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Composing Pictures Paperback – June 30, 2010
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From the Inside Flap
The mark of a great art teacher is indicated by the quality and accomplishment of his students. By this measurement, Don Graham must be considered the finest teacher in America. His students range from people who have won innumerable awards in all fields and all media. ... Composing Pictures. Read it. Draw it. Read it for pleasure, for reward, and for understanding. If you want to be an animator, you MUST read and draw this volume. It is not a luxury to you; it is a necessity. Chuck Jones, Academy Award-winning animator Of twentieth-century artists, Donald Graham was one of a handful who deeply understood the language of art. Mr. Graham mentored me in his final class at Chouinard Art Institute and his lessons have been part of my painting and teaching career. Eschewing the superficial, his book contains deep answers on how we see and how artists have expressed their vision through history. It should be part of every serious artists library. Timothy J. Clark, painter This book is a rare treat. Profound ideas are modestly presented. Recommended. Library Journal
From the Back Cover
A picture cannot be weighed, measured, and appraised like a sack of potatoes. Composing Pictures avoids the discussion by dissection method of picture analysis, stressing instead the graphic forces that remain valid and essential regardless of how art forms and fashions may change.In thirty-five short chapters, each devoted to a single important concept, the author covers the basics and complexities of graphic composition, including the illusion of depth, the enigma of surface, manifesting and symbolizing force and motion, utilizing borders, graphic accents, patterns, handling dark and light, directing the viewers eye, and creating storyboards. These concepts are illustrated by hundreds of diagrams and the work of great artists from myriad historical ages, cultures, and styles.The book not only contains a section on film graphics, but also consistently reminds the reader that the principles of composition relate to the moving picture as well as the still picture.
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In the first place, consider that you do not have a chance to look inside this book online. Had I done so, I think a glance at only one or two pages would have caused me to write it off--despite all the heady hosannahs. The book is a thick folio-sized tome in which the top 2/3 of each page contains illustrations and the remainder is a strip of commentary. The book has two problems: one of them is the illustrations. The other is the text. Whoops, sorry, I just damned the whole book, didn't I?
The illustrations fall into two distinct camps: singles of dubious relevance from the Greatest Hits of Art History--from Lascaux to Mark "something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room" Rothko--and many rough sketches perpetrated by the author. At best, the latter are workmanlike or indifferent: a simple doodle of a cylinder in perspective is perfectly representative. Generally, though, the original artwork is just primitive to the point of being slovenly. As for the motley collection of fine art, the reader will have to honestly ask himself whether he believes that a working (representational) artist has anything to learn from a Rothko painting composed of nothing more than three fat smudges.
Which brings us to the problem of text. I opened the book purely at random, and present you this characteristic morsel of wisdom from page 121: "The light matrix picture is a graphic conglomerate made up of white or light colors which hold together isolated areas of dark... The slightest misplacement or overstatement of a dark immediately becomes apparent." Or page 128: "... we take a static point, which represents a position in space, and change it into a graphic area... We find that this area takes on a special and magic property--it becomes an areal passage." Page after weary page, we are oppressed like this by the displacement of calm artistry with con artistry. Yes, this is content matter for those who enjoy mental self-stimulation of the venial kind. It's written in the vague, passive-voice style characteristic of 1960's bureaucrats which succeeds in slowing down reader comprehension.
Understand that this is a book about composing pictures in which The Rule of Thirds is not even mentioned! The Golden Section is covered, but in a typically cursory and overcomplicated way. And don't even dare suggest that the author dirty his hand with such mundane realities as the aspect ratios of the actual film formats of his era. Animation is mentioned at the end, as little more than "a series of related pictures."
So to actually learn something about layout, put your money elsewhere: Dream Worlds by Hans Bacher; Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer van Sijll; Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre; or All About Techniques in Drawing for Animation Production--any of which are excellent. (Note I recommend you not invest in Ed Ghertner's downright fraudulent Layout and Composition for Animation, which hardly covers the proposed topic.)
The final question is how Donald Graham's abomination earned such praise from brilliant animators. Well, I suppose the 1970s were different times with different standards, and there must not have been much competition for books on this subject. Everything has changed now, so don't waste your valuable time on this dreary relic.
There are 35 chapters talking about principles and approaches to creating art. The text is concise, and the principles taught are timeless. Each chapter covers from the basics and complex inner workings of great pictures.
These lessons are accompanied by hundreds of illustrated examples and paintings of great artists from different cultures and styles. Through these examples, you can see the principles as applied by various artists, and the common graphic elements and techniques used.
Basically, with this book, you understand why some pictures work, and why some don't. While watching animation on TV, you'll probably begin to see the reasons why scenes and characters are staged in a particular way.
This is an invaluable book for reference. Highly recommended to artists and animators.