Ernie Dollman’s work shows an aesthetic that appreciates simplicity. We asked him how he achieves success in boiling down scenes to their essence. Here’s what Dollman had to say.
Lead Image: “Morning Glow,” by Ernie Dollman, oil, 9 x 12 in.
Dollman says the key to simplicity is the original thumbnail sketch.
“While it sounds great and very profound to say keep your painting simple, which is indeed what I attempt to do in all my paintings, it’s difficult,” says Dollman. “To do this I have resorted to a couple of strategies that I incorporate into all my paintings. The primary design elements of composition, which are notan, line, and chiaroscuro, are fully thought out and are an integral part of my picture-simplification process. And by far, notan design is the most important for keeping things simple.
“It will be helpful to see what I was looking at for the picture ‘Morning Glow’. There is nothing but a jumble of bushes and some distant hills and a few clouds in the sky. Notan drawings are the tool for simplification. However, it is completely insufficient to just say, ‘Create a notan drawing,’ which is what many instructors and artist say. I had to change terms in order to fully grasp what was going on. I use the phrase ‘light and dark pattern.’ Notan is a dark pattern that deals with local values only, while chiaroscuro deals with form pattern of light and shadow and half tones. Line as a design element is not part of this discussion. These distinctions are necessary because each of the design elements create very different patterns of light and dark that move the eye around your picture. These patterns of light and dark are the key to simplifying your picture.”
The artist’s job is to convert the beauty of nature into a painting. “Nature doesn’t care a whit about design,” says Dollman. “You must design these patterns so they are believable and interesting. By organizing the light area and the dark area into two simple patterns, you are able to clearly see the fundamental design that will be painted. Most of the time, a middle value needs to be incorporated into the drawing so as to clearly see the distinctive areas of light. The proportion and shape of these patterns are best achieved with simple black and white drawings dealing only with big shapes, and carrying those shapes on to include surrounding areas. By doing this you are also grouping your values, which is another vital benefit for a simple statement. If you have completed the many little black and white pattern studies, and none of them inspire you, don’t paint it. Move on.”