A Matter of Consistency

116-consistency.jpgI was recently asked by a good pastel artist friend to address the problem of surface area consistency within our paintings. An instructor had counseled her a few years ago to create continuity between the structures and the surrounding landscape within her paintings. The quandary: Aren’t some areas greatly different in texture, like the side of a house and the surrounding trees? Shouldn’t they be painted differently to represent that difference? 

This is an excellent point for discussion. Indeed, the appearance of the sky is much softer than the trees, and the skin of a youthful face smoother than the hair. While this is certainly true, we have to consider the nature of a painting; it’s a window into a universe of the artist’s making. And, to be believable, there has to be a degree of harmonious cohesion.

In the consideration of how painters approach the separate areas of a painting, there are basically three aesthetics: The decorative attitude tends to apply a different technique of application to each area. Consider the “magic” television painters. The sky in their paintings was brushed in with a large soft brush; the trees pounced with a fan brush; and the rocks applied with a painting knife. Even though they are all made up of similar paint and have value and color consistency, they exist without shared application. The decorative nature of the application is the major appeal. These works can often appear gimmicky and wind up relegated to the spot above the sofa.

The second attitude is the application-consistent artist, which is the opposite extreme of the decorative. These paitners choose to use the same repetitive stroke of product application to create visual consistency, leaving the visual play of value, color and subject matter to tell the story. Think of Renoir using the same cupping stroke to apply all of his paint, yet we see the children at play in the park. The paint, or product, is not the element that grabs our attention. It is widely believed that the French Impressionists used this method to separate themselves from the bravura paint applications of their predecessors.

The third attitude is a bridging of the two mindsets. The artist may employ a wide array of product application and technique, but never isolates any given area. A sky may be dominated by soft applications but a few bold strokes will appear in the clouds, uniting it with the heavily painted textured trees. Since softness recedes and heavy texture comes forward, most of these painters use a variety of applications throughout the painting to heighten the appearance of depth. Areas are not singularly painted. Visual continuity is created through technique repetition, letting us believe that everything exists within the same visual space. My plein air painting Sentinel of the Lavender (above; pastel on UArt paper, 12×10) is an example of this aesthetic.

Look for Richard’s latest column on the importance of focal point in the new November/December issue of The Pastel Journal on sale now at www.northlightshop.com.

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