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Intuitive art and my struggles with composition

I am pretty much strictly an intuitive artist, because I have no room for plans in my life. My personality is very free flowing and does not like to be confined. I go with the flow, place my paint or collage pieces down, and then work off of whatever comes up for me in that moment, which is very much the way I live my life.

On the other hand, you have composition. Learning how to recognize and use spatial principles such as rhythm, balance, unity, focal points, and directional movement. It’s a really wonderful way to elevate and invigorate your work.

I suppose composition could be intuitive, but I definitely struggle with it. I want to put down all of the colors and all of the shapes and marks because I have so much chaotic energy within me, so my art tends to be a bit chaotic, unbalanced, l definitely have trouble with my focal point that’s for sure. But I can’t find my focal point in life either so your art really does tell a lot about your personality.

I hear artists talking about composition and how you can follow a certain mark they made, maybe a line or something, around a painting, pointing you this way and that, telling you what to look at first, or where to hold your eye steady, where to place your attention, the center stage, the infamous focal point.

 ..but I’ve noticed that even when I look at other people’s art, or just anything in general, I just sort of take in all the details at the same time, like in my life, just soaking in every aspect of every moment, even if it doesn’t lead me back to the center of the painting or make me feel balanced. I’m just enjoying the swirls of color and the paint splatter.

Again, it just goes to show just how much art can reveal the true being of someone, a perfect reflection.

Arranging abstract elements in a way that is balanced, studied and compelling requires some work. My primary focus is on recording aspects of the experience. A painting then becomes an artifact of the process, recording the decisions and mistakes and revisions made along the way. I want my art to tell a story, as if it’s been around forever, just collecting my creative explosions. There are many layers to my art, usually starting with stream of conscious writing of some sort and then doing whatever feels right, maybe paint maybe collage, maybe neither.

This is a progress photo of my most recent art journal page, to see the (sped up and voiceover) process check out the video! There’s also a lot of helpful information, and music! 🎵

We all have an innate visual language that can be explored, developed and enriched. Some shapes  appeal to us more than others, and some actually speak to us directly. Even though we sometimes can't execute the shapes or paint application we strive for in our paintings, we still know what makes our heart sing when we see it.

What you may notice is a kind of repetition in your work, hard edges versus messy edges, curved shapes or geometric shapes, maybe rhythmic patterns. These are signals, that can develop into a more refined language. All shapes have a life of their own and evoke an emotional response. There are a few things we can look for when evaluating the effect our shapes have in our work. 

For example, smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm.

Vertical shapes are exciting and active. They imply energy and reaching upwards.

Diagonal shapes are dynamic because they imply motion or tension.

To determine how your shapes are directing you around the canvas, ask yourself, where does my eye land first? Where does my eye go second? Spend a few conscious moments observing how your eyes move around the composition and also where they linger longest. For example, a strong diagonal, with no loop or pathway back into a work, may direct the viewer to exit the picture plane all together.

Where have you placed your shapes? A shape does not exist by itself. Every mark, line, and shape, respond to and converse with, all other elements in the painting, including the edge of the canvas.

Once you've determined the orientation of your painting, how does the upper half of the canvas feel? Free, happy, powerful? How does the bottom half feel? Heavier, constrained, grounded? 

How does the center of your painting feel? The "center of attention" The point of greatest attraction.

As a general rule, pointed shapes make us feel uneasy and rounded shapes make us feel more secure and comforted. If these two shapes were conversing, the cloud might be saying "Don't worry, I'm with you."

Looser shapes feel soft and open.

Are your shapes open or closed? Or a bit of both?

This starts to play into a few different things. On one hand, it’s fascinating to think about how our subconscious mind is attracted to certain shapes, details, scents and features for reasons unknown to us. You can tell a lot about a person by the marks they create in their artwork, perhaps someone stiff and rigid vs. flowy and free, will probably have much different art styles, amongst other ways of expression.

So intuition is a really great way to begin to unfold the unseen processes of the psyche, allowing us to know and understand ourselves better.

Collage was the key for me to understanding how to build a strong composition. I definitely still struggle, like that eccentric relative you have who has strange and eclectic decor from all over the world and it would be beautiful on its own, but almost the chaos it just clashes and completes for its rightful place.

One of the most helpful tools to strengthen the eye for composition is creating collage.

Collage allows you to move shapes around immediately, versus painting, you can quickly discover what placements feel right, wrong, interesting or flat. Collage allows you to ask visual questions with ease.

When you collage, your brain clicks into high gear, problem-solving mode. Which is probably why I struggled with it because I’m not even good at puzzles.

You become aware of how the placement, size, and distribution of shapes, value and line. It's easier to recognize high and low value contrast areas, and the power of directional lines in your work, at least for most people, mine still seem to be a bit scattered and all over the place.

I guess the answer is a balance of knowledge of composition, letting the magic happen, and intuition.

"Where do you put a form? It will move all around, bellow out and shrink, and sometimes it winds up where it was in the first place. But at the end it feels different, and it had to make the voyage. I am a moralist and cannot accept what has not been paid for, or a form that has not been lived through."

 ~Philip Guston

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