Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Voice From the Australian Outback

When I invited comments on my last blog discussing Gale Bennett's opinions on "Spatial Tension", I hoped to hear some challenging thoughts, and perhaps a few images as well.
I've heard from several people, and one of the most interesting discussions have been with Meg Vivers, Australian historian, author and artist. This is one of those times when one feels an instant kinship with another person. I am hoping to meet Meg in person - perhaps even in Havana......

Examples of Meg's paintings can be found on her website:  

Meg writes:

The paintings I have done of our outback country and desert seem to need lots of what perhaps could be termed negative space. In fact the space is what evokes the huge sense of distance and timelessness out in that country.
Evelyn:  Exactly.....the question could be "does the line that separates one part of the negative space from the other have "life."' Does it require a smooth, continuous line or would a broken line, a line with some irregularity add to the image? Perhaps not - but a good question.

Meg:  Does your Raphael portrait have that effect?  I wonder. 

Evelyn: I see the line that defines the hat, collar and shoulder as being very much "alive". And on the other side of that line, the negative shape is strong.

Try this exercise: draw the shape of the background just using the line. Then draw the line that defines the hat, collar and shoulder with no suggestion of interior shape or subject.

Turn your paper on its side. Does the line suggest "life", movement, interest - or is it static? 

Meg: This portraIt is, one would suggest, a very static painting (timeless?) Does negative space when it dominates or competes with positive space  present something timeless?


Evelyn:  I like the uncertainty of "static vs. timeless". Which is it? Bennett Gale suggests that the powerful line that defines the negative and positive space (of the figure and hat with background) creates a "locking" of the background shape with the positive shape - resulting in spatial focus". It's the LINE that makes the difference. Imagine the painting with a smooth, curved hat and shoulder. 

Meg: Is there tension in my outback paintings? Or is there a mysterious sense of deja vu as the seasons repeat. More importantly, does the negative space become the most important aspect? 

Evelyn: I find the sense of mystery to be most powerful in your work. The sense of space is especially vivid. 


I obviously feel the need for strong lines, especially in my stronger paintings, to bring them to life. Never thought about them being a separation, rather than a way of defining shapes.

Evelyn:  It's more that the line creates a shape on EACH side, rather than thinking of it (the line) as a separation

Meg:  On the other hand, I now feel more and more the need to enter the negative space with softer lines and shapes, which introduce extra layers and evoke movement throughout the painting.

Rain On Fire

Are these paintings more representative of my immediate surroundings on the Eastern tablelands - bush, rocks, trees, etc.?   Perhaps.

  Below is another where negative space has been populated with more detail. Does this painting still have negative space?  Or is it just a series of layers?  


Mist Not Rain
Evelyn:  I see layers of color, interesting negative shapes within the larger shape.. and great lines.

I am convinced that the value of studying ideas like those espoused by Bennett Gale is in provoking conversations like the one we are having here.I think the value is in the questions and then how the artist responds to them.  

For some reason, recently my hand can't help moving into the spaces, using lines that later become vaguely familiar shapes.

Of course, once you start this, the sky has to move as well! Not only does the  sky have to become more fluid, the trees must penetrate the horizon and break into the sky.

Am I eliminating neg space because I have not been out into the centre of Australia for some time, and I have forgotten the space
which impacts on you, especially at night?? Out there in the desert,  the space is the reality.  You have to look closely for the detail! It is there, but you do not notice it at first. 
Another artists' thoughts on the next posting; join in the conversation!
Leave a comment or send me a note at with your thoughts.

Happy Painting!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tension: Is It Good for Your Painting?

As you know, next to actually painting, I love studying about painting, color, design, methods - anything and everything about our favorite subject!

Last night I came across a comment that I want to share with you.  It's by Gale Bennett (GALE BENNETT (1939-2008),Founder and Director of ArtStudy Giverny in Giverny, France).


"If we want to isolate the one single element that makes a painting a masterpiece, it is spatial tension."


Raphael: Portrait of "Count Baldassare Castiglione, C. 1514"

What is "spatial tension?"

When I looked at this portrait, I saw what I would describe as a really great "negative space" that separated the hat from the background.
As Bennette described it, this portrait is a perfect example of one of the "formal" elements of masterful art" which is spatial tension.  

Bennett says Raphael arranged the subject's hat and collar to create one of "most memorable background shapes in the history of art". Wow!

In my workshops and classes, I talk about "intersecting shapes, linking shapes, over-lapping shapes in order to make an exciting design.

And in my landscape paintings, I always concentrate on the "negative shape between horizon line, tree line and/or sky" as that can be fairly uninteresting in real life and one must create variation in shape, size and height in order to eliminate tedium.

I was so happy to realize that what Bennett is saying so eloquently, means that I am on the right track. This is how he put it:

"The visual locking of the background into the subject matter creates extreme spatial tension, ia also known as spatial focus.  When combined with the universal elements of form, composition, color, value and size, it helps answer the question: what makes a masterpiece."

Black Beauties

Right now, I'm saying loud and clear that I am NOT comparing my eggplant painting to Raphael's portrait!!

But - I do think this composition contains very interesting negative shapes.

Can  you think of any painting that you have seen that meets this level of "memorable background shape?"

Let's do some research!

Please send me a painting that you think is a good example. It could be one of yours!

I'll post them in my next blog.

Here is another site that has some good information on how spatial and visual tension can affect your painting.

Leave a comment or send me a note at with your results.

Happy Painting!