A Hierarchy of Forms

Armand Cabrera

A hierarchy of forms is an important step in representational painting. Keeping the big forms apparent after the application of details is necessary for a successful painting. Primary, secondary and tertiary forms must preserve their relative importance.

The idea for Primary forms is a simple one. At its root all forms have a base structure that shows the effects of the overall light and shape without any details. Painting this correctly gives a sense of volume and weight to everything. Seeing this imposed construction on natural objects helps nail down this effect from the very beginning of a painting or drawing and locks in the big idea for the image quickly. Often times this is overlooked for the details of an element which can ruin the significance of the object in the overall scene.

To quote Harvey Dunn, “You must make the main thing in your picture appear most important. If anyone tells me my hat is more important than my head –by God I’m taking off my hat.”

Secondary forms complement the primary form but never obscure it. An example in landscape painting would be a hillside of trees seen from a distance. The shape of the hill would be the primary form and the trees the secondary forms enhancing the character of the hill but not confusing its overall shape. It must always read as a hill. The way you would paint the light falling on the hill would be paramount and you would always subordinate the details of the trees to that effect.

Tertiary forms would be the individual trees on the hillside; you may choose to add enough details to some of these to create interest for the viewer but again they should always compliment the larger forms not obliterate them.This idea applies to anything- portraits, still life, figures or landscapes and is an essential tool in preserving the sense of solidity in your pictures.

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Another Bluebell Demo

I painted this with my friend Jack at Riverbend Park here in Northern VA back when the Bluebells were peaking.

Same approach although I forgot to take pictures of the drawing portion of this demo. To busy talking with Jack and painting. Luckily he reminded me and I made sure to take pictures from that point on. The sun was in and out of cloud cover that morning which made it a little more challenging than usual. When things like that happen I just wait for the suns return and if it doesn’t I wipe the canvas and start over. Luckily the sun came out and stayed eventually.







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Art Shows

by Armand Cabrera

Art shows are hitting new lows these days. The worst offenders are front loaded with fees. They take money for a jury fee, a handling fee for stored shipping materials and even a hanging fee in some instances. I would never pay to hang my work, I don’t care what the venue is. These shows make their money off the fees. Many galleries now keep themselves in existence with these kinds of scams.

If you allow the show to recover all its money before the show opens then there is no incentive for the show to be promoted or to bring in collectors. Which brings me to another little scam where galleries ask for the collector lists of their artists. Never relinquish your client list to a venue. A venue that has no clients, charges you for space and doesn’t promote you in anyway is worthless to your livelihood as an artist and your career.

In my opinion there is nothing professional about these venues and you’re better off renting a public space for a night or weekend and advertising and hanging your own show or a show with a group of like-minded artists.

A lot of artists hold the opinion that it is an honor to show alongside other juried artists. Many times a gallery show will pay a nationally known artist to show at a venue from the upfront fees they collect. It’s sort of like an anchor store at a strip mall; they pull in the other stores. Big name artists are given spots or paid to show to get others to pay for the chance of showing with them. If you are juried into a show you’ve earned your spot no need to feel someone is doing you a favor or you’re lucky.

Art is hard enough, don’t let people take your money or take advantage of you. Shows need good artists; good artists don’t need shows. Participate in shows that support the artists and their work and take a percentage of sales; this way the expense and work is shared by the venue and the artists.

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Artistic Integrity

By Armand Cabrera


As an artist I love the process of painting. I’ve always taken an illustrative approach to my painting in that I painted anything people would hire me to paint. Commissions were a partnership entered into with the idea someone was hiring me to give them my vision of the agreed upon subject. The client’s participation stopped at the edge of the canvas and the rest was up to me. They had right of first refusal on the work but they didn’t have the right to stand over me and guide my decisions as I painted like puppet masters pulling the strings for every aspect of the art, from subject to style of execution.

Even as an illustrator or production artist I expect to be hired for my knowledge not just my wrist. I am not for hire to render someone else’s vision; it has to be a collaboration or it’s not worth my time and effort. In the last few years people seem genuinely shocked by my stance. I guess the downturn took more than money out of the economy it also took many artists self-respect with it.

I am not talking about large projects that require multiple artists to complete them like television series’, movies or games. In those instances the project style requires consistency. I’m talking about smaller projects like ad campaigns, illustration assignments or gallery work that is completed by a single artist.

I believe if you hire an artist you have a responsibility to be familiar with their work. If you want to have a painting in a certain style of a living artist, then hire that artist. Don’t hire someone to be a stand in for that artist. If you can’t afford the original artist then then hire an artist whose work you can afford but let them paint it in their own style.

I think it is our responsibility as artists and illustrators to buck this trend. Who wants to be known as the guy who paints like (fill in the blank) only at a cheaper rate? Do you even have a career if all you are is a wrist for hire by people who can’t draw and paint?

Do you agree or disagree?

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