|The Jefferson Hotel, Richmond VA, Photographed by Patricia Lyons|
Jennings and I were talking yesterday with Rob Cox, the winemaker at Paradise Springs winery in Clifton, Virginia (more on that later) and I commented that the wine we were sipping tasted uncomplicated, but not unfinished. Rob said in winemaking, the term is "polished."
|John Singer Sargent, Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 1884|
In art, polish is what makes a painting feel, to the viewer, organized, fully realized and complete, and it is often the hallmark that distinguishes a professional painter from an amateur.
|Brie Williams, Photographer|
In decorating interiors or creating outdoor garden rooms, the concept is the same. Some rooms, whether they are formal or casual, humble or very grand, just feel good. A secret to attaining this polish, or sense of completeness, is to pay close attention to the composition of darks, mid-tones, and highlights, just as a master artist or winemaker does.
As a painter, I can relate that beginning artists almost always make one of these mistakes: Either the entire painting is created in middle values--the dark areas are not dark enough and the highlights are not light enough--or, the entire painting has too few middle values, and your eye bounces back and forth crazily between darks and lights with no place to rest.
(I used to wonder why the zebra is not camouflaged a dull beige like many other animals on the African plains, but now I suspect that the genius of the zebra's crazy black and white pattern is that it becomes very difficult for a predator to focus on the moving animal, or on any one element in a running herd. But I digress...)
|Even this elegant "all-white" room from the Traditional Home showhouse has lights, mediums, and darks|
Anyway, color actually matters less in creating polish than you might think. An all medium-value room will likely be dull and monotonous to look at and live in, even if it is orange. Even a monocromatic scheme needs highs and lows. Imagine listening to a song composed of only middle C, played over and over again.
On the other hand, a room composed of only dark and light values might dance with energy, but can be exhausting or even distressing over time if there is no place to rest the eye.
Graceful rooms, just like good wine, pleasing paintings, and beautiful songs, have deep soulful darks; clean, light lights; and middle values to act as a transition between the two.
This room is a great example.... nice use of mid-tones on the beagles.
|Thomas Jayne, Photographed by Brie Williams|
So, how do you check your design in a painting or a room or a garden? One quick way is to look at it through squinted eyes, as this will reduce the effect of colors and make values more pronounced. This is a masterful composition by Thomas Jayne.
Or, take a photo of your room in black and white. You can also take a color photo and convert it to grey scale in a photo-editing program. This will help you understand how the eye moves around your room.
|Samuel Melton Fisher, Flower Makers|
An artist knows that the focal point of a painting is frequently where the lightest light meets the darkest dark. In decorating, the eye is naturally led in the same way. When you look at your black and white photo, you may be surprised to discover that the focal point of your room isn't what you thought it was.
|Architect Robert Wade|
Dark, medium and light values can help set the mood of an interior room, or a garden room, creating excitement or repose. The psychological component of color notwithstanding, you could create a relaxing chartreuse room or an exciting beige room, if it is skillfully composed with the correct balance of values.
Sometimes just changing the value of a lampshade or rug can make all the difference in the world to the rhythm and mood of a room. For those of you who are musicians, this analogy will make sense--does your eye sweep through the room like a waltz, bounce between values energetically like the crisp rat-tat-tat of a snare drum, or drift softly like a lullaby?
But a good general rule is that if you want more drama, turn up the contrast.
|Amelia Handegan, Photographer: Pieter Estersohn|
Want more serenity? Reduce the contrast by adding more mid-tones. It can be fun to play with these aspects of polish and finish to create a masterfully designed room or garden.
Happy Weekend! xo, N.G.