I’m always intrigued when I see a picture of the actual scene that an artist has used as inspiration. It’s amazing how a how good artist can make something quite mundane, even boring, into an exciting piece. So, how do they do that? When I visit an art gallery I first of all choose my favorite pieces – the three (or so) I want to take home with me. You never know One Lucky Person might be invited to do that one day!! I walk around muttering to myself, and laughing at how astonished I will be when the head Curator comes up and says “OK, take your pick!”…..usually I’m being trailed by at least one guard at this point! Having chosen my pieces, I revisit each one to figure out how that artist has caught my attention. What did they actually do that created my slobbering, muttering acquisitive desire?
The first thing is usually colour….either the intensity is great, or the contrast remarkable, or the combination irresistible.
There’s a painting by Larry Rivers in the Brooklyn museum (detail to the left) that has a certain yellow green that always draws me in. You could sell me anything this colour - I find it so evocative and refreshing. This colour scheme would be a great starting point for a piece for me. I love it so much I can taste it!
The second thing that these artists do is omit anything boring and unnecessary.
Everything in a piece should be important…if all the important stuff is in, then the rest can just be a beautifully hazy background…I have to remind myself of this constantly!! I don’t want to see every window in the house, or every pane of every window – if the important thing is the way the windows reflect the light, then that’s all I want to see. I love the spareness of some of Georgia O’Keefe’s watercolours (see right), or Arthur Dove’s…because they show you only the key elements. the pattern of the snowflakes against the door and side wall of the house says it all. Interestingly, I noticed they used this same idea in one of the scenes in the Lifetime Georgia O’Keefe film on Saturday night!
The third thing, I notice is that the artist will increase the contrast (from the original scene)…scan a picture of a quilt you made into Photoshop. Now increase the contrast…(Image, Adjust, Brightness/contrast)….doesn’t it make it more vibrant? Now, print out those pictures and put them up on your design wall to remind you!!
Also in the photo above (the Botanical Gardens in Athens, GA)….one would want to omit the poles on the left….they are an annoying feature irrelevant to the scene.
The paintings or quilts that make a boring scene interesting also work by pulling out interesting shapes from the scene. If the tree is a little awkward, improve it!! If the shadow plus the edge of the house makes an interesting shape exaggerate it. This is something that Morandi does with his bottles – if you notice they never stand like soldiers on parade but make interesting curving shapes within and between themselves.
If I was making a landscape quilt from the photo above I would pull out some of the curves that lead toward that dark corner…which would also serve to lead me into the garden.
I’m also always drawn into a piece that has depth and mystery…I like to be invited to enter the piece…like Alice climbing up onto the mantelpiece to get through the mirror!
So!! today….off to the nearest gallery or museum! Then (avoiding those guards!) choose the pieces you want to take home and analyze just how the artist encouraged you to crime! Remember, you can steal the techniques even if you can’t steal the picture!
If you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth
Elizabeth, I read your posts and am always so inspired.
The color of green is my fave too, I just got a beautiful chartreus paint today, can't wait to paint some fabric with it.
Have a vision in my head of Little Red Riding Hood.
Thanks for all the wonderful information.
Thanks for this interesting and very useful posting!
Elizabeth, a prime example of this is your quilt Urqhart, which I own. It is vibrant and wonderful. I was SHOCKED when you sent me a picture of the lowly scene which inspired you. I knew you were a genius at that point!
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