Rhythm in visual art is akin to the beat in a song or the cadence of a poem. It can be abrupt or subtle and is an excellent tool to use to arrange the elements of your composition. Rhythm can be established using line, color, shape or space to name a few options. To discover its thoughtful application in great paintings reveals the mastery of the artist.
Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working. -Pablo Picasso
Let’s take a look a Pieter Bruegel’s The Harvesters
In this painting, we see several elements used as a vehicle for rhythm in the picture. I’ll break this down in the following step by step sequences.
The cut wheat shapes act as stepping stones around the group of harvesters and give depth and perspective to the scene. They lead us from the right side of the painting and around the tree to the group of workers on break and then point us to the field.
The Middle ground
The middle ground is sharply defined by the blocks of uncut wheat which act as directional lines leading to the background.
The cut wheat blocks direct the eye to the path into the field. The wheat fields are repeated in the distant ground of the painting as well to provide rhythm.
The distant ground
The distant ground is defined by the rhythm of the tree line , which leads the viewer through the distant ground of the painting then back to the village.
Concepts in Practice
Objective: Understand how to use rhythm in your work
Journal Prompt: Use the images provided to find the elements used to create rhythm
Get your journal and pencil or pen. Draw a rectangle proportional to one of the paintings provided. Study the painting and find rhythms created using line, shape, color or form and draw these lines in your rectangle in your journal.
Follow my example as I work through the rhythms of Maynard Dixon’s painting:
Lazy Autumn Maynard Dixon
In the painting above, rhythm is established by the repeating angle of the tepee and the horizontal bands of trees and brush.
Theses stark lines are softened by the rhythms found in the central tree.
The point of the tepee , if taken to the top of the picture, will be at the 1/3 section of the top border, following the rule of thirds.
The right edge of the tepee and the left edge of the tree trunk are each about the same distance from the edge of the picture borders.
The horizontal lines create equal blocks of space.
The soft lines of the tree foliage continue the angles of the tepee, but, in a softer line that works to model the tree.
Now, look for the rhythms in each of the paintings below and sketch them in one of your blank rectangles, approximately where they would be in the painting ( as I did with the in the image above). Try to understand how the artist constructed their paintings based on the rhythms you see.
How are these lines used to construct the painting?