Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Organizing Methods

As you have heard from Castle Hill, my plan for Making Fine Art With Unconventional Mixed Media and Encaustic is to give each participant a Mystery Box containing a 9x12 cradled panel and a selection of some unconventional mixed media. The object is to examine the materials in your Mystery Box and make an artwork that uses some or all of them along with encaustic paint.

On hand will be plenty of encaustic paint in clear and colors, colored gesso, pigment sticks, oil pastels, charcoal, watercolors, ink plus other materials such as textiles, rope, thread, string, wire, dried plant parts, and so on. I will also have a wide selection of tools for use in attaching objects to panels.

What Now?
The first question you will probably ask yourself (after What am I doing here?) is, How can I make something out of this weird collection of stuff? To make answering that question a little easier, I thought we could review some of the organizing methods other artists have used to make works that may be applicable to the predicament we will find ourselves in when we open the Mystery Box. (And by the way, I will also be opening my own Mystery Box that my wife Bonnie is making for me so that I can work along with you.)

Components of Art
I am sure that you have seen this list or one like it somewhere during the course of your art-making career.

Line – actual lines or direction of the eye through the work
Shape – areas defined - geometric or organic
Color – hues/intensities
Texture – surface qualities – tactile illusion
Form/Volume – 3D
Value – shading – dark/light
Space – illusion – positive/negative
Contrast – of values/colors/shapes 
Pattern – rhythm/repetition  

Organizing Principles of Art
To put some of these components to work, we get a list of organizing principles that looks like this:

Geometry and symmetry
Emphasis or focus

I added Meaning to the list because I think this is also an important consideration and one that we will be exploring in addition to the physical arrangement of elements.


No. 1 - Construction by Federico Hurtado

Here is an example of a work that is organized in a very symmetrical and geometric way. If we go down the list of principles, we can see that all of them have been employed. Perhaps the one principle that is lacking is variety, but organizing the piece in such a deliberate way gives it a static presence that conveys a sense of ritual and formality. The elements also look as if they have a patina of age and wear.

However, note that the found elements don't seem to have been modified very much. Perhaps the turquoise paint was added and then sanded down, but it may just have been part of the found wood. What does one element have to do with the other? How are they connected visually or in composing meaning? If paint or some other transformative manipulation is done to elements, they lose some of their individual identity but they become more unified in a work of art. They also show the hand of the maker and may be organized into a more meaningful statement.

We need to keep an eye on manipulation of elements if we are going to make works that are not just assemblages or constructions but move into the category of bricolage. For example, what if the ruler had been painted another color? It may have lost some of its identify as a ruler, but it would have given more emphasis to the horizontal and the color might have linked in the turquoise with the browns of the wood. Or what if the ruler had been wrapped with wire or string? What if something else had been attached in front of the ruler? Or what if the turned wood had been painted? Or the black background behind it? These are all questions we need to ask as we are making a piece.

No. 2 - Construction 2 by Federico Hurtado

In this work, Hurtado also makes a very frontal composition with a central focus, however, he has employed a lot more variety in color and shape of elements. Notice how he has placed the inset square above the horizontal midpoint. This visually unites the square with the loop of the handle above and allows more space below for the arrangement of small vertical elements that break up the horizontality of the work.

What could he have done differently? I think he could have made better use of that inset square. Could he have done something to make an illusion of space within the square? Could he have placed other elements inside the square? If he was going to use encaustic in this composition, where could he have added it?

No. 3 - Red Circuit by Jacob Hashimoto

This work by Jacob Hashimoto is not as two dimensional as it may first appear, but for our purposes, let's just suppose that the white elements lie fairly flat on a wood panel and the mass of colored elements projects outward a little beyond the white pieces. We will ignore the rods that project top and bottom and the nylon cord that holds the elements in place.

This is an asymmetrical arrangement that is given substance by the brownish-red lines that appear to provide a scafold for the mass of colored elements. If you block out the lines, you will see how much they add to the composition. They also provide contrast to the rounded shapes of the elements. Balance is a key organizing principle in this work. At the left side of the piece, note the repeating horizontal and vertical lines with the large round element below. At the right side, the mass appears to block out the verticals and most of the bottom horizontal. This gives us an illusion of space; the mass is in front of the lines and they are in front of the white elements. We can also observe that although the elements appear to be just massed, they are carefully arranged in vertical lines that coincide with the vertical arrangement of the white elements. Color and shape have also been carefully composed to add pattern, weight, variety, texture, depth.

This image does not allow you to look closely at the individual elements, but they are all painted on paper that has been glued onto shaped bamboo. An organizing scheme such as this could be used with found objects and mixed media.

No. 4 - Gone Gone, Very Gone by Jackie Tileston

This work has a similar asymmetrical arrangement but with a more organic look and an illusion of very deep space. This happens to be mostly paint, but I think you can see how bricolage elements could be organized in a similar way. Notice how the saturated color works to bring that section of the painting forward while the muted color reads as deep space and the darks seem to be clouds or smoke in that space.

The drippy piece of printed paper or cloth at top right counteracts the spatial illusion but creates an illusion of its own with the two lines that could be cords holding that piece in place. The piece of geometric pattern also contrasts with the organic shapes and the colors interact with the saturated mass on the left side. If you block out that piece of geometric pattern with your hand, you will see how much less interesting the painting is.

No. 5 - Untitled (Hotel Eden) by Joseph Cornell

Finally, perhaps one of the most famous bricolage artists was Joseph Cornell who used found and manipulated objects to construct his own form of mystery boxes. The meaning of his works is obscure, influenced by Surrealism and his own unique perspective, but certain motifs repeated throughout his oeuvre: white paint, birds, circles or rings, balls, clock springs, collaged photographs and cards. His boxes contained poetic vignettes that felt nostalgic, dream-like and romantic.


  1. Interesting and thanks for introducing me to the work of Hurtado, new to me.

  2. Great post,you might look at the work of Betty Saar,to illustrate "Meaning" or content. some great boxes, also Allison Saar though hers tends to be more sculptural

  3. Lynette - I'm glad you liked Hurtado's work.

    Kate - I'm familiar with Betye Saar's work and have admired it for years. Here's a post I did about her and her daughters on Art in the Studio last January http://artinthestudio.blogspot.com/2011/01/betye-saar-cage.html