Dominating Elements

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

We artists use any number of painting elements to portray a motif, such as color, shape, line, value, texture, and so on. A painting is strengthened by dominating one or more of them, like color and shape, or line direction and value, over the others, and of course which ones are used often vary from painting to painting. An element is considered dominant when its size, frequency and/or amount is greater than that of other elements used. In this peony portrait, the fourth in my current peony series, I’m using color and shape as dominating elements.

I begin, as usual, by loosely adding a pale wash over most of the subject shapes. Tips of the flowers’ petals are white or pale pink, so I’ve generally avoided covering them with paint. (The above photo was probably adversely affected by indoor lighting, leaving a yellowish cast at top.)

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

You can see that a dominant circular shape in one major color, balanced by smaller similar shapes and colors, are being developed. The most saturated recesses of these petals are achieved by building layer by layer of bright color and allowing the paper to dry between each. Meanwhile, the palest, brightest wash of green background is loosely applied.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Now that petals are mostly established through negative space painting, the first supporting or secondary, foliage shapes become more defined using the same layering techniques.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

As background foliage is added, I am more concerned with edges, both defined and obscure. Some disappear in shadows while others help key shapes stand out.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Notice that the right side of the dark line diagonally separating the two flowers in the above photo subtly melts into the rounded petal shapes, but is sharp-edged for the moment on its left. Once the critical soft shapes are complete to my satisfaction, its hard-edged side is softened with a wash of paint or water.

Time to Unwind, Watercolor, 22×30″ ©Bivenne Staiger 2020

Strategically placed dark shapes are contrasted by the bright pink spheres that ultimately dominate this painting.

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