Ratindra Das: Simplify Your Message

Patterns of flat, colorful shapes form the backbone of my work. To get the almost-abstract look I?m after, I downplay certain traditional elements, such as gradation, edge quality and perspective. I then use overlapping, size variations and placement, and value and color to create illusion of depth. The resulting work cuts straight to the essence of the scene without relying too much on distracting details that could draw the viewer away from my message.

The Blue Wharf (watercolor, 20×30)

Shape is universal. In simple terms, I classify shapes in two categories: Static, including symmetrical shapes such as a circle, square or a perfect triangle, and dynamic, which include irregular, oblique or interlocking shapes. I usually choose to work with dynamic shapes?I think they?re far more visually interesting than static shapes. My idea here comes directly from nature, which has a way of making shapes interesting and irregular. Trees don?t grow uniformly, no two rocks are the same size, texture and color; rarely two buds will bloom at the same time or face in the same direction.

In representational painting, shape is an area with certain boundaries on a flat surface?be it sky, tree, water or an apple. To see shapes effectively, I squint my eyes. This removes telltale hints of texture, color and line that identify a particular object and leaves only the basic shape with its boundaries.

Shape and pattern alone don?t make for truly interesting patterns. It?s only when values enter the picture that visual excitement begins Nature presents us with dozens of different values but we can perceive only a few. For the sake of simplicity in painting I like to limit myself to four values. Limiting values makes it easier for the eye to distinguish contrasts easily. This, in turn, produces a more direct visual impact.

Once I?ve established the framework of my painting with my sketch, and I?m free to concentrate on color during the actual painting process. I don?t approach a painting with specific colors in mind. Instead, I vaguely set a goal of painting either with a warm or a cool dominance. My color choices are intuitive?I don?t rely on the local colors. Following my pattern sketch, I begin by applying a light middle-value color around the saved white shapes. Generally, I work my way to darker values and finally the darkest value.

Artist and instructor Butch Krieger, of Port Angeles, Washington, is a contributing editor to The Artist?s Magazine.

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