95 Thinking outside the frame

PEOPLE OCCASIONALLY REMARK that my paintings have a rhythm they find appealing. When I consider my best paintings I agree with them. The question is; how do you find and emphasize a sense of rhythm?

About 15 years ago a fellow artist introduced me to the Reilly Method, a way of drawing devised by Frank Reilly of the New York Art students league. The method requires the artist to find connections between major forms in the figure. If you haven’t studied this method I highly recommend it. It is one of the best ways to get energy and motion into a static anatomy drawing. But what if we applied Reilly’s methods to the landscape?

One of the first things you realize is that applying this method to the landscape requires drawing outside the picture plane (See illustration below). Which means you have to do your sketch on a very large pad of paper. In the center of this page you draw the boundaries of your sketch. Then begin to tentatively form the basic composition. Try to imagine these lines extending off and circling back into the composition of the sketch. The basic idea is to find, or invent, a logical and organic connection between every major line in the composition. It’s not always possible but trying can be a very illuminating way to find harmonious lines of energy.

I don’t do this with every sketch. In fact, once you’ve done this a half-dozen times you can mentally connect the lines and there isn’t any need to draw on a huge pad. When you’re out in the field you can draw in the air and connect the lines with large swooping motions. This can give a certain grace to your strokes, help you to paint from the shoulder (which is always helpful to get large, bold shapes), and give any bystanders something to remember you by.

This broad method can be applied not only to the entire painting but to individual aspects of the landscape such as trees, mountains, and rivers, any aspect of your painting that needs a feeling of rhythm and internal harmony.

Brad Teare, April 2012

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Updated: 24th September 2023
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