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March 2012

March 2012 -- Centaurs

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  • Ask an Artist:
    Cons, Illustrations, Audience-building, and More
  • Behind the Art:
    Playing with Line and Shape
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Lisa Cree
  • EMG News:
    EMG News for February

    Features

  • Appreciating Speculative Art Part 4: Composition and Shopping
  • The Centaur

    Fiction

  • Poem: the centaur's stance


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  • Appreciating Speculative Art Part 4: Composition and Shopping
    by Elizabeth Barrette

    This final part concerns the overall shape of a picture and why you might choose to buy it. Composition is the process of putting elements of art together, and the pattern they make when complete. This and many other factors influence what kind of art appeals to shoppers. Ideally, you should understand what you like and why, so that you pick out things you'll enjoy for a long time, things that will match the area you display them.

    Composition

    The design (also called the composition) of a picture refers to the deliberate arrangement of elements within it, from setting to subjects. It spans a variety of large-scale aesthetic concerns. For example, a picture should be busy enough to hold the viewer's interest, but not too busy. This refers to a large amount of detail within a picture; when overdone, it becomes difficult to distinguish the various subjects or parts from each other. Focus defines the sharpness or fuzziness of a picture; some artists use a very crisp edge, others make everything soft. Different media lend themselves to different effects; for instance, ink encourages a sharp focus, while charcoal encourages a fuzzier focus. Very sharp focus can suggest harshness or drama; very soft focus looks dreamy or romantic.
    Certain aspects of composition exist in comparison to each other. Balance concerns the relation of motifs within a picture, whether light and shadow, different colors, placement of objects, etc. A picture with two characters facing each other in the middle is balanced; a picture with four characters clustered on the right side is unbalanced. Balanced pictures can seem harmonious or boring; unbalanced pictures can seem chaotic or dramatic; so this is not a value judgment, merely a description. Symmetry is an effect seen when an object or character has two or more identical sides; humans have bilateral symmetry, while octopi have radial symmetry. Too much symmetry can look artificial or boring, so artists often add tiny variations to faces and such. They may also spice things up with contrast -- a dramatic difference between two or more elements in a picture, such as bright and dark, human and animal, warm and cool colors, etc. The overall impression of an effective picture should be one of internal consistency. This is called harmony: a sense that the various elements within the picture all work together to create a single image, instead of competing with each other. Consider matters of design with questions such as:

    Proportion and Geometry
    How balanced is the picture?
    Is the distribution of subjects even or uneven?
    Is the picture crowded and busy, or sparse and austere?
    What is the ratio of foreground to background, land to sky or sea, etc.?
    What shapes are most prominent in the picture: round, square, triangular, etc.?
    Does the artist use arrangements of shapes to call attention to anything?
    Where is the main character's head in relation to the rest of the picture?
    Do the bodies show proper anatomical proportion for their age and species?
    Do plants, natural features, buildings, etc. show plausible proportions?

    The arrangement of things within a picture also conveys meaning. Negative space is especially noteworthy: a conspicuous blank spot or area of very simple background, usually in contrast to something dramatic happening elsewhere in the picture; for instance, a character cowering away from a space invites the viewer to imagine the source of fear, rather than showing it outright. Pose describes the position of a character's body and limbs, such as a human dancing or an animal sitting on its haunches. By capturing body language, the pose can convey emotion or action. Pattern deals with the repetition of any motif in a picture: six centaurs form a character pattern, many shades of blue form a color pattern, Greek architecture uses rectangles to form a geometric pattern, etc. Patterns make a picture feel coherent and satisfying; they often indicate what the artist finds important.

    One of the most magical things about art is its ability to go beyond the obvious. Symbolism is the use of an object, color, shape, pattern, or other motif in a picture to suggest something more than its literal self; sometimes a cigar is more than just a cigar! For example, a wizard's staff is a symbol of his or her power. Artists often represent ephemeral things such as magic or wind through such symbols as wavy lines or glowing auras. Here are some thoughts on the symbolic aspects of art:

    Symbolism
    Does anything in the picture seem to represent more than just itself?
    Do the colors, objects, poses, etc. suggest deeper meanings?
    Can you identify a pattern based on a given tradition, culture, season, idea, etc.?
    Do the messages agree, or "argue" with each other?
    Do the characters seem aware of the symbolism or not?
    Are different subjects associated with different symbols?

    * * *


    Vocabulary


    Balance -- The relation of motifs within a picture, whether light and shadow, color, placement of objects, etc. compared with each other. A picture with two characters facing each other in the middle is balanced; a picture with four characters clustered on the right side is unbalanced. Balanced pictures can seem harmonious or boring; unbalanced pictures can seem chaotic or dramatic; so this is not a value judgment, merely a description.

    In "Birches and Stream" by Ellen Million the white trees on the left are balanced by the white water on the right.



    Busy -- Usually, too busy! This refers to a large amount of detail within a picture; when overdone, it becomes difficult to distinguish the various subjects or parts from each other.

    In "Dolls and Starships" by M.C.A. Hogarth, the room is busy without being so cluttered that it makes no sense; the repeating colors and shapes help.



    Contrast -- A dramatic difference between two or more elements in a picture, such as light and shadow, human and animal, warm and cool colors, etc.

    In "If You Guard Me From Myself" by M.C.A. Hogarth, dramatic contrast between black and white sections suggests these characters are opposites.



    Design (also Composition) -- The deliberate arrangement of elements in a picture, from setting to subjects.

    In "Without Fail" by Marika Purisima, a sea monster suspends the main character above the deck of a ship, showing the dynamic action in this complicated scene.



    Focus -- The sharpness or fuzziness of a picture; some artists use a very crisp edge, others make everything soft. Different media lend themselves to different effects; for instance, ink encourages a sharp focus, while charcoal encourages a fuzzier focus. Very sharp focus can suggest harshness or drama; very soft focus looks dreamy or romantic.

    "Shine On" by Marika Purisima uses sharp focus at the center shifting to softer focus at the edges to represent a brilliant light shining the middle of the picture.

    Harmony -- A sense that the various elements within the picture all work together to create a single image, instead of competing with each other.

    In "The Healer by the Sea" by M.C.A. Hogarth, turtle jewelry echoes the turtles and fabric flows like the water, creating harmony.



    Negative Space -- A conspicuous blank spot or area of very simple background, usually in contrast to something dramatic happening elsewhere in the picture; for instance, a character cowering away from a space invites the viewer to imagine the source of fear, rather than showing it outright.

    In "The Queen with a Fan" by M.C.A. Hogarth, body language and the taut string presuppose another character, though the right side of the picture is blank.



    Pattern -- Repetition of any motif in a picture: six wolves form a character pattern, many shades of blue form a color pattern, Greek architecture uses rectangles to form a geometric pattern, etc. Patterns make a picture feel coherent and satisfying; they often indicate what the artist finds important.

    In "Herethroy Trio" by M.C.A. Hogarth, dark blue objects draw attention to the characters.



    Pose -- The position of a character's body and limbs, such as a human dancing or an animal sitting on its haunches.

    In "Bai's Desk" by Ellen Million, Bai's slumped posture conveys exhaustion and defeat while Ressa's pose suggests concern.


    Symbolism (also Symbol) -- The use of an object, color, shape, pattern, or other motif in a picture to suggest something more than its literal self; sometimes a cigar is more than just a cigar! Such items are called "symbols."

    In "Jularei" by Ellen Million, the beads on the character's necklace stand for her accomplishments and relationships.



    Symmetry -- An effect seen when an object or character has two or more identical sides; humans have bilateral symmetry, octopi have radial symmetry. Too much symmetry can look artificial or boring, so artists often add tiny variations to faces and such.

    In "Hurricane Watch" by M.C.A. Hogarth, note how simple and symmetrical most of the subject is, offset by her crossed ankles and hands.




    Shopping for Art

    Become a patron of the arts -- support your favorite artists. Professional and semi-professional artists depend on their audience to support them by buying original and reproduced artwork. Every decorative item you buy makes a statement about what kind of art you think should succeed, whether you shop for oil paintings, matted prints, postcards, t-shirts, coffee cups, or something else. So shop thoughtfully.

    Avoid impulse purchases. Browse conventional and online galleries with care. Watch for art shows, artists' booths, print shops, and auctions at magical events. Learn which artists you prefer and why. Identify your favorite media and topics, but don't overlook new possibilities. Consider what you will do with the artwork after you have purchased it. Here are some questions you might ask yourself while shopping:

    Disposition
    Does the picture, as a whole, seem to work well?
    Does this picture make you want to buy it?
    Could you reasonably afford it?
    If you bought this picture, where would you put it?
    Does it match a particular room in your home?
    Does it match or contrast with other artwork you own or plan to acquire?
    What do you like the most or least about it?

    Elizabeth Barrette writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in the fields of speculative fiction, gender studies, and alternative spirituality. Recent publications include the short story "Clouds in the Morning" in Torn World and poem "The Forest of Infinity" in Star*Line. She serves on the Canon Board, editing and selecting material at Torn World. She hosts a monthly Poetry Fishbowl on her blog, The Wordsmith’s Forge (http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com), writing poems based on audience prompts. She enjoys suspension-of-disbelief bungee-jumping and spelunking in other people's reality tunnels.
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