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Visual Impact

Visual impact is the first thing we work toward in a painting, with color, value, and composition forming a triad of essentials. After the sense of sight, we most often appeal to that of touch. We want the viewer to be able to imagine from our visual clues the silken smoothness of a fabric, the rough bark of redwood or oak, the scratch of a kitten’s tongue, the heft of a stone. Less often we spark the senses of taste, hearing, and smell. When I developed “Heavenly Aroma”, I hoped to visually depict a smell.

I was afraid the painting shown here was a little too “local” to make it into the highly competitive juried show currently open at Delicato Winery. Only about 30% of the paintings entered made the cut, and I had better hopes for my other entries. “Heavenly Aroma”, entered in the whimsical category, relies on those floating Cheerios making sense. What I had not counted on was that while the wonderful odor of baking Cheerios is unique to Lodi CA and a few other communities with General Mills plants, signature odor is a universal characteristic of towns and cities. Gilroy, CA says garlic; Hershey PA is awash chocolate scent; roasting coffee, simmering tomato sauce, cattle pens, oil patches, and other products leave an unforgettable memory associated with various locations. I really need not have worried about anyone not “getting” what the presence of those floating Cheerios meant.

Of course the painting had to have other strengths to make it an acceptable work of art. It works as a composition because the various angles of the structures (the buildings, fence, and sidewalk) keep the eye moving. The seemingly random pattern of the Cheerios also guide the eye back into the painting when it might follow the fence off the page. Verticals break up the long horizontal lines, and notice the runner is moving toward the center of the painting rather than out of the painting. Shadows are not intense, in keeping the the low light of a cloudy day, but there is enough value contrast for the painting to read well from a distance.

I chose ink and watercolor for this work, a media combination I frequently prefer for cityscapes.

Look at your own paintings as well as those of other artists. How many senses do you appeal to in various works? Does viewing Edvard Munch “The Scream” hurt your ears? How often have you looked closely at a painting to see if the artist had built up an irregular surface or created it purely with line and color? Visual art indeed offers a sensory feast.

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