Going in Circles

The curved line is one of the most expressive visual elements in art. Just think of the sun, moon, flowers and faces. A circle appears more relaxed and gentle when compared to an angular line or shape. When painting a curve, you use your whole arm, not just your fingers or wrist. Because artists’ feelings are reflected in their brush marks, practice is important. A great exercise is to make hundreds of brushstrokes with curved letters, for example, Ss Dd Bb Gg Cc Jj Pp Qq Oo. Some are only curvilinear in lower case, such as e, m, n, a. Also try using script letters like s, c, z, w, b, g, d. You need to be able to feel a curve when you draw one.


Technicolor Dreams (watercolor, 15×22)

When you see a painting with equal amounts of rectangles, triangles and circles in a composition, all are dominant. This can create chaos and disorganization, which you may want for subjects like New Year’s Eve in Times Square, a child’s birthday party, a Mardi Gras parade or the eager crowd at an athletic event. But if you want order in your composition, let one shape, like a circle, or a curvilinear line be dominant. If you feel you need to break up the curves, you can make a circle visually harder by adding a little angularity to it. Likewise, if you choose to have squares dominate, you can make a square softer by rounding the corners.

For curvilinear dominance, choose subjects having circles, arches and curved undulations. I often think of a letter in the alphabet and then think of curved items that begin with that letter: C—cars, cowboy hats, caterpillars; P—pears, pots, puppies; S—squash, steering wheel, squid; D—dogs, doughnuts, daisies. If my subject has curves (cow, eggplant, umbrella, tractor), I make the curve dominate.


Love Doves (watercolor, 30×22)

Think of other things that are found and what they mean:

  • Gracefulness—swans in motion, gothic arches of cathedrals, tails of kites or a Ferris wheel
  • Beauty—flowers, human figures, a still life
  • Strength—trees, cattle, tires, boxing gloves
  • Softness—clouds, pillows, pets
  • Motion—waves, fluttering flags, chickens

When in doubt, repeat the theme or design using voluptuous, curvilinear shapes. Repeat with variety in size and color. Curves allow you to create fantastic, rhythmic repetition, and open up another door to expressive art.

Rudolf Stussi was born in Zurich, Switzerland, and was raised there and in the United States. He moved to Canada in 1967 to attend Ottawa?s Carleton University. He then studied four years at the Ontario College of Art, in the process spending two years in Florence, Italy. Since 1978, Stussi has had major shows in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, England, Italy, the United States and the Dominican Republican. He’s a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolor. He directed the animation for Maurice Sendak’s TV series Little Bear as well as Rolie-polie-Olie for Nelvana and the Disney Network, and is working on a feature film version of Heidi. In addition, Stussi has illustrated two children?s books, and his fine art is documented in Rudolf Stussi, Artist (Benteli). He lives in Switzerland and Canada and is represented by the Ambleside Gallery (Grosse Point, Michigan) and Painted City (Toronto, Canada), as well as by galleries in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

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