A Harmony of Edges

Stevens II by Bob Williams has some mighty powerful elements in it: the steel bridge, a diesel locomotive, granite mountains. I immediately get the feeling that Williams is passionate about geometry, strength of compositional elements, color, perspective and atmosphere. I?ve painted steel bridges and landscapes many times over the past 23 years for the same reasons. In Williams? painting, I can feel the locomotive pulling its million-ton load and I can sense the strength of the bridge supporting it. Obliquely, too, I?m aware of the gorge beneath the bridge, carved by melt water from the mountains in the distance.

?Round the Mountain: Stevens II (oil, 18×24) by Bob Williams

Williams? meticulous draftsmanship brings much credibility to this painting as a historic or descriptive piece. ?My artistic style has always been to be as realistic as possible,? he says. ?If I?m working from a photo, I know that the scene may not be exactly as it appears in real life. I need to improve my technique in seeing what doesn?t show in the photograph.?

Even beyond this goal, Williams can improve his paintings with a little artistic license. As sheer fine art, Stevens II needs a harmony of edges, both lost and found, rather than relying on such precise, uniformly delineated lines.

Art Principles At Work
Rendering details strategically. Perhaps at the rear of the bridge, a dry brush lightly stroked over the wet paint could blend and soften the steel girders?much as the eye would in real life. The perfect, crystal-clear detail is best reserved for the focal point locomotive. Another good spot for diminished detail would be the lower left-hand corner, where the riveted flanges have been executed with such pride and care. The unfortunate result is that the eye is drawn there into a kind of dead-end stop. If the details were softened, the viewer?s eye would naturally roam upward.

Remembering the rules of composition. These rules are like the Ten Commandments: They?re the keys to happiness. Abide by them and you?ll have smooth going. Overlook even one, and you?ll be wondering why things didn?t turn out better. One such guideline is to watch out for coincidental intersections of line. The vertical girder behind the locomotive seems to connect to the ridgeline of the rugged mountain beyond. The ridgeline could be moved over the top of the girder, or perhaps between the two strongest vertical lines (which create the front part of the bridge).

Speaking of those strong verticals, the scene?s viewpoint sets them in the dead center of the canvas. Softening and cooling the left-hand girder would push it back in perspective and diminish its power.

Another way to strengthen the composition would be a shift in point-of-view. If the scene were shown from a view more to the right, it would bring the rear of the bridge out from the right-hand edge of the picture. It would also move the strong verticals to a more comfortable point on the golden mean, as well as shifting the locomotive into the off-center.

Using warmth to bring objects closer. It would add some energy to push and pull those yellows in the advancing end of the train into several temperatures. Remember that warm colors come forward and cool colors recede, even in the length of a single bridge. Somewhere in here is a spot for a good foreground red, too—it would create a nice spark and work off the greens in the trees.

Creating balance. Among the attributes of this work are its powerful elements, but remember: When we speak of harmony in a painting, it?s a marriage of edges soft and hard, of masses light and dark, and hues warm and cool.

Regarding edges, the addition of foliage in the foreground might give relief from the preponderance of line. It would also be an opportunity to introduce some protected color of your choosing (an accent color that doesn?t appear anywhere else). The pine forest in the middle ground is ideal as a large dark mass—but its sawtooth tops are a little too uniform.

Lessons Learned
The power of your subject must be balanced with other elements less powerful, softer and more delicate. It?s like life itself: everything in moderation, and not too much of any one thing. Embracing this outlook can help Williams enhance his already significant talent.

About the Artist
At age 75, Bob Williams of Mount Vernon, Washington, says that ?my goals to become known in the art world have decreased, but I still enjoy trying to improve.? His paintings have received numerous awards in shows over the years, and his work has been included in the Foss Maritime calendar for 2000 and 2002.

Michael Malm received an associate?s degree at Dixie College in St. George, Utah, a bachelor?s degree from Southern Utah University and a master of fine arts from Utah State University. He lives with his wife and two sons in Cache Valley, Utah, whose surrounding towns provide the setting for his figure paintings and landscapes. Malm has shown his work across the country, and he?s represented by the Meyer Gallery (Park City, Utah; Scottsdale, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Jackson, Wyoming), the D.E. Craghead Gallery (Carmel, California), Settlers West Gallery (Tucson, Arizona) and the DeMott Gallery (Vail, Colorado).

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