Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Clustering

I couldn’t move on from the recent posts about shape welding and the Pyle school without mentioning one other quality of the Brandywine tradition that I so admire. Again, there’s no name for it that I’ve ever encountered, so I propose the word “clustering.”



Clustering is the method Pyle used so often to arrange a tight group of detail in one interest area, in contrast with large blank areas. This composition, called "Extorting Tribute from the Citizens," packs dozens of faces in one small section in front of the arch, while keeping the wall above and the street below completely empty.



Anyone but Pyle would have painted this scene from "Sinbad on Burrator" with the figures spaced out evenly, each silhouette separate from the others. By clustering them all together, the eye sees them as one shape first and wants to go in and sort them out.

Shape welding and clustering look easy, but in my experience it takes real determination to pull them off. I have to fight the lunkhead instinct which wants to line up the toy soldiers, spread out the cookies on the table, give everything equal importance, and define every edge equally.

I can't wait until this Friday, when we'll bring you via this blog to the Delaware Art Museum, home of Howard Pyle's originals.

16 comments:

Eric Orchard said...

Mr. Gurney's thoughts put me in mind of Ruskin's Elements of Drawing. Has anyone read this? His ideas about composition are great, a composition is the way in which every element interacts with every other element in a drawing. Pyle's compositions are fantastic examples of what this looks like when done right and how ridiculously hard it us. I think Degas said, "the more you know about painting the harder it is "

Michael said...

James..your daily blog continues to inspire (or should I say "inflict" me with a singular concept in the studio. Keep up the great work. I'm a big fan...

tlc illustration said...

Eric, these discussions of Pyle's compostional methods also reminded me of some of the exposition in Betty Edward's "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" (which I used a great deal when teaching Beginning Drawing). I love the terms "clustering" and "shape welding", partly because they seem to describe so well one of the phenomena that Edward's discusses in regards to visual patterns: how our right-brains "extrapolate from incomplete information to envision a complete image" (i.e. lost edges, 'shape welding', etc...). Also "the right brain seems undeterred by missing pieces of information and appears to *delight* in 'getting' the picture, despite its incompleteness."

I think this is why paintings that make you 'work' a bit are SO much more satisfying than those that spell it all out (as Mr. Gurney describes - laying out the cookies evenly on the table) - it is tough to do. Pyle was a master at it. And you never get tired of looking at his compositions.

Enjoy your stint at the Delaware Art Museum! That and the Brandywine Art Museum are amongst my favorites in the country! All those Pyle, Parrish and Wyeth originals... *sigh*

Eric Orchard said...

I see that book everywhere, Tara but havn't yet read it. Is it really good?

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