It was painter Jim Lamb that first introduced me to Mike and Ike. I took a workshop with Jim when I first started oil painting. Whenever I put two identical shapes together, Jim would say, “Get rid of Mike and Ike.” The phrase stuck and I learned to keep an eye out for repetitive forms. You see, if all your objects are nicely varied by size and shape, two identical shapes will automatically pull the eye, most likely to a place you don’t want the eye to go. Let me show you what I mean by drawing a series of random shapes. As soon as I add two identical shapes together an eye magnet results.
This can be tricky because admittedly repetition can be a good thing. It results in rhythm and harmony in the drawing when used well. But it detracts if it’s too regular and boring. Here’s a drawing that needs some help:
The obvious duplicate shape in the distant trees is easily remedied by adding a few more lines. The pilings holding up the dock are annoyingly regular and no doubt faithful to it’s design – one can imagine the builder carefully measuring everything for symmetry. Good for the builder, bad for the artist. Move a little, add some of the background pilings, make some light, some dark, add variety any way possible.
One of the reason I like old wharves is that pilings are crooked, replaced, irregular, and yet there is a sense of movement. Rather like a forest. We wouldn’t want to see a forest where every tree was the same size and equally spaced. Bor-ing! Variation is the key to interesting.
So keep an eye out for identical shapes and tell Mike and Ike to take a hike.