How to control kissing
Robert Genn

May 22, 2009

When it comes to painting, kissing can be the kiss of death. Kissing is where 
elements in a painting come up to one another and just lightly touch or rub 
against one another. It can be the result of painterly timidity or a lack of 
informed audacity. More than anything, it's an acquired habit that simply 
needs to be understood. Instructor Marion Boddy-Evans says, "Ideally, elements 
should be either definitely apart or definitely overlapped."

We all do it from time to time. The best way to find examples is to cruise 
your own work. Accepting that your paintings are made up of various patches, 
note where and how these patches approach and touch one another. Here are a 
few typical kisses:

A background strip of land just comes up to a foreground tree. A cloud wraps 
itself around a hill. A tree trunk comes down the sky and sits on the edge of 
the land. 

Minor adjustments to these aberrations will often improve compositional 
strength, form and depth. They neutralize that awkward, two-dimensional look 
that is rampant these days. 

Make the distant land go behind the foreground element. Design the cloud in 
counterpoint to the hill. Bring the tree trunk down into the land--situate it 
"in" rather than "on."

Actually, there are no real rules against kissing--only conventions. Things 
just look better when kissing is under control. 

On the other hand, some artists actually look for opportunities to kiss, 
searching out pictorial elements that might be made to have mutual or 
tangential edges. This stylistic ploy is used to create distracting 
relationships and illusions beyond reality, which may be valuable in some 

Whatever you do, if you're going to kiss, kiss regularly. One lone kiss 
generally sticks out as the blunder of an amateur. A work filled with 
passionate kisses can be intriguing, but a work with no kisses at all fills 
the viewer's heart with love.

Best regards,


PS: "No kissing please, as this creates a weak, connected shape which will 
distract the viewer's eye, causing a momentary pause as they puzzle it out." 
(Marion Boddy-Evans)

Esoterica: Kissing is prevalent in the work of beginning artists as well as 
mature ones. It has something to do with our innate desire to organize and 
make sense of our world. Our eyes automatically reorganize elements to give 
us a more mechanical understanding, and our brush goes along for the ride. 
When this is understood, you can do something about it. Our world is actually 
a feast of divine chaos, but pictures are pictures, and there are sound 
compositional devices to handle the situation.