Tag Archives: element

What’s So Artistic About a Bunch Of Rocks?

The piece Rocks and Roots provides an interesting composition with varied layers of meaning.

At first glance you see the round pebbles and rocks of a river or stream bed displaced by the roots of a nearby tree.  However, this is a Zen garden and nothing is as it seems.

Zen gardens are places of meditation, solitude, nature and the blending of architecture with nature.  Naturally, every piece and structure, both natural and manufactured in a Zen garden has a purpose.  Usually it tells a story, or reminds you of a lesson or saying.  It works the same way that stained glass works in a church. However, it is possible to also look at the elements in a Zen garden through the eyes of art.

Artistically, this picture is not only old rocks and new roots, it’s also about the lines.  If you notice, there are almost no straight lines in this piece.    Most are of a natural form, a curve, or a smooth rounded edge.  Even the straight lines you do find on some of the roots are not completely straight but still follow a natural fragmented look.

After the study of natural lines Rocks and Roots reveals the value of the contrasts .  Discover the contrasts of texture and color between the various rocks resulting in earth tones of grey and reds but compared with the dark foreboding wood of the root.

Once our eyes are comfortable with these contrasts of line and color we discover the straight lined structure in the far upper left corner compared with the rest of the work. It is now that we have a total blend of components that serves the piece completely.

The shocking result is a work rich in a compelling study of lines, contrast and color.  The different colored rocks, the earth tones and the dark ragged hues of the wood present the miracle of nature but by leaving that straight piece of wood in the corner, we have instantly invented a theme resulting in Man vs. nature theme to the overall composition.  The artificial structure and the natural world is separate, yet part of the compelling experience.

Click here to return to the show Walking through The Zen Garden.

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3 Ways Space Appears in Your Art

The power of space makes it the last frontier of the art elements. Space is a vital element of any art. It simply is there.  This element is both existent and non-existent at the same time.

There are several varieties of space each having an exact opposite.  Space in fine art is rather mathematical in form.  As with any formula, what you give to one side of the equation you must take from the other.    If you take away the positive or open space you get more negative or closed and vice versa.

The kinds of space are:

  1. Positive and Negative- Sometimes determined by white for positive and black for negative, it is generally the area occupied by an object or the empty are around the object.
  2. Open and Closed- the area inside a circle refers to closed space while the outside of the circle is open.
  3. 2 Dimensional or 3 Dimensional – this is a study in perspective.  Since all pictures are actually flat.  Any 3 dimensional drawing is therefore an illusion.

I’ve always liked the linear example illusion of 3 dimensional space. If you look at a railway or a road in a picture you’ll see that the two edges of the road will appear as parallel lines that begin to converge on a single point in the distance.  This creates illusions of depth in the photograph.

Rush Hour in Chama

In photography, space is one of the most important of the elements.  The artist regularly uses positive and negative space to highlight an object while making another object seem unimportant.  The use of depth of field allows the subject of the photograph to appear crystal clear and the center of attention while another object appears blurred in the background giving an open space that defines the intended subject.

Another example  in photography is the white or black backdrop found in a typical photographers portrait studio. The person having their picture taken is clear and in focus while the background is out of focus and provides a clear distinction between what is important, the model, and what is not, the background.

Whether a piece of fine art is a photograph, sculpture, or painting, space is where the action is or isn’t.   Space is a vital transmitter of  emotion and feeling in any piece of art.  It is the last frontier of elements in world of fine art photography.

Do You Think of Textures When You Are Taking A Photograph?

When I think of texture my mind always thinks of a burlap bag.  Why?  I guess it is my own personal definition or association with the word.  The rough fibers, the feel of the hemp or flax, all of these help give the Burlap a certain feel.  But I also think of wine.  The silky smoothness and feel of a perfectly aged and aerated wine on the palate.   Texture means things both real and imagined.

We say a wine has a complex texture but we are not really referring to the actually feeling of the wine, it’s a liquid after all.  Instead we are looking for clues to its imaginary feel.  We want a velvety smooth wine, but that is just an imaginary description.   Have you ever put velvet in your mouth?  I doubt it is as inspiring as a good claret.  Like wine, texture in art and photography is not just about the physical sensations discovered when you touch it.  In both the painting and photographic realms it is also about the visual imaginative “feel” that a work of art has.

In painting an artist may rely on texture to relay a feeling of heaviness to the viewer. Piling the paint in thick strokes upon the canvas do this.  This use of texture coincides with lines, color, and shape to create the illusion that an object is real.

So what is the lowly photographer to do?  Photographs do not have paint to supply that 3rd dimension.  This is true, but we have our own set off tools to do the job.

In the physical realm to print our pictures on many different kinds of objects.  We can give a photograph texture by printing it on a certain canvas; we can even print the image on metal to give it a polished look.  I’ve also seen pictures printed on glass so that the light shines through the glass lighting up the picture and giving it a reflective texture.

The photographer can also offer visual texture in an image in several other ways. The most obvious is to create a photograph of a physical texture.  A close up portrait of a burlap bag would be an example.  The picture itself doesn’t have a physical texture but it does have a visual one.  Other objects that can offer texture in photographs include glass, metal, bricks, rocks, water, and wood.

When we see these imagines,  a part of the brain that identifies them according to our own experiences through our senses.  When I see grass, I don’t have to touch it to know what it feels like in my hands or on my feet. You don’t have to touch molten iron to know it’s hot.  My brain and imagination does this for me.  The photographer can use this to give the viewer familiarity  with the subject of the photograph, thus imparting the experience  the photographer wishes.

What are your favorite textures?  Do you think of textures when you are taking a photograph?

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Value is the Real 50 Shades of Grey

If you enjoy the fine art of black and white photography, today’s topic has a lot to do with it.   When we discuss value, we speak of the basic artistic element in photographic art. We refer to the light or dark of an object or color.


Value serves an important function for color. It determines what a dark blue color compared to a light blue color looks like.


Value is also important for black and white images also,  without the contrast provided between the different shades of grey you would not have a detail in the image to look at.   It is the value that allows you to view the shape and form of the object in the picture.

Shades of Gray by Rfc1394 CC0 1.0
Shades of Gray by Rfc1394
CC0 1.0

The more common use of value is as number on it’s greyscale.  Greyscale is the tonal or shade of color movement from total black to total white.


When you have a black and white imagine, it is common for the artist to make sure that some object in the photograph appears as completely white, and another object or area will appear as completely black.  This will create contrast in the picture and give the image a sense of depth, and space.


It is interesting to note that computer programs such as Photoshop and Aperture correlate a number to the value of the white or black in an image to properly reproduce the image to either the screen or for printing.  These number values are 0 for pure black and 255 for pure white.


When I am taking a picture in an environment where I have little control of my light source, like outside, I use a grey card, a white card, and a black card to help determine what exposure I should have.  Later in my office, I can look at the picture in Aperture or Photoshop and develop a better image by using the picture of the cards to help me decide what color is black, white and midtone grey in my pictures.

The Power of Form in Art and Photography

Perhaps it is confusing to see the difference between a shape and a form.  A form is nothing more than a shape with 3 dimensions. So,

  • A square becomes a box.
  • A circle becomes a sphere.
  • A triangle becomes a pyramid
  • A biomorphic shape becomes identifiable as something in nature.  Think of why a kidney bean is a kidney bean.  It has the same shape as a kidney.

It is important that any fine art contains at least a shape or a form in every picture.  Why?  Since a form is a 3 dimensional shape it performs the same job as a shape but in a more realistic way.  It communicates an emotion or a message that the artist wants people to see.

When a person draws a flat circle and places the continents on it, people identify it as the earth.  But it lacks depth. Sure, we can name the shape, find the meaning, but it’s only when you turn the circle into a sphere that an entire new dimension shows in our 2 dimensional drawing.  That portrayal of the earth as a 3D image gives it more realism.


Sphere CC by Lemonade_Jo
CC by Lemonade_Jo

How do they do this?  In drawing, shapes become forms by using shading.  Photographic art accomplishes this with light with lighting. This fact becomes the focus point where the two forms of art differ.  In drawing you have to create a form out a shape by adding shading to the drawing to give it that 3rd dimension.  In photography, it happens automatically.  A photographer must manipulate the light creating the form to get the effect they wish.

Because you are taking pictures of an object in 3D and your camera is creating an image in two 2D, you can instantly create a powerful form in a realistic way instantly.

Hanging Grapes by Andrew Chianese
Hanging Grapes


However, the real power of fine art is the ability to take an image and highlight a particular form in the photograph to give it more significance than any other.  We can do this by using the aperture setting and creating a depth of field in our image.  We can highlight a sphere, make it the center of attention, and place it in crystal clear focus while turning everything else into a blurry mess behind it.

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