Sunday, 21 March 2021

The Three Cs (Plus Three More)

From time to time I have the pleasure of being called upon to adjuticate artworks for juried exhibitions. The experience of reviewing the art that's been submitted never fails to get me thinking about just how important art fundamentals are to the execution of successful art pieces. While on one of my rambling walks recently I came up with with a formula I'm calling "The Three Cs."

1. Composition  No matter what medium or style, the underlying "bone structure" of any piece of art is its composition. Balance, symmetry and movement are all words used to describe it. Rules of thirds, rules of odds, and other rules apply. Some artists have an instinctive knack for composition and are driven by intuition while others approach it in a meticulously calculated way. No matter how an artist reaches his/her compositional decisions, it's well worth the effort of careful consideration. An artist may have perfected their techniques in every other way but if the composition is lacking, the work suffers. Confident artists will sometimes intentionally break compositional rules, but to do that successfully the artist is usually making a deliberate choice.

2. Colour  The use of colour is another fundamental consideration. The choice not to use colour makes its own statement, but when colour is applied it can be easy to see which artists have given it careful thought. The use of complimentary colours is a sure-fire way to energize, while a more analagous palette can tone things down. High key or low key, hot or cool, intense or muted, colour is very much the language spoken by artists. Those who are most fluent have studied its nuances and harnessed its power.

3. Creativity  Whatever, the style, medium, subject or approach, artists must be creative and strive to be unique. Finding one's artistic "voice" can be a difficult task, increasingly so thanks to the sharing of so many digital images and ideas online. It requires the ability to ignore a lot of external forces, including the images that pop up on Social Media and that instructor whose work we are so tempted to emulate. When we stop looking at others, we are more likely to find ourselves.

When teaching, I often use this drawing of mine as an example of The Three Cs: 


  • This composition is not conventional. The placement of the bird's eye satisfies the rule of thirds but having his beak point straight into the corner would typically be a no-no. However, I deliberately broke that compositional rule to create energy and tension. 
  • I used complimentary colours (red and green) to energize the drawing. I developed naturally occuring shades of green by blending blues, yellows and other colours including red. It's also worth noting that black is never just black - it is the presence of all colours. For the bird's feathers I worked in blues, purples and reds to create rich black tones.
  • Lastly, this is one ugly duck but I chose not to concern myself about creating a pretty picture. Instead I celebrated his unique appearance. 

While I believe The Three Cs cover the fundamentals, there are a couple of additional Cs that are also worth acknowledging:

4. Concentration  The fabled 10,000 hours of practice, practice, practice - in the studio, or back bedroom, or kitchen table, or garden shed, or wherever it is we make art - is key to becoming accomplished. When we persevere to find time, to focus, and to keep producing, it shows!

5. Courage  Being an artist takes bravery in so many ways! Artists infuse their innermost-selves into the art they make and then expose it to public scrutiny. They also tend to lead unconventional lives. "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." (Ralph Waldo Emerson) 

And there's one last practical C...

6. Camera  Know how to use one - properly! Understanding how to light artwork is a key aspect for successfully photograping it, whether we're using an expensive high-resolution camera or just a smartphone. We also need to know how to process digital photos so the original art is represented as closely as possible and the file has the correct technical specifications. 
I would add, for those who use photography as reference material for the art they make, that it's very, very tempting to use other people's photos, or public domain photos available online, or even to break copyright laws and swipe an online image. Resist those temptations! The effort of building our own libraries of reference photos will ensure our art speaks from our own experiences, not someone else's. Ultimately it will help with the tricky task of finding our own artistic voice. 

And now I'm off to the studio on this cool, rainy early-spring day to see how I can effectively apply these principles. Happy art making all!

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