Doug Higgins: Attracting the Viewer’s Eye
By Linda S. Price
Call it the focus, the focal point, or the center of interest. For Doug Higgins it’s a crucial part of planning his paintings, a process that begins with a morning drive around his hometown of Santa Fe looking for places to paint. Once a scene strikes him and he has a clear image of the composition in his mind, he sets up his easel. Painting in such a beautiful area of the United States, there is rarely a lack of inspiring scenery, but Higgins says he never accepts nature as she comes. “I know I can change the scene—make things up, eliminate some things, simplify others, move elements, brighten or neutralize colors—to serve the idea of the painting,” he says. “I carefully balance and design the elements. My goal is simplicity. Complexity is easy—anyone can achieve that through thoughtless copying of details. You need intelligent strategies to keep it simple.”
Because Higgins begins with an image of a painting in his mind, he has no need for thumbnail sketches. His first considerations are establishing the focal point, locating the horizon line, and placing the largest masses. “A painting is not a collection of parts, but a construction,” he says. “I establish masses early on, stick to those decisions, and retain those masses by using close values.” Although the arrangement of masses is abstract, it still must be accurate. Squinting allows the artist to see the masses, patterns, and edges of the scene more easily.
Having made these key decisions, Higgins next sketches in the main elements with a small, soft brush. The next step is applying a thin turpentine wash with a big brush using transparent colors—alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, and viridian for the shadows and warm local colors in the light areas—to establish the major shapes. With this step done, the artist wipes down his board with a paper towel, creating an interesting variety of colors. Using thicker paints, he begins with the focal point, completing that before moving on to other areas. By establishing his lightest light, darkest dark, and highest level of detail and contrast in the center of interest, he sets standards by which to judge the subordinate parts of the painting. To deal with changing weather conditions Higgins first establishes the elements that are most likely to change, then makes sure the rest of the painting follows those preliminary decisions, in particular the direction and quality of light.
Because he considers spontaneity essential to the creative process, Higgins initially works rapidly, being what he calls “carelessly careful.” He’d prefer to make mistakes at this stage—mistakes can always be trimmed or scraped out and restated—than lose the vitality of the paint. As he progresses, he starts paying closer attention to drawing, values, edges, and color variations. Only toward the end does his technique become slower and more accurate.
Although the focus of the painting is his most important consideration, Higgins stresses that it can’t be painted in a heavy-handed, obvious way. Because the eye is attracted by contrast, he uses the strongest contrast in values, colors, edges, textures, and degree of detail in his center of interest. Linear elements lead the viewer’s eye toward the focal point. To keep the viewer from being distracted by the foreground he simplifies and abstracts that area.In August Afternoon, for instance, Higgins wanted the viewer’s eye to go to the figures, so he used the most careful drawing and the brightest whites on them, suppressing all other whites in the painting.
By softening the edges of the trees he not only created aerial perspective but also made the sharp edges of the figures stand out. The ruts in the road provide the linear element that further directs the eye toward the center of interest.
A million thanks for posting this ifnroamtoin.Posted by Leland on 03/03 at 11:13 PM