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Surface Objects and Patterns

Surface Objects and Patterns: When we design a painting we want the viewer to be able to put himself into it….and lead the eye to the focal point, or into the mood. We create some of the path to that focal point with shadows; some with directional lines.

Across this path to the focal point, we may encounter undulations in the landscape, round or square shapes on a table, or objects laying across the path which could hamper the eye in its journey.

It is the duty of the artist to create a way around or over these obstacles.

The rule to remember: A shadow or a linear path such as a road, follows the conformation of that which it finds in its way and falls across.

Think of the shadow as a piece of wet cloth that adheres to the surface that it lies upon, and the shape of the object that lies underneath it is shown.

Watercolor Painting TipsLet's take shadows for instance. If you are in the woods and the sun is flickering through the trees, creating shadows cast by them, and there are trees on the ground, which the shadows fall across, note that the shadows go up and over the trees on the ground. They certainly cannot go through the tree! In a snow scene, this is really easy to see.  The shadows created by the trees follow the pattern of the earth. They go up and down a hill, over rocks and streams.

Watercolor Painting TipsNote the undulations in the landscape (hills, valleys or just simple up and down movements), the shadows or roads follow those movements, up and down, as they travel across the landscape.  By just adding undulating shadows to a landscape can change the entire look of the painting.


Paint a flat landscape, then add shadows that appear to go up and over little hills....and you will see an entirely new painting!

In a still life, the same holds true. Patterns created by shadows can fall over oranges, grapes, etc., and pass through clear glass, but go around translucent vases, pottery, etc.

Watercolor Painting TipsYou may notice that reflections and highlights in this painting move with the contour of the glass objects. The blue vase is made of vertical flat panels of glass and the shadows and reflections are contained in each one as if it is a painting of its own. In the vase of marbles the highlights follow the round surface of the vase. When painting objects such as these, try to keep in mind that each facet of the object is an individual painting. That idea keeps your mind focused on one area instead of the whole.

When shadows are cast on a building, they actually crawl up its surface, such as in this painting of the San Miguel Laundry in San Miguel, Mexico. Watercolor Painting TipsFirst, the shadows crawl across the stone courtyard, then up the wall. The wall prevents them from being flat on the ground. So you see, once again, they must follow the shape of whatever they fall upon, whether it be flat or round, horizontal or vertical.

I hope these examples help you in understanding how to look for these examples in the landscape. Go out with your camera. Photograph unusual shapes, dramatic landscapes with shadows. Create a still life in your studio. Light it dramatically and watch the shadows appear. These are what make paintings stand out. This is what your viewer is searching for. Make the viewer look twice at your work!....

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