Creativity Workshop: Got Rhythm?

Kite Festival (watercolor on paper, 17×30) by Eric Wiegardt

In our attempts to capture a literal translation of a motif, we watercolorists often forget an important element of design: We tend to paint object by object, instead of thinking in terms of pleasing patterns. By thinking about the rhythm of a passage, we can bring a needed sense of variety to our work, while still maintaining a balanced composition. In my own work, I’ve found the process freeing and illuminating.

Without any variation in timing, a repetitious beat in a song can bore us. Quarter notes followed by quarter rests in a perpetual cycle can even cause discomfort. The human spirit calls, instead, for repetition with alternation: Patterns of quarter notes and rests mixed with eighth notes and half rests, for example. That way, there’s still a thread of continuity, but there’s also enough variation to provide interest. In the same way, if our painting passages don’t contain any variation in visual repetition, we can cause our viewers to become visually bored. Visual discomfort is created when the eye travels right to a passage and gets stuck. The repetition is so commanding that it prevents movement to other parts of the painting where we might like to direct our viewers—especially the area of dominance. The painting suffers because an essential element of rhythm hasn’t been established in the offending area. 

Creating a sense of rhythm in a static area can be difficult because our minds want so desperately to be truthful to visual passages. We must stop thinking of painting as a rendition of a motif and concentrate on the idea that a strong painting is built of orderly arrangements of shapes, values and colors within the constraints of a two-dimensional surface. This calls for a dramatic shift in our thought processes; we have to translate the visual information in front of us through abstraction, creating pleasing patterns and fi ercely opposing the literal boundaries of our subjects.

Try It!
Banish boredom and discomfort from your paintings by freeing yourself from the literal and introducing repetition with alternation to your passages. Use abbreviated shapes, “incomplete” patterns and negative space to create variety, allowing your viewers to ?ll in the details. Don’t worry about the literal boundaries of your subjects. Let your compositions sing. Get together with your painting group or complete the Creativity Workshop Activity on your own. Send a JPEG (with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your painting to with Creativity Workshop in the subject line. We’ll publish entries on our website and one entrant will receive a six-month subscription to online video workshops, plus $50 worth of North Light art books. The deadline for entry is August 20, 2009. See the winners of previous Creativity Workshops and read the stories behind the paintings by clicking here.


You may also like these articles: