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Eye Magnets

Stefan Baumann

Blog #9 of 17

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October 7th, 2019 - 11:53 AM

Eye Magnets

Snow had been falling all week and our fire pit was buried under 3 feet of snow! So, we moved our chat indoors and huddled around the fireplace. Even though we had to change our venue, this week’s campfire chat was amazing! We enjoyed having a different perspective as we sat on Stickney chairs and sipped wine in crystal glasses. Our conversation, as usual, drifted to art and painting, and this week’s topic was “What in the world are eye magnets?”

“What are eye magnets?”


Eye magnets, as I call them, are lines or focal points that are strategically placed throughout a painting to lead the viewer’s attention around the painting. The goal of captivating and holdings the viewer’s attention on your masterpiece can be achieved by having lines and focal points that are pleasing and brushstrokes that lead the viewer from one point to the next one.

Hands to point at


The history of the concept of moving the viewer throughout a painting was discovered during the Baroque times when artists became bored with the staged settings with models that were used at the time. Initially, artists starting using hands to point at what the artist wanted the viewer to look at. Later, cloth became a popular directional indicator. Cloth also seemed to have a life of its own, defining gravity, spinning the models into a vortex that gives the overall feeling of weightlessness in the painting.


One or two focal points

I utilize focal points to draw the viewer’s attention in and through the painting. First of all, to get the viewer’s attention, an effect of light must be bright and beautiful and located within the center of the painting. However, if the viewer’s eyes only stay there, the viewer would have very little interaction with the rest of the painting. I usually place a secondary effect in the painting that does not interfere with the main focal point, that helps the viewer to continue moving through the painting and not just stay focused on his first impression.
I place one or two focal points of either light or color (and neither being as bright as he primary focal point) on the painting to offer resting points for the viewer to follow.


We usually look at art from left to right


Next, I begin linking these focal points together by making a triangle that is part of my composition. The goal is to create a sense of balance and a repeated rhythmic pattern that goes from the center focal point outward. The rhythm of the lines is established the moment the viewer interacts with the subject. For instance, if the lines swirl from the center out over and over, the cadence would be busy and the viewer could get a sense of vertigo. Likewise, if there is not enough movement, the viewer can feel bored and move on. Like the rhythmic pattern in a song, the lines in a painting provide a rhythmic feeling in the viewer. Often these lines intersect, leading the viewer from the bottom of the painting to the right of the painting, then to the top, and then down to the side and then back similar to a spiral. This armature does not need to be literal. It shows up in the painting with objects such as fallen trees or bends in the fabric. The more the armature or structure is hidden, the better the effect. We usually look at art from left to right, just as we do with reading. So, it’s best to have the rhythmic pattern to be vertical and sweeping to the right. In other words, the viewer's eye should follow around counterclockwise.

Artist must vary these aspects in the painting
In addition, if you include the use of edges, the viewer can move around the canvas with the help of soft and hard edges. Edges dictate the speed that one moves in the painting. The sharper the edges, the faster the viewer experiences the painting, and softer edges slow down the experience. Also, the harder edges are found around the central focal point. Just like with music, you don't want the rhythm in the painting to be repetitious or have only one level of intensity. An artist must vary these aspects in the painting and find effective ways to assist the viewer’s experience by keeping his or her attention focused within the painting.

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