Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vloothuis's “No Fly Zone" class results

Cool Morning Mesa, 12" x 8"

Although this was a lecture class, not hands-on, I think it was a very enlightening time. I saw some wonderful work from my students,  which we critiqued with the following in mind.

To quote Johannes Vloothuis, who calls a narrow region along all four edges of the painting the "no fly zone":
The most critical zone is the bottom rail. All of the other three sides are important but not quite as critical. In the no fly zone:
  1. Mute saturated colors.
  2. Reduce dark-light contrast
  3. Reduce texture
  4. Reduce hard edges    
Let these taper off as you enter the no fly zone. Use gradation as you enter from all four edges.

(regarding composition) A Landscape painting should contain a center of interest, which is the most predominant and beautiful area in a painting. The center of interest can be further enhanced when it contains a focal point creating a "bulls-eye" effect by adding a touch of purer color, and/or value contrast. This area will become the star in your play.
The surrounding area should be subordinate. A well developed center of interest contains:
  • The strongest color and if possible complementary colors.
  • A strong shift in value contrast (Light-dark or vice versa)
  • Preferably, not essentially, it should take up a good portion of the picture plane and gradually become subdued while withdrawing.
  • Man-made structures, animals or human figures will further enhance the center of interest. They take the role of main actors.
  • The subordinate and surrounding elements should direct or lead the viewer to that center of interest by means of pointers and visual paths.
  • It should not be placed in the center nor halfway in the picture, preferably in any of the 1/3 portions.
  • This area should not be blocked, not even partially. This will diminish its importance.
  • An effectively designed center of interest will grasp and hold the viewer's attention.
I found his thesis idea a good one, clearly referring to peripheral vision in painting. 

Painting is different from photography. Most of the time photos make everything clear from foreground to horizon. A photograph will seem particularly satisfying to most people because they want to look at each element and examine it closely, something the camera does well. But as artists we want to express the world as seen through our eyes, and as we want our viewer to perceive it.

You can control how people view the world in your painting. You can add as sense of peripheral vision to the painting to enhance the sense of a real world experience for the viewer. You should paint the way you see, thus creating a sense of periphery by manipulating the elements of your painting.

It’s fairly easy to see that as things recede into the distance there’s a visual shift. Remember Carlson's Law of Aerial Perspective, which states that all colors become cooler in color and lighter in value as they recede from the eye. As one looks into the distance:
  • Colors become cooler.
  • Colors become less intense.
  • Detail is lost.
  • Edges soften.
  • Value contrasts diminish.
A very similar sort of shift occurs in the periphery of your painting, except that the colors are not cooler, only less saturated. Thus the pictorial elements located along all the edges have slightly more muted chroma; become softer and slightly out of focus; are not as crisply detailed or as highly textured; and have less distinct dark-and-light contrast. Why? It’s how our eyes work. 
Your retina - the light-sensitive lining at the back of your eye - is packed with light-receiving cells called rods and cones. Only the cones are sensitive to color. These cells are clustered mainly in the central region of the retina.

When you see something out of the corner of your eye, its image focuses on the periphery of your retina, where there are few cones. Thus, it isn't surprising that you can't distinguish the color of something you see out of the corner of your eye.
The rods are more evenly spread across the retina, but they also become less densely packed toward the outer regions of the retina. Because there are fewer rods, you have a limited ability to resolve the shapes of objects at the periphery of your vision.

In the center of your field of view is a region in which the cones are packed tightly together. This region is called the fovea. This region, which is surprisingly small, gives you the sharpest view of an object. The fraction of your eye covered by the fovea is about the same as the fraction of the night sky covered by the moon.

Generally, you are not aware of the limitations of your peripheral vision. You think that you have a clear view of the world because your eyes are always in motion. Wherever you look, you see a sharp, clear image. (My bold added.)

A small trick that Albert Handell taught us years ago, one he cautioned us not to rely on too heavily, was to feather lightly all around the edge of the painting using a long stick of soft vine charcoal. Depending on the size of the painting, he might feather up to an inch of space, assuming that a mat of some kind would cover a portion of the edge. This created a sense of the image disappearing along the edge as it slipped away under the mat. However, don’t think you can just blur or soften everything along the edges, which looks odd, nor fall back on the old photographic trick of a short focal length, where only the subject is sharp and clear and everything else is blurry. Those are tricky and ineffective and are not what we’re discussing here.

This manipulation of the four basic elements in the "no fly zone" of your painting is not meant to be a hard-and-fast rule, a “never do” law of painting, but a suggestion about how you might control the way your viewer perceives things in your painting. Use that lovely sense of convergence that focuses on an area of the painting by creating a softened area that suggests peripheral vision to your viewer. It’s a fine line, one you must find in each painting, so don’t start holding yourself to some false ruling. Consider it another tool that you can draw on when it will be effective.

In this example I've pushed the four elements to the extremes to help you see the differences. In the "no fly zone", outside the area of greatest interest, I muted the chroma, contrast, texture and edges, and added the red line so you have no questions. The size of the no fly zone is entirely up to you, and may be most critical along the bottom because that is the area we're most prone to use details of this sort. It's true that saturated colors, tight edge details, lots of texture and high dark-light contrast exist in the foreground, but the question you must answer is to what degree it needs to be used before it distracts the eye from the area of interest. That's the fine line I mentioned. Personally, I feel that some further exploration of those elements could benefit this painting.

Look at each of these paintings and analyze whether or not you think the four elements of the no fly zone have been controlled well. There's no right answer, only your best opinion!
  1. Mute saturated colors.
  2. Reduce dark-light contrast
  3. Reduce texture
  4. Reduce hard edges    

San Carlos,  8" x 8"

Almost Spring, 11" x 17"

Visit Johannes's web site for free online webinar classes.