I Hate to Say It, But Geometry Helps

16 Dec 2012

Another slice of my personal humble pie is the fact that I'm pretty bad at math in general and downright horrible at geometry in particular. You'd never ever find me trying to use these skills when making art--or so I thought. But when I was gleaning tips from watercolor artist Law Wai Hin on how to paint flowers, geometry kept popping up.

Flower Arrangements with Lotus by Law Wai Hin, 22 x 30, watercolor painting.
Flower Arrangements with Lotus by Law Wai Hin, 22 x 30, watercolor painting.

Law's flower drawing process begins with arranging the flowers into a striking composition. The artist starts with a realistic drawing of the flowers as they actually appear in front of him. But after repeatedly sketching it he eventually finds new elements within the scene and from there he adjust his sketches until he's captured the deep thought and feeling he wants to express.

Poppies with Sunflowers by Law Wai Hin, 22 x 30, watercolor painting.
Poppies with Sunflowers by Law Wai Hin, 22 x 30, watercolor painting.

These deeper expressions are often visually manifested through geometry--using shape, size, and relative position of figures to create the depth and clarity that exists in each painting. For example in Flower No. 1, color and texture are what I see first. The colors are so lush and appear to almost vibrate. The rendering of the flowers is so unusual that I want to get as close as possible to the surface of the painting to see how it was done.

Flower No. 1 by Law Wai Hin, watercolor painting, 29 1/2 x 41 1/2.
Flower No. 1 by Law Wai Hin, watercolor painting, 29 1/2 x 41 1/2.
Adapted from an article by Austin R. Williams.
But when I start to analyze the painting's composition, I see how the flower vases are positioned in space as if they are marking the path of an arc. But the thick white line that runs parallel to the horizontal edge of the painting complicates the space, perhaps bisecting it, which would mean the space in the painting is vaster than what the artist shows us. The white line also creates a second horizon line, as there is one indicated to the right of the painting about midway up. The two lines together make it seem as though the space in the painting is folding in on itself.

So it seems that in order to learn how to draw flowers, I'm going to have to cozy up to my bad-math past, but if it gets me anywhere near the skill and unique beauty of works like Law, I'd count myself lucky. And every time I read my digital edition of Best of Watercolor, I feel the same way. The magazine features so many incredible artists using unusual methods to get the most out of watercolor, and I'd love to be able to do the same. If you feel like you are on the same path, take a look at Best of Watercolor and see if it is right for you. Enjoy!

 

 

 


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Comments

karenmkirk wrote
on 13 Jul 2014 10:46 AM

well believe it or not, you are using math and geometry all the time naturally, organically, and intuitively as an artist... you can't help it or get away from it. I believe you're talking about using geometry in a more conscious way which I'm sure would be helpful for any artist... but we right-brained artist keep beating ourselves up for not being good at "school-based math" which is dry, unnatural, non-intuitive, and not approached in a real world way. I say we artists are GREAT at real world geometry :)