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Achieve Great Art

Form is really the edges of a subject within the space that’s used; the paper or within the scene. With a clear form, even the very silhouette of that subject is clearly readable apart from anything else. Overworked forms include putting lines for form where there are no edges of shape – one example would be the human nose or ear. Too many lines indicating form can make things “busy” or complicated and draw attention away from a larger theme. Often, artists use lines for form on noses or ears where they mean to convey a contour but smart texture work would be more effective.

Texture is an important consideration once a readable form is finalized. With a strong outline of form, it’s time to deliver a sense of what the subject “feels” like. Is it a shiny surface or rough like concrete or does the form outline distant trees full of leaves; the treetops being thoughtfully formed with line, the leaves within the form being thoroughly textured to deliver a leafy feel. There are short cuts for different tools to create complicated textures without, for example, drawing every leaf or brick or pore of skin and it’s worth researching those different methods. Knowing in advance where light is coming from helps too and that final consideration flows to the Volume of a scene or subject.

Presenting Volume is everyone’s favorite past time. In school, we doodled a little and then shaded things in and graded surfaces dark to light to give the impression of depth, or Volume. It’s delightfully satisfying but often done too early in the process. Laying shadows down and considering highlights should come after we present what the surface is (its texture). Art that has been shaded before textured can appear “muddy” and overworked and most mediums don’t layer well to allow texture after volume work. Think of the leafy tree line in the previous paragraph – if all the canopies were shaded before leaves were impressed as textures, bright spots and random highlighted leaves would not appear in a convincing way. They would seem scratched in with strength over the Volume instead of the volume shading enhancing the texture. If a face had a scar texture, it’s certain that Form and Texture would occur before the light and shadow present the Volume of that feature; so work in that order: Form, Texture, Volume.

Our perception of what we see includes two very easily understood concepts that are both two good points to bear in mind when making art: Full Scale and Full Range. Our brains not only white balance what we see in reality but make believe a total blackest black and whitest white. If an all black and brightest available white exist, that art piece is said to have Full Scale: The darkest and brightest values that are possible to convey. Values of light and dark in between the darkest and lightest values makes up Range. Capturing Full Range is even difficult for the human eye. Moving from a snowy outdoors to indoors can result in ‘snow blindness.’ Our eyes and brain adjusted to receive the high values of the snow; heading inside quickly reveals just how much time it takes to adapt to the new lighting conditions but once acclimated, anyone would swear the indoors were just as Full Scale and Full Range as the outdoors. This is just untrue in the global reality of things/light. If art is of a dark cabin with a window to a snowy outdoor day strongly lit by sun, the reality is that few technologies could capture the Full Range of lighting in that scene. A piece of art is expected to display a Full Range of values and in recent years, High Dynamic Range photography has evolved to combine multiple exposure values to present the best compressed range of values in just such a situation. Without calling it HDR, artists have been doing that for centuries allowing the viewer to focus on both dark values and brighter values clearly.