Oil Painting Lessons - Visual Rhythm
When a system of marks are placed next to one another in a repetitious pattern, it creates a visual "rhythm". This keeps the eye moving around the painting and can help add excitement or playfulness to the finished painting.
The basic idea of this exercise is to recreate a complex still life in solid shapes and patterns with little or no blending creating more confidence in effective choices. I always tell my students if it looks like the shapes they painted on their canvas could have been cut out of construction paper, then they're doing it right.
Visual Rhythm in a Complex Still Life Painting
What You'll Need
A complex still life - 4-5 objects that each have a different texture or pattern. Set this on a table that is at least eye-level and lit to create contrast/shadows and highlights.
Painting Set-up for Oil or Acrylic. This can be an exercise in oil pastel if you are working with children or teaching an art class for teens.
Complex Still Life Student Examples
How to simplify your complex still life
Begin by observing the still life. Look at major shapes and textures that already exist. Observe shadows and highlights in the still life.
Create thumbnail sketches of several compositions. Try to fit in at least 3 objects into your composition. Choose the most interesting one to transfer to canvas.
Lightly sketch your composition onto your canvas (you can wash your canvas with one color in acrylic or oil prior to starting - do not use an oil underwash if you plan on painting in acrylics).
Color block in the major shapes. For beginning students I have them only use one color on a monochromatic value scale. For more advanced students, they can use relevant colors.
Create a system of patterns. If you have uncountable objects, such as a bouquet of flowers, create some type of system that represents those flowers. Perhaps polka dots, concentric circles, the same type of "flowery" shape repeated. Whatever you choose - stick with it so that the viewer will understand what you are trying to achieve.
Pay attention to your shadows. If you are painting fabric and there are shadows in it, consider including them in your painting. Make certain that if you don't include these details you are making a choice that is best for your composition - not just skipping out on doing the work.
Stripes are interesting to use, whether vertical or horizontal- they help carry the viewers eyes around the canvas.
White or black space. With all of the patterns and rhythm you will be creating, the viewer will need room to rest. Make certain there is a "resting area" in your painting. These areas are usually solid black or white, yet can have texture added via palette knife.
Outlines are effective if you want to get more color on your canvas or if you need more resting areas. Popular colors to use for outlining are white and black. Though, portrait painters often use burnt sienna.
The less shapes within an object, the more reliant it is on outlines. The more information inside the shapes, the less it needs an outline, and the more dependent it becomes on the background to contain it in a composition.
If an object is "countable", such as large leaves - count them and represent them. If an object is "uncountable" then represent its presence in a pattern or style of your choosing.
Each object should have it's own unique texture to differentiate it from it's neighboring object.
How To Paint - Syllabus 1 - Beginning Level
If you have enjoyed this exercise, please visit my other hubs. I have been teaching painting at ArtSpace in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the past 6 years and am currently putting up my Beginning Painting Syllabus. I always enjoy feedback. If you try any of these exercises or use them in your own classrooms, please let me know how the paintings turn out. Thanks!
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