What is visual language? Let’s break the term apart first. Visual is what you see. Language is a form of communication, either spoken or written. Simply put, visual language is to communicate with the viewer by what you show them. In this case, it is your painting. Since my day job is working on sci-fi video game. Visual language becomes very important, because even though we are creating futuristic looking environment, objects and characters. The players need to get what they seeing in the game in an instant!
Now let’s look at visual language in watercolor painting. You need to figure out the same thing for your painting. What do you want to communicate? From the big picture to the small detail, everything in your painting should communicate some message. Don’t be intimidate by it, because it might not be as complicated as you think. As the matter of fact most people over think about visual language! As we grown into adulthood our thinking become much more complicated. Our life and experience turned us into a thinker. Compare to a child, we worry about many things, and we see things in a complex manner. Have you ever had a feeling that you just can’t understand a person, wondering what is he/she thinking? Often the language wasn’t the issue, the person can speak the same language. Meanwhile a child’s speech development might not be as advance as an adult, but people can understand him/her just fine. Why is that? Because a child uses a simple language: yes, no, hungry, big, small, and so on. While adult sometime try to complicate things. I remember getting a rejection letter for a job long time ago. I had to read through all the words about how difficult their decision is, how they have many qualified candidate, and their whole selecting process before they get to the point of the letter which is: I didn’t get the job! If a child wrote that letter, he/she will probably just say a simple “no”.
So what does that mean for painting? It means that you treat everything you paint as a simple visual language. That’s what I’m trying to achieve when I do a painting. You can tell you are looking at a tree because of the shape and size. When you see tiny marks in the sky you know they are birds. And for the big picture, they aren’t even that important. If you look at the whole picture you know it’s a raining city, a busy street, or a tranquil seaside, then I’ve done my job as a visual communicator! The more you try to say in a painting, the more complicated it looks, and often it becomes less interesting and fresh. Ask yourself some questions when you paint:
- What am I trying to communicate?
Think of a main message, crowded street? quiet morning in the field? busy cafe? and stick with the message throughout the painting.
- What makes a _____(tree, house, person, dog..etc)? What shape does it have?
If you look at the palm trees I painted in the top painting. They are just one shape but it works, figure out what makes the thing you want to paint.
- Is this enough for what I’m trying to communicate? Or am I doing too much?
Did you paint enough things to convey your message? or are you overworking it? A good place to stop is when you are STARTING to think it looks good and readable. NOT when you thought to yourself "that looks good, I'll do some more!"
- Does this helps to clarify the message or will this confuse the viewer?
Don't focus on the things that are not that important. A painting of a busy street doesn't need every sign and billboard in it to make it busy, a couple cars and people will do! Background city of a seaside can just be one shape if it's only purpose is to be a background!
A good visual language is a clear and simple one. Each artist has a different sense and view of the world around them, but remember at the end of the day your job is to communicate with your viewer through your painting. Be a good communicator in art and in life. Lastly, I want to show you my 4 year old son Eli drawing Toad in the Mario game the other day. I can immediately tell what is he drawing because of the shape of the head and the face. And that's what we are striving for when we paint! Be like a child =)