Artists benefit from learning photography.
A visual artist, illustrator or even classically trained fine artists should consider learning the art of photography. Photographers are of course visual artists themselves. The practice of creating a good illustration or piece of art, as well as knowing how to take a great photo have a lot in common, however the procedure is very different in its execution.
Illustrators and artists spend years working on their drawing skills, learning muscle groups and figure drawing. Photographers learn how to use their equipment and learn about how to master it and create compositions and manipulate light. The learning curve is steep in all of these professions.
Artistry with photography and traditional art does however complement each other in a very unique way. Improvement in one is often reflected in the other. I gained a greater understanding of composition and its guidelines due to learning photography. This is the first post in a series on how photography gave me a better understanding of the visual arts.
Composing and setting up a structure to an illustration is usually created based on a sketch or a starting point that the artist has already created. It is often something that is done at some stage after a sketch is created, unless this is planned out before the initial drawing is started. This would be done by creating thumbnails.
Artists illustrating fantasy landscapes do this before creating their pieces and have it ingrained as a first step in their process, however, it is not necessarily something artists in other genres tend to do very often. Some even think it is an unnecessary step for their work flow depending on what they are creating. The point being that composition is often an after thought based on what the sketch turns out to be.
I think, this is one of the reasons why many artists that are in the different stages of learning the craft, struggle with composition. The theory around composition and structure is also sometimes explained in an unnecessarily complicated manner by professionals and even art teachers. I personally figured out the theory of it, after receiving training in photography and several years of drawing. The truth is that the theory and rules of composition, whether it is art, Illustration or photography, is an annoyingly and almost frustratingly simple concept once you understand it.
Experienced photographers however, think of composition naturally, all the time, even when they don`t have a camera in their hand. It is the first big mental step taken to create a good image in most cases. It basically becomes an instinct that is gained over time.
When we learn about composition whether it is through art schooling or photography, there are two concepts that almost always turn up. These are “The rule of thirds” and “The golden ratio”, depending on the class, a string of maths is then presented to explain why these are the rules. This is completely unnecessary to know when you put these rules into use or even if you should choose to use them at all?, more on that later.
The rule of thirds is the easiest one to understand. Using four lines, the canvas is split into nine equally large boxes. Where the lines intersect there are “power points” meaning the focus or rather the most important part of the image or illustration should be located somewhere in or around these. The rest of the lines serve as a guide as to where you may want to have leading lines in the image, for instance a horizon or a street light, depending on the orientation of what it is in the image.
Keep in mind that these boxes are the same whether the canvas or image is in Landscape mode or portrait mode, it can always be divided into the rule of thirds. The same is true for our next “rule”. The golden ratio.
The golden ratio is arguably more complicated, but it is still good too understand it conceptually. This is where most teachers would begin rambling about numbers to explain what it is, however this is not necessary. The numbers change depending on scale and size. If that was not enough, the golden ratio can almost be applied to anything, making it more confusing. For now it is enough to understand that it is a geometrically perfect spiral based on the Fibonacci sequence. This spiral is created by drawing a line through geometric boxes that multiplies with itself in height and width.
This spiral is used as a tool to pinpoint where an artist would like to lead the eye of the person looking at the image. The focal point and the important and most detailed parts of the image or illustration should be close to the centre of the spiral. While the rest of the spiral is a guide to leading lines again. In the case of the spiral it is usually applied to more organic and fluid movement in an image..
Even though this is tough to understand sometimes, the spiral can be applied to almost anything. This is because the spiral can be flipped both horizontally and vertically as you see fit. This Gives some leeway into figuring out where you want the focal point or the point of interest to be.
The final thing i want to mention now is that the golden ratio fits almost perfectly into the rule of thirds as well. This means you can combine them when you think of structuring a work of art. Understanding this concept gives you a lot of freedom when applying these rules and you as an artist can make them work for you instead of being a slave to them.
These concepts are a lot like the pirates code, only for visual artists. “They`re more what you`d call guidelines than actual rules”. There are instances where you should use them, and then again they could potentially hinder an artists creativity. Some people swear by these concepts because they are “rules”, some are incapable of breaking them because a rule is a rule. But having some understanding of them leaves you better equipped to actually break the mold as well.
These rules are a lot like recipes, they are a structured concept that makes executing the task easier when it comes to gaining a good result in the end. But after cooking with recipes for a while you can explore your options in creating something new because you understand these concepts and ingredients.
The next post on how photography improved my understanding of art will be about light and how it can be manipulated to create better works of art.
Thank you for reading.