Thursday, August 7, 2014

Demonstrating a Cruciform Format

In Santa Fe at Valdes Art Workshops one student asked me to demonstrate, start to finish, how I would approach a cruciform format.  We were working on creating busy/active areas - areas that catch and move your eye - and contrasting quiet spaces.  Here is the piece I did; it is 8"x8".

I began with collage, using lots of contrasting papers.

I added some pattern, scribbling, more papers, and bright paint, just to give myself a lot to work with.

Painting Over, adding more, subduing more...

Here is the piece, provisionally finished. 
In this format, the active areas form a cross shape, each arm reaching to the edge of the page.  A cruciform format can be used in anything from a simple cross-on-background, to a figure, still-life, or landscape.  As an abstract format it poses interesting challenges, and I use it in my Keys To Dynamic Composition online class.

The contrast, or balance, of busy areas with quiet (but not boring) space is an interesting lens through which to view abstract pieces.  We tackle this in my class "Balancing Opposites: The Yin and Yang of Abstract Composition".  My next offering of this is at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, New Hampshire. I also address this issue in Big Fat Art, which I am offering at Art and Soul in Virginia Beach on October 3.  I have a Pinterest board where I collect examples of art that I find interesting in this respect.  Take a look.  When you look at art this way, it's interesting to see how relative the terms "busy" and "quiet" are.  An area that looks quiet in one context may be the most active area in another.  

Often a workshop participant will come to me and say "I know, my piece is too busy. I overworked it."  To which my response is often: you haven't worked it enough.  Most of my pieces are "too busy" before they even begin to take shape.  I tend to throw a lot at a piece, let it get a bit chaotic, and then paint over sections selectively and gradually until a direction emerges. 

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.


  1. Jane, I love your techniques and design. I love how you demonstrated this design. I have a hard time with frame in frame. But I learn more every day.

  2. Beautiful result! You are always inspiring.

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  4. Hi Jane - striking result in this demo and your explanation is very clear. My issue always is, I fall in love with all of the initial colors, shapes and don't want to cover it up. I know that I need to just do more (that idea of working in series). Each piece becomes too precious and this prevents me from just going for it and playing. I think I will make a big banner for my studio, "Its just paper!".

    I have recently been experimented with watercolor - and I've made a few cruciform pieces using white watercolor to veil the previous layers - so fun.

  5. Jane--I just want to keep looking at these--they make me so happy.

  6. You firsthand guided me through the "too busy" time to a more harmonious composition. I thank you mentally all the time. This blog post was a great stepped out illustration of it all.

  7. I like the way you start a painting: with all the collage papers, the Scribbles and marks of colour you have a canvas with so many possibilities in front of you.

  8. Yes, I find my inner critic at that moment of busyness telling me my painting is just manic and totally chaotic- another reason to reaffirm in me that I don't know what I am doing, so thank you for this post; it has helped to quash those feelings and move on from that point with a greater ease.

  9. I have no idea who said it, but it's so true..."There's no such thing as a bad painting, just an unfinished one".

  10. I learn something from all your posts and your excellent videos. THANKS for sharing with the rest of us.

  11. This post just freed me up again. I created an interesting piece out of the chaos. I pushed myself and was pleasantly surprised. I am going to embrace the series concept. Now that that also mean using the same palette for each?

    1. Glad it was helpful. Series: you set your own parameters for a series. Don't be too strict though, give yourself room to play. It can be a simple idea, and then let it expand over the course of many pieces.

  12. I really like this! Thanks for sharing.