In an article about how to make website pages more interesting, Stephen Bradley writes,"The pattern of building tension and then releasing that tension is one of the most ingrained patterns on all human beings. Tension and release is at the heart of music, story, art, and pretty much all creative endeavors. The tension and release pattern in music creates rhythm. In a mystery novel we call it suspense and resolution. In the visual arts, including design, it leads to things like hierarchy, focal points, and flow." (http://www.vanseodesign.com)
In the same way webmaster attempt to control those who visit their webpages, artists try to control the viewing experiences of their audiences.
Sometimes this control is at the subconscious level for the artist, especially if the artist is experienced and confident. Sometimes it is part of the plan for the piece, and sometimes the artist must decide what works and what doesn't as he or she proceeds. For example, when I examine my two sketches, I note that the Elvis sketch flows a little more smoothly than the other one. The lines in this one are not as congested toward the middle as lines in the Marilyn sketch. When I consider editing the Marilyn sketch however, I am hesitant to remove the tension because it seems to appropriately symbolize the emotional distress of her troubled life. It is almost like she is spinning out of control.
Then I note the pyramidal composition of Elvis' portrait. By this I mean that if the viewer were to draw an imaginary line connecting the heads from left to right, the line would roughly form the outline of a pyramid. This seems to work when one considers the rise and fall of Elvis' career. When you consider that the image on the far left is the same as the one on the far right, it is ironic that perhaps due the reading of the sketch from left to right, the figure on the left side implies energy and forward movement, while the one on the right seems to be collapsing and out of control as it moves into the future.
Both of the images on the sides are partially cut off. Moving an element off the picture plane creates an uneasiness, what Bradley calls in design, "an escape from order. This uneasiness creates tension and naturally draws the eye and adds visual interest." (http://www.vanseodesign.com)
The composition of the Marilyn sketch is in many ways in opposition to the Elvis sketch. The five Marilyn figures form an inverted pyramid, and with the exception of the wedge of skirt on the left side, is entirely contained on the picture plane.
One reason these sketches work as well as they do is that they contain what I think of as visual snippets. In other words, we have seen these photos so many times that when we see small, gestural fragments, we recognize them almost immediately. This could be the particular curve of an ankle, the slight snarl of a lip, or the overall posture of the body.
I have talked before about retaining the linear qualities of the sketch in the final product of the painting. In this case I think it is a necessity. As I work on this artistic problem today, I leave you with this: