areas may need a lot of scraping while others may need very little.
    • Frequently evaluate your work. Take it from the table and hanging it vertically. The work changes with every scrape and changes drastically when you hang it vertically. If you’re confused about where to go next in the scraping process, hanging the work vertically will help you see more clearly.
    • Clean your tools frequently. Heat the metal slightly and wipe clean with paper towel. Cleaning your tools keeps the blades sharp and you in more control over what you’re doing by cutting down on that annoying gunking up thing that sometimes happens.
    • Save your scrapings. Use scrapings as color and/or add to paintings for more texture. Some of your scrapings will come off in a colorful ‘ribbon’. Add this form right back into the painting, use it like collage to add a small amount of color elsewhere in the painting. Fuse it with the torch, use your fingers or brayer to flatten it down. Leave it as is or scrape it back with the loop or Sculpture House tools.
    • Take a risk. Don’t be afraid to remove too much or try to “save” certain areas. The worst is not taking enough off in one area in order to ‘save’…if you do that too much, all that deliciousness underneath will never be revealed! You have to be able to take that risk and if you do remove something amazing, you’ll just as soon find something else just as amazing.
  2. Composition in any painting becomes stronger with color contrasts. Be open to these contrasts as you scrape. Look for (in no particular order):
    • Complimentary color combinations. Get yourself and nice big color wheel and hang it in your studio for reference. Even though I have color wheel burned into my brain from design school, I still reference my studio color wheel constantly.
    • Quiet next to busy. You will find many busy areas when you use the PaintSmash method of painting. Make sure you are balancing these textured, busy areas with solid, quieter areas of color. If you find you have too many busy areas, add a solid area with a brush.
    • Neutral tones next to brights. Use your grays, whites and earth tones next to brighter areas to make those bright colors vibrate and the composition dance.

Just Breathe: The Importance of Taking a Break

I love my chosen profession and I really do feel like I’m always on vacation. Anyone in any profession who loves what they do feels that way and I believe it’s especially easy to feel like that as an artist. But when you’re working seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, even though you love what you do, you’re actually not on vacation.

I never do this, I never relax and never, really….just breathe.

I am of the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” school of thought and therefore, have had no summer vacation since graduate school fifteen years ago. Being a mid-30’s emerging artist/adjunct professor/waitress at that time and many years afterward really didn’t afford me the chance to slow down. I hit the ground running after graduate school and even now after two years of retirement from university teaching, I still feel like I haven’t taken a breath. Without that steady teaching paycheck I have been very focused on the business of art, generating multiple streams of income and remembering to paint every once in a while! I just went beyond a monumental birthday and realize I’m in my Golden Years..lol..and I just need a little break. More important than that realization is that I have given myself the permission to take a break.

I love my chosen profession and I really do feel like I’m always on vacation. Anyone in any profession who loves what they do feels that way and I believe it’s especially easy to feel like that as an artist. But when you’re working seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, even though you love what you do, you’re actually not on vacation.

So just for the short month of August I have decided to give myself a break from writing this blog. I will happily return, refreshed and full of learned words on September 5. In the meantime, I will be focusing on creating work for Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show happening September 14-16. This is a very competitive, professionally run show that has been consistently ongoing since 1928 and I’m so grateful to have gotten in since applying for many years. I must get to work and make a good impression.

Take a break, my weary friends, you can paint when it’s 30 degrees and snowing! Enjoy the rest of your summer and don’t forget to breathe.

 

 

 

 

Encaustic PaintSmash: Basic Scraping Methods

After my last PaintSmash How-To explaining application of encaustic paint with your flashing brushes, you likely think I’ve gone completely mad, creating hot mess paintings with no rhyme or reason….maybe…but my madness is only temporary. Now I’m going to show you how to reel it back in, gain control of the madness and pull an interesting composition out of those colorful layers using several tools and methods.

After my last PaintSmash How-To explaining application of encaustic paint with your flashing brushes, you likely think I’ve gone completely mad, creating hot mess paintings with no rhyme or reason….maybe…but my madness is only temporary. Now I’m going to show you how to reel it back in, gain control of the madness and pull an interesting composition out of those colorful layers using several tools and methods. For a little review, visit this post for a How-To to making an alternative encaustic brush from flashing material and this post for a How-To and video link on how to use it. Also, visit this post for my favorite tools in which some of the tools I mention in this article are highlighted.

Follow the methods below to pull out, reveal and carve a composition. Use a combination of all of the methods and tools described below. Look for contrasts; solid, quieter areas of color next to busier areas, complimentary color combinations, grays, whites and earth tones next to brighter areas of color. Stay tuned for my next blog post in which I delve into composition a bit further.

What You Need (Visit this post for a comprehensive explanation of the razor blade, clay scraper and double-sided scraper tool)

  • Razor Blade
  • Clay Scraper
  • Double Sided Scraper Tool
  • An Encaustic Painting Preferably on wood with at least 8-15 layers of paint.
  • Iwatani Torch and/or heat gun
  • Time & Patience Yoga breathing, Zen

Methods (Go to my IGTV channel or to my new YouTube Channel to watch me begin to transform a chunky hot mess, PaintSmashed painting using the techniques below) Watch this video to see me demonstrate scraping using all three tools I discuss in the last blog post.

  1. Cold Scrape Best done at the start of your studio day before heating the board and by using the razor blade as your main tool. Scrape slowly without digging or gauging, taking off thin layers, little by little. Observe the subtle changes taking place on the surface of your painting. This method requires lots of patience, do not rush the process, you will be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
  2. Warm Scrape Your surface should be warm, tepid, NOT HOT, which may cause unwanted smearing and smushing. Slightly warm the surface with your heat gun or torch and scrape slowly without digging using the clay scraper or razor blade.
  3. Soft Scrape Self explanatory, but must be mentioned and must be practiced. Most people start scraping way too aggressively and way too hot. Make sure you’re not overheating and if you find you’re taking too much off or gauging, practice lightening up your pressure.
  4. Hard Scrape This method is to be used only in the event that you want to remove lots of layers at once using the loop or Sculpture House tools. I usually do this in only one section of a painting when things get a bit too busy and I want to add a chunk of a solid color. This method can also be used when you want to completely scrape back or ‘murder’ one of your paintings.
  5. Carve Use the double sided scraper tool, needles and other pointy tools to incise and carve shapes into the layers. There is no limit to the fun you will have revealing the layers and shaping a composition by digging out lines, marks and carving shapes. Watch me carve out a form (short version) OR (long version) using the double sided scraper tool.

Workshop Highlight: Surface Design & Layers at Madeline Island School of the Arts

If you are a fan of my early work and want to know the secrets of how I made it, then this is the workshop for you! Madeline Island School is ranked among the top five art and craft schools in the country because of the quality of instruction and loveliness of the surrounding area that inspires creativity.

If you are a fan of my early work and want to know the secrets of how I made it, then this is the workshop for you!

ENCAUSTIC MIXED MEDIA: SURFACE DESIGN & LAYERS
September 24-28
Madeline Island School of the Arts, LaPointe, WI
WORKSHOP DETAILS & REGISTRATION

Nestle in to the secluded Madeline Island in an absolutely gorgeous part of the world on Lake Superior. Madeline Island School is ranked among the top five art and craft schools in the country because of the quality of instruction and loveliness of the surrounding area which inspires creativity. If you’ve heard anything negative about the weather there, it’s a fib the locals spread so that they can keep the awesomeness to themselves!! I’m absolutely thrilled to be teaching at MISA this year and hope you will join me. See some lovely images of the school and read more about MISA and their location on their web site here .

Some of the materials, techniques and process we will cover include:

  • Creating patterns with shibori on fabric or paper using indigo, rust printing and bleach discharge.
  • Creating marks with heated metal and wood burning tools (pyrography)
  • Creating ornamental and repetitive patterns using encaustic with collage, stencils, tjaps and candy molds.
  • The application of thin layers of encaustic for collage-learn how to get rid of those blurry/bumpy areas when collaging into encaustic.
  • How to effectively mix, apply and fuse encaustic layers to best utilize it’s translucency and depth.
  • How to cover a panel with any fabric or paper and work back into it with encaustic.
  • How to incorporate line and drawing into your encaustic paintings using horsehair and other mixed media techniques.
  • How to incorporate stitch into your encaustic paintings for exciting textural surfaces.
  • How to make a perfect encaustic photo transfer.
  • How to create a flawlessly smooth encaustic surface.
  • The magic of the grid and how you can use it to create exciting compositions.
  • We will also discuss the conceptual use of layers, pattern and repetition with images, books and actual paintings for inspiration.
  • And so much more…just like all of my workshops, this one is taught from an experimental, alternative, hands-on approach…one never knows what other techniques and possibilities might pop up during the workshop.
  • Also in the spirit of all of my workshops, we will spend a lot of time exploring the surrounding landscape for found objects, photographs and inspiration.

See the gallery below for some workshop highlights and workshop work from a similar workshop I recently taught at RF Paints. For more information and highlights from workshops similar to this one, see this post, this post, this post and this post.

 

Encaustic PaintSmash: 3 Must-Have Scraping Tools

If you aren’t scraping your encaustic paint layers, you’re missing out! The first of two parts on encaustic scraping, this article covers 3 basic must-have tools for scraping and revealing amazingness under your encaustic layers. Also included, are some luscious eye candy inspiration images.

If you’re working in layers of encaustic paint and not utilizing scraping as part of painting, you are missing a tremendous amount of creative opportunities. Encaustic is unmatched by any other medium for many reasons; luminosity, depth, translucency, tactile qualities, just to name a few. Certainly, other mediums offer these qualities, but to my knowledge, encaustic is the ONLY medium that offers painters the ability to work in layers with the option of scraping them back to reveal hidden treasures. Once you begin doing this, you won’t want to stop, it’s absolutely addicting! Depending on how you have applied the paint, the amount of texture and the colors used, you will reveal layers resembling geologic forms, water bodies, aerial and satellite views of earth. Or moving toward the smaller end of things, you will find forms resembling layers of skin cells, bodily forms, rocks and minerals, etc. I’ve included a small sampling of inspiration eye candy images below that resemble scraped encaustic paintings painted with the PaintSmash method. The images are from my Aerial, Micro-Stuff, Rocks and Layered Pinterest Boards. To see each individual board, follow the links with the images below. Also, see this related post for more Texture and Layers inspiration.

Stay tuned for my next post which is a Basic Scraping How-To, complete with videos and images of various scraping methods. I show you how to use the tools mentioned in this article as well as discuss a bit about what it is you’re looking for under the layers and how to carve out a fabulous composition from your PaintSmash hot mess!

Please note that this post is an introduction to basic scraping tools, there is much more to learn and many other tools to experiment with to find your favorites. If you try the tools mentioned here and the methods for using them I discuss in my next post, you might want to delve deeper by taking one of my upcoming encaustic workshops. I discuss scraping in all of my encaustic workshops, but dig deeper into the subject (no pun) in my advanced Beyond the Basics workshop.

The Tools

  • Razor Blade With Holder When you are using a razor blade, you definitely need one of these holders. Make sure you buy one like this and not one of the bulky versions. This smaller does the job to keep your hand from cramping as well as keeps your hand close enough to the surface to ‘feel’ it. Also, if you’ve been avoiding razor blades because of those unwanted marks the corners cause, invest in a metal file and take a few seconds to round out those edges. Razor blades definitely serve a purpose and shouldn’t be left at the bottom of the tool box because of those marks.
  • Clay Scraper My favorite is the Loop Tool  and/or the Sculpture House Scraper-read about it here. We all have our favorites, but I would advise avoiding the triangular shaped scrapers with very angular corners because like the razor blade, they tend to leave undesirable marks but are difficult to file down. Not mentioned in my previous favorite tools article is a Loop Tool (#510) I just discovered from Dolan Tools. It’s compatible to the Sculpture House Scraper in quality, but it’s easier to find and is slightly less expensive.
  • Double Sided Scraper Tool (A MUST have…Read more about and where to get it here) There is no limit to the fun you can have with this tool, making lines, marks and carving shapes. See a sneak peek of me using this tool to carve out some shapes on my Instagram Feed @lorraineglessner1. The complete video is included in my next post.

Aerial/Satellite Images

Layered Images

Microscopic

Rocks/Minerals

Encaustic Paint Smash 101: A How-To Using Alternative Brushes

Whether you consider yourself a professional artist or not, you still need to loosen up and get back to your inner infant artist–this is how I arrived at Paint Smash. This is the first of a series of tutorials on the subject and covers the use of alternative brushes for encaustic painting.

I have been developing a new method of encaustic painting called Paint Smash–the method is not so unlike the same term used to reference infants playing with paint–but I’m a real artist, you see ; ) Real artist or not, I still need to loosen up and get back to my inner infant artist and this is how I came to Paint Smash. In my last post I confessed that I have slowly been giving up the use of traditional brushes for DIY alternatives when painting in encaustic. I shared with you one of my brush making techniques using flashing to form any brush shape and size your waxy heart desires. Using tools like my flashing brushes in conjunction with other tools like mallets, brayers, rolling pins, fists, fingers and whatever else you can find, I’m pushing, smearing, slathering, punching, modeling the paint onto the substrate instead. Encaustic is a unique painting medium in that it can be worked as a liquid, solid and semi-solid, which lends itself fantastically to paint smashing. This tutorial is the start of a series of Paint Smash techniques that I will share with you in subsequent blog posts.

Please stayed tuned for my next post, another segment of Paint Smashing in which I show you the amazing things that are revealed when you scrape back your Paint Smash. Super fun!

But before we discuss scraping, you have to learn how to use your new amazing flashing brushes, it’s truly deceptively simple.

What you need

  • A variety of DIY flashing brushes and/or metal clay scrapers and/or Venetian Plaster applicators (see this post for how to make flashing brushes and/or prepare clay scrapers for encaustic painting)
  • Encaustic paint in a variety of contrasting colors AND lots of white-a variety of whites is best.
  • A variety of traditional encaustic painting brushes-hog’s bristle or hake.
  • A torch or heat gun for fusing (torch is best for this technique)
  • 2-6 painting panels prepared for encaustic painting

 

How To Do (Scroll down for video links)

  1. Line up your traditional and alternative brushes on your griddle like you normally would for encaustic painting.
  2. The griddle should be nice and hot (up to 200-215 degrees, check your surface temp) the paint should be swimmingly melty.
  3. Line up your boards (at least 2-4) side by side or in a grid. Prepare them with a few solid areas of color that you can apply using any brush you like, but this part is easier with a traditional encaustic brushes. You can also pour the paint instead of painting and not use a brush at all.
  4. I always begin with a patchwork of blocks or a loose grid of overlapping strips of color in a variety of sizes, but you can paint anything you want. Whatever you paint, make sure you are painting over all of your boards with continuity and not making a distinction between separate boards.
  5. Fuse with a torch. Your painting surface should be nice and hot (but not smeary) after this fuse.
  6.  Using one of your alternative brushes, scoop/lift the paint from the griddle surface-you can use one or both sides of the brush. Your brush should bend/flex a little as you pick up the paint.
  7. Transfer the paint to your painting surface by slowly slathering it on sort of like frosting a cake. Flip your brush from front to back as you transfer the paint. Again, your brush should flex a little as you paint. These early layers will go on relatively flat, but subsequent layers will cling and this is where it gets interesting.
  8. Change to a contrasting color and repeat the alternative brush painting process several times.
  9. Fuse every 2-3 layers.
  10. After a few uses of your alternative brush, add some areas of solid color with your traditional brushes. Preferred colors at this stage are white or lighter colors or very dark colors that will contrast and visually ‘clean up’ the chaotic mess you’ve seemingly made.
  11. Continue painting in this way until you’ve built up 10-20 layers–10 being at the lowest points (the valleys) and 20 being the the highest points (the hills). In other words, your paintings should be highly textured and multi-dimensional, ready for their first scrape.

Want to see a video demonstration of these techniques?

To see a video of scooping the paint from the griddle and applying it to the substrate, go to my new IGTV (InstagramTV) channel (@lorraineglessner1)