BEFORE we take painting from the model, let me have a little chat with you about the necessity of training your imaginative faculties and cultivating your sense of arrangement.<< Previous page
Although we are concerned mainly here with painting as a craft, a knowledge of painting alone will not suffice to equip you for the profession of painter, which you may wish to adopt. There is much more to learn if you would be, as you should, many-sided. The student too often assumes that the power to compose or arrange with effect will come at his bidding, for to him it appears to be so easily done by others.
We do not get stronger by watching other men lift weights. Nor are weights lifted or pictures composed, either at the beginning or at any time, without effort.
Good composition calls for a far higher mental capacity than mere painting, which in itself is difficult enough. And by neglecting to cultivate our imaginative faculties whilst we are young, we incur some danger of losing them altogether.
When in the course of your reading you come across a pictorial episode, visualise it and sketch the scene as it strikes you. There are, nowadays, so many beautiful illustrations to be seen; you may well learn, from some of them, how figures are grouped, and how accessories are placed to complete the pictorial arrangement. Such mental notes, added to your unceasing practice, will greatly increase the facility with which you will be enabled to arrange and compose artistically.
When visiting a picture or sculpture gallery, take a sketch-book with you. Your memory will not suffice to recall the results of your analysis of compositions. Study particularly the placing of heads, half and full length portraits and figures, and the main structural lines and colour masses of decorative designs. Mark the arrangement of light and shade (chiaroscuro) in Dutch and Spanish pictures, which have such fine technical qualities, and when anything strikes you as particularly beautiful, draw it, and in drawing it search for the secret of its beauty.
Here are a few hints for your guidance in placing your own studies.
You have already been advised, when placing a. head on a canvas about 24 inches by 20, to mark the chin about the centre of the canvas. When the head is facing you, it should be placed fairly centrally. When the face is looking either to the right or left, let there be a greater space in front than behind it ; and keep your heads high up.
There is distinct loss of dignity when a figure seems to be slipping down behind its frame ; nor does one expect to chase the subject of a picture round the edges of the canvas. That modern trick has ceased either to surprise or fascinate, and it smacks much of the unsteady Kodak.
All pictures should be decorative—that quality need not be exclusively reserved for what are known as decorative pictures—and there should be just accident enough in their arrangement for them not to appear obviously arranged.
The "Artistic inequalities" is an expression to remember. I will endeavour to explain it with a set of negative rules. No two quantities—where it is possible to avoid such repetitions, should be equal in value, either of groups, colour-masses, or spacing.
Figures or groups should not be the same width across as the spaces between them and the edges of the frame ; nor should the horizon be centrally placed nor a figure, or any part of its outline, just touch another outline. It should either cut the other boldly through, or sensibly avoid it.
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