Exploring 5 Different Ways to Create Visual Movement in Your Art

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movement in art

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When you think of certain artworks, you might think of the quiet stillness of a portrait, a serene landscape, or the pensive gaze of a sculpture that comes to mind. Yet beneath this calm on canvas (or surface of choice) there is often life, movement, and energy in the subject portrayed. This visual motion, portrayed through the use of color, light, and geometry gives the observer a sense of interest and life from the piece. In this article we’ll go through various paintings, exploring the different ways you can create visual movement in your art!

Understanding Visual Movement in Art

Visual movement is the intentional arrangement of elements within a piece to guide the viewer’s eye in a certain path. It is the rhythm of repetitions, continuations, and artful disruptions. Whether a veiled splash across the canvas to suggest a blur of motion, or the careful placement of figures leading the gaze. Visual movement is skillfully composed by the artist.

There are different ways to represent movement in art. And therefore there are different types of movement that we will explore here.

1) Guided Movement Through a Composition

Pissarro painting showing guided movement in art composition.
Guided movement in a painting composition can be created with all subjects and styles of painting. Notice here how the pathway in the front and hills in the back all lead the eye to the figures we see walking up the hill.

One of the most difficult tasks an artist has is to compose an artwork that guides the eye around a painting in a manner that feels natural and intentional.

Think of your favorite artwork. Perhaps it’s a tapestry of colors or a mosaic of different forms. Elements aren’t haphazardly placed; they compose a narrative that unfolds with the observer’s perusal. This could be the gaze between characters, the shape of a landscape, or the repetition of certain motifs that lead the eye, step by step, ensuring a complete visual dialogue.

Example of Guided Movement in Art

For example, lets take a look at this painting by Titian, Madonna and child with saints Catherine and Dominic and a donor.

In the painting by Titian, Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine and Dominic and a Donor, we observe a masterful demonstration of guided movement through composition. Titian constructs the scene so that the viewer’s eye is instinctively drawn first to the Madonna, positioned centrally and bathed in light and bright color, embodying the focal point of the piece. Our eye then quickly goes to the child who is held by the Madonna.

Titian painting showing movement in art composition and how the eye moves around the painting
Titian’s Madonna and child with Saints Catherine, Dominic and a Donor. Notice how the setup of the composition creates a lot of movement in the painting and leads the eye around.

Using Light to help create movement in art

Notice how the gentle tilt of the Madonna’s head naturally leads the viewer to St Dominic and then the donor. These figures are depicted with less luminosity yet are integral in the narrative thread woven by Titian. This movement not only acknowledges the presence of the donor but also creates a link to the earthly realm. All of which contrasts the divine interaction occurring at the centre.

To bring the composition full circle, the eye then finds Saint Catherine. Her positioning and gaze subtly direct the viewer back into the core scene, fostering an endless cycle of observation. Titian’s strategic use of light, positioning, and gaze not only guides the viewer’s eye through the composition but also imbues each figure with a narrative significance, harmonizing the celestial and terrestrial into a coherent visual narrative.

2) Illusory Movement

La Huida by Antonio Lara Luque. Notice how parts of the subject are still and then some other areas show lots of movement.

Illusory movement is a more abstract concept. It takes something static and, through the arrangement of shapes, colors, and lines, makes it appear as though it were in motion. Take, for example, La huida by Antonio Lara Luque we can see specific areas of visual movement. Notice how her hand is blurred and looks to be visibly in motion as she tries to catch her fall. This is the illusion of movement that the artist created. We can also notice other areas of suggested quick movement by her right shoulder and head. There is a blurring effect that exists in these areas of movement.

Detail of the painting by Antonio Lara Luque. Here we can see a detail of the subjects hand and its sudden movement. Notice how the artist blurred the edges of the hand and showed its movement through lines as well as showing its former position. So, in a way we are able to see the passage of time in this painting.

3) Implied Physical Movement

In Edgar Degas’s pastel drawing Danseuse, the concept of implied movement is vividly captured, providing a quintessential example of how static art can evoke a sense of motion. The depiction of the dancer, caught mid-pose, hints at the fluid continuity of her dance. Degas masterfully utilizes the medium of pastel to soften edges and blend colors, creating a blurring effect that mimics the swift movement of the dancer.

Danseuse by Edgar Degas. The way the figure in this drawing is positioned with blurred edges in strategic places, implies that the figure is about to move.

The positioning of her limbs and the tilt of her body suggest not only her current stance but also the inevitable next step in her routine. This anticipation of movement invites viewers to mentally complete the dance, illustrating the power of implied motion to animate a single, frozen moment. Degas’s work exemplifies how art can transcend static boundaries, engaging the observer’s imagination to visualize the unfolding sequence of motions, thus breathing life into the scene depicted on canvas.

4) Enlivening with Dynamic Color

Color can be the drumbeat to the visual movement in a painting. Our eye tends to move quickly to bright, warm hues. While cool, subdued tones recede, allowing a moment of air. An example of this would be Jacque Louis David’s painting “Napoleon at the Great St. Bernard”. Jacques-Louis David illustrates the use of dynamic color to enliven movement within a composition. In this iconic artwork, Napoleon is depicted commanding and heroic atop a rearing horse.

Jacque Louis David “Napoleon at the Great St. Bernard”. Here we see some dramatic movement happening. The cloak that is caught in the wind just as the horse’s mane and tail. This movement certainly adds to the overall drama of the painting.

Bright colors help to add motion

A key element that adds to the sense of movement and drama is Napoleon’s cloak. Its bright red color vividly contrasts with the tempestuous sky and the muted cool tones of the landscape. Now, this cloak– already captured in a state of being swept by the wind, seems to be in fiercer motion due to its color. You can see how the vivacity of the red, not only draws the viewer’s eye directly to it (amidst the entire scene) but also enhances the sensation of the cloak billowing in the air.

David’s strategic application of this brilliant hue imbues the scene with a heightened sense of urgency and action. All of which, amplifies the overall dynamism of the painting. The use of such dynamic color, demonstrates how pivotal color can be in conveying movement. Which adds an additional layer of narrative and emotional intensity to a work of art.

5) Capturing Time with Lines

In Sebastiano Ricci’s drawing, Achilles Giving Hector’s Dead Body to Priam. You’ll notice how the curved lines play an indispensable role in creating a sense of movement. Animating the scene with emotional depth and narrative dynamism. The curved lines, with their natural inconsistency and fluidity, mimic the tension and movement within the figures’ bodies. In addition, the use of the curves effect the surrounding environment.

For instance, the sweeping lines that compose Achilles’ musculature, not only delineate his form but also convey the strength and energy behind his action. Similarly, using multiple lines to sketch the clothing’s drapery adds a lively texture. The use of which implies the fabric is in motion, responding to the actions.

Sebastiano Ricci’s drawing “Achilles giving Hector’s dead body to Priam”. This drawing is a very good example of how line alone can be used to suggest movement in art.

This technique of utilizing curved and multiple lines introduces a visual rhythm to the artwork. Which guides the viewer’s eyes to move along with the curves, thereby experiencing the implied movement within the static medium. The strategic placement of these lines around the central figures accentuates the solemn exchange between Achilles and Priam. Allowing the viewer to feel the weight and significance of the moment.

Ricci’s mastery in employing curved lines not only serves to create a tangible sense of motion but also deepens the emotional resonance of the scene, highlighting the poignant beauty and tragic momentum of the narrative being depicted.

In this drawing by James Seymour we can feel how the dog is lunging forward by the way the artist used line. It is remarkable how just lines alone can suggest movement in art.

Reflecting on Movement in Art

To depict motion in art, one can utilize the elements and techniques mentioned throughout this article. The artful interplay of colors, lines, textures, and spatial arrangement vividly crafts the illusion of motion. With each element contributing to the perception of movement and depth. These methods encourage viewers to interact with the artwork. Using their imagination to fill gaps and complete the artist’s suggested motion narrative.

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    6 thoughts on “Exploring 5 Different Ways to Create Visual Movement in Your Art”

    1. What an amazing article. I learn so much from you. Thank you for all the knowledge you so freely share with us.

    2. Marcia Johnson

      I liked the examples of artwork and critique you gave to explain how the concepts of color, line, space and shadow interact to show motion.

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