Sunday, March 15, 2009


An artist's photograph collection reveals more than topic choice. When you take the time to view your collection, you will find direct references to how you perceive the world and how this translates directly into the work you create. While I have always used photographs as reference material, it is only recently that I've begun to discover many links between the photographs I take and how I create work. At this point you may be thinking "duh" and have already made these links in your own practice.

Two previous posts Looking down and Looking down again testify to my need to always be aware of where I'm walking and what I am walking on. While I find panoramic views beautiful, they never hold my interest for long. I am drawn to the close up- the bits and pieces of information that many miss.

Registering too much visually often leads to problems in my work. When you are constantly inundated with too much information, it is difficult to screen most of it out and focus on several elements. Looking back over my body of work makes me realize this viewing pattern could account for my forays into layering. This technique allows me to include quite a bit of information initially and then to push some of it back or totally eradicate it, and let the important bits float to the surface. Layering gives me time to decide what is important. Wow, I just realized that! So much of what we do in art is instinct.

My favourite orientation for my work is vertical. I choose long, nonstandard size verticals that are difficult to compose. The eye is so accustomed to viewing horizontally that there is a tendency to move quickly over horizontal orientations in art. It is what the eye expects. It also encourages the use of too much information for me personally. The vertical forces you to change your usual viewing pattern; it makes you stop. This small pause captures the viewer in a way a horizontal orientation doesn't. Then there is the energy of the vertical that is hard to ignore. Verticals also mimic the coveted glance - what is seen through doors, gates, and windows. They also provide a slice of information, like looking through a partially opened door.

The most difficult task compositionally when you are attracted to vertical orientations, is to slow the viewer's assent through the work. When you include a path this makes the job that much harder. While I guess some of these thoughts about working vertically were always with me in varying levels of recognition, many came to the forefront when I was responding to a work Miki Willa posted on her site. That testifies to the value of looking at another artist's work with a critical eye, which is what Miki had requested.

The vertical is my preferred orientation in photography also. It appears I like to look up as much as I like to look down. These shots all come from one community near my summer home. Keels is where my mother was born and where I spent my summer holidays when I was a child. It is a spectacular little community with interesting architecture and geological features. Looking at some of these shots makes me wonder how much of the walking and climbing as a child influenced my interest in the vertical.

You can choose which orientation tells the story best.


Miki Willa said...

Wow! Thanks for the mention and the link. I have been looking through my reference photos for more paintings to do vertically. Looking at your photos, I can really see the difference in the impact the vertical images make. The first one and the last one speak volumes about the place that does not show in the horizontal ones. Thanks for the visual lesson.

Margaret Ryall said...

Thanks for getting me thinking about this topic in a more conscious way. Looking at your work in a vertical format made me re-consider what I know/feel about how this works. It was obviously all in my head but needed teasing out.

Early in my career I took classes from a much younger artist, who would have us do at least three compositional sketches. She would say disregard the first one always because it will be the most obvious and the one that you are comfortable with. This has served as good advice for me over the years.

Mary Ann Wakeley said...

It was a pleasure to read your thoughts on taking in your environment. I tend to look down too. I enjoy the patterns right underfoot and find that I use them often in my work as well.

Of the images you posted, the bottom two are my favorites. The simplicity of landscape, the stone elements and winding path are all very pleasing to my eyes.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Margaret, I find myself working most often in a vertical orientation, too, especially while painting.

And I have friends who have "accused" me of "always looking up," since I tend to stare at trees and clouds a lot. So I can relate...

Your photos are lovely and you were fortunate to spend part of your childhood in a gorgeous place!!!

Jill Berry said...

Just saw your comment on commenting over on Miki's blog and decided to come over and meet you blog style.
This is an interesting discussion on format. Most of my photography is vertical, but more of my paintings are "landscape". I really debated on my current one of palms from a second story, then I still went horizontal.
Thanks for sharing photos of your world. The first and the last are my favorites.