A blank canvas holds endless possibilities as one begins to study art and recognize how very different the artist can tell their story by the use of specific techniques. Artist are given the ability to leave us with a formal feeling as we glance at a picture of a young girl having her portrait painted, the use of light in a painting can help us to understand the reach of light as an artist makes light perfectly round a building corner, or we can be given a contemporary jolt with a painting that is perfectly linear and colorful. The techniques used vary and are effected by brush size, colors, stroke technique, moods, and feelings. Each particle of color on the canvas tells a story within a story as the overall work is not independent from the details that make a painting have depth. For the scope of this paper I will analyze several different works for their lines, formal qualities, and light.
It may be hard to understand when thinking abstractly about lines in paintings that they can be used very differently. This is clear in such works as Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night (Sayre 65) and Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing No. 681 (Sayre 68). Both artist are able to communicate completely different messages with their works by the use of lines. Van Gogh’s world is painted with soft dream like brush strokes in cool colors. LeWitt’s use of hard, defined lines in bold colors wakes up the viewer. The colors of his work predominately warm giving one the feelings of a warm Jamaican holiday in the sun. Both artist use lines and both are able to reveal different emotions in their work and communicate completely different messages. Lines are not limited in what they are capable of communicating because of their simplicity.

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Another effect art can have is to portray a formal feeling which is masterfully done in Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez (Sayre 163). The shape, tone, and texture of this painting combine to reveal to us a quick moment of what seems to be the artist himself painting a portrait and a child surrounded by whimsical attendees. The characters are portrayed realistically and there is nothing fantastical or abstract about them. The colors of the room are very straight forward and believable. The viewer is given the sense that they are actually in the room thanks to the use of these formal techniques combining together. If the artist had decided to either dramatically cool up or warm the use of color the picture may give a totally different message. Another message could also have been derived by using different shapes. Instead Velázquez has communicated the message in a formal and realistic manner.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (Sayre 524) excellently uses light and color to create a very American feel at a diner late at night. The entire world is dark except for the light of the diner which is played up with the brown countertop as the lady in the red dress pops. The light of the diner winds around the corner of the street creating a very real use of light. The use of color in portraying light is masterfully done and work well together in creating the effects an actual diner light would have both in the room and on the street outside of its domain.

As the artist begins to deliver their message to a blank canvas they must make many calculated decisions in their mind in order to give the message to the world they intend. This can be done using several different techniques and combining them together. It is important for the artist to understand the message their desire to give and then craft that message in an authentic way as the artist of the above mentioned works have by way of light, color, formal, and line techniques.

  • Sayre, H. M. (1997). A world of art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.