Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Silhouette power

Last Saturday I had fun with my painting friends in Marceline MO. The weather was nice but the light was not magic - it was a generally overcast day. That makes it hard to get exciting value contrasts or zippy color. So what do you do..? About all that's left to us is an interesting silhouette...big, complex or interesting shapes. Don't underestimate their power: the fashion industry prefers skinny models because our eye enjoys the angular, direction changing ride around their contours. And they give the designer room to apply their own eye catching shapes. Those of us shaped like eggs or rectangles just don't flatter their creations...we're the overcast day of haute couture (I can't resist  tossing out a French word somewhere...oh, wait...silhouette IS a French word). Anyway, don't develop an eating disorder - check Carlene Atwater's most recent blog at right. Even cows can make an engaging shape.
 The proof was in the prizes at Marceline: pictures with a strong silhouette did well. Nyle Gordon's coal elevator took best in show (some photos courtesy of Rachel Neil)

Deb Baughman's watercolor of the same subject got an Honorable Mention.

I got 2nd place with this, perhaps because it used the unique clock and street signs they have in this town.

I also got an Honorable Mention for this Harley which I painters quickly at the end of the day during the Wine Stroll.

Silhouettes usually thrive in backlit situations, so if something doesn't thrill you from one angle, walk around it - the shape may come to life against the light (or contre jour as Pepe LePew would say).
Here's a nice example  by UK watercolorist John Yardley

Two main things make a shape interesting:
1. COMPLEX CONTOURS  - give your eye a fun ride! The shape should interlock with its surroundings, not just bump against them.
2. A LACK OF BILATERAL SYMMETRY  - if you cut out your shape and folded it down the middle the two haves shouldn't match. That means simple rectangular or oval shapes may need to connect to other shapes to form a more interesting conglomerate shape or connect with their cast shadows to do the same (backlighting achieves this).


  1. This makes sense. As a teacher you do an excellent job of explaining why something is visually interesting. To me it just seems right.

  2. What intrigues me about your art work is how you transform a mundane scene into something visually enticing. Pepe le Pew would agree.

  3. I agree with the comment you can take a pretty ordinary location, and see an incredible painting there. Your have the ability to bring life into it, with the choices you make. A great example of simplification, yet representing a complex scene.