Monday, March 26, 2012


The term "breadth" was very important to 19th century painters, though it's rarely used today.

An 1847 manual of oil painting explains: “When the lights of a painting are so arranged that they seem to be in masses, and the darks are massed to support them, we have what is called breadth of effect, which is mainly produced by the coloring and chiaroscuro." 

Breadth is related to the word "effet" in French, and "massing" or "shapewelding" in English.

The painting "Blessing of the Young Couple Before Marriage" by Pascal Dagnan Bouveret is a good example of breadth. The white of the bride's dress joins with the table cloth, the shaft of light, and the other women's dresses to make a single large shape. Meanwhile, two groupings of dark-clad figures join to form larger masses.

The painting manual says that the quality of breadth applies to both design and coloring, and that it is indicative of a master. Indeed it's difficult to achieve, because one must overcome the natural inclination to separate and define shapes throughout the composition.


jeffkunze said...

This is difficult to do. It seems like doing the small initial thumbnail value studies can help you plan for this. I think it was a Rockwell piece that I first noticed shapewelding and started trying to apply it in my own work.
Letting the viewers imagination do the work seems to help a lot.

Vicki said...

Very interesting. There seems to be lots of contradictory advice floating about from masters of art. How do you put it all together into a whole? Howard Pyle, as I remember from something you wrote here, I believe, said to put the greatest chiaroscuro in the most important place in the picture.
Can we assume that an illustrator's goals are not the same as the goals of a painter of works to hang on the wall? Or can somehow both these effects work together? Or, more to the point, maybe some effects work better in some pieces and some in others.
I suppose that as long as I am paying attention to Rules, I am still in the rookie stage of illustrating.

Tom Hart said...

Vicki brings up an interesting point about how to balance "rules" (for want of a better term). I think the best approach might be to work to a point where you are aware of these guidelines (perhaps a better term than rules) but have internalized them enough to apply them subconsciously - at least most of the time. Otherwise I think (and this speaks to my own learning style as much as anything) trying to balance too many guidelines while working can lead to a sort of paralysis - or, just as bad, overthinking and/or overworking the piece.

Torbjörn Källström said...

You shouldn't be too hung up on rules... (after all, there are no rules, only tools) But I think in this case the greatest value contrast is at the focal point. The bright wedding dress of the bride against the dark clothing of the groom behind her. Also the biggest area of white (the dress) and the biggest area of black (the priest et al) are both put next to each other to put more emphasis on that area.

J. Bustamante said...

I wonder what other qualities they say are "indicative of a master"?... surely if I learn all of those qualities I will be a master? yes? .... probably not ;)

Georgee said...

I'm glad to find your blog.

Vicki said...

Torbjorn, you nailed it! You are exactly right. Now that I look at it, I see that the greatest value contrast IS at the focal point. So there is no contradiction. That helps.

Richard said...

breadth=Art . a broad or general effect due to subordination of details or nonessentials.

effet in french translates to effect.


Brad Teare said...

It takes a lot of discipline (and courage) to let go of edges.