I began this blog in January to provide concrete painting tips, inspire beginning painters, and to post information to class members.
Today, we have quite a bit of rain in the Mojave Desert! However, last Saturday, St. Patrick's Day, was beautiful. I taught a painting class in gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park, and although it was a bit windy and chilly, we had a good turnout and day. So today is a great day to share some new thoughts on old ideas!
Besides selecting materials and mixing colors, a painter must plan composition. It is your foundation! I believe considering composition becomes an intuitive habit the longer you look at paintings and create your own. Whether you are drawn to objective or abstract painting, talking lessons from the old masters and known composition elements is always a good idea.
My most recent class was plein air (fancy name for outdoors) landscape painting. I urge my students to make a series of quick “thumbnail” (small-yes larger than a thumbnail, but typically no larger than 3” x 4”) sketches which catch the essence of the subject and lay out composition, planning darks and lights. Each drawing should take no longer than 5 minutes, and it’s important to do 3 to 5 sketches. You redefine your view, your subject and create a better plan.
Above: August Agave, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"
I often use inexpensive mechanical pencils (no need to find your sharpener) or lovely soft art pencils.
Use the eraser as a reverse tool; shade an area and “draw” into it with your eraser.
Begin to see your scene as a pattern of darks and lights, shadow and drama.
A great tool is a piece of red plexiglass. When you look through, you see only the values, the lights and darks. An inexpensive version can be found at Cheap Joes. A more durable version with a grid and mirror can be purchased from Peggi Kroll, Instructor
Avove: Peggi Kroll's Red Plexi
Take a photo with your camera and turn it to mono or black and white. But do not spend too much time with this- look for the general pattern of lights and darks.
A first concern for painting a to landscape or any painting, is where will your horizon line fall? Even abstract paintings often have a definite horizontal line. Throughout history, certain measurements have been considered pleasing to the eye. The ratio of 1 : 1.618—not quite 2/3 (extremely rounded off) was named the golden ratio by the Greeks. The ratio proves pleasing both vertically and horizontally.
Simply put, you do not want your horizon line in the middle. It will be more pleasing a little less than 2/3 up the page or 2/3s down from the top.
Several basic composition templates prove helpful. Note most place the horizon line off center – about a 1/3, 2/3 or with the 1: 1.62 ratio.
Another helpful hint, as in Japanese flower arranging, Ikebana, an uneven number of objects is more pleasing than an even number. This avoids symmetry and equal balance, which are actually seldom found in nature.
I find a good technique to improve composition skills is to look at works by old masters or painters whom you admire and create a quick thumbnail sketch.
Here some samples of my very quick sketches; you will find they often follow basic composition models above.
Van Gogh - Starry Night
Each of the Design Elements (color, line, shape, texture, space, form, harmony/unity, and balance) will be considered in time. For early planning purposes, we consider line, shape, space, balance and placement of darks and light.
Once you have created a thumbnail sketch that you wish to use, transfer you sketch to your canvas, gessoed watercolor or other surface. I like to use pastel pencils, sometimes in various colors as scene here. I then cover the sketchmarks with acrylic medium. See photos below.
You are ready to begin painting! Watch for a future blogpost.
You have a sketch, a photo or a subject in front of you and you want to paint! Today's post will not tell you how to paint-but what you will need to get started.
A writer may grab a pen and paper or her laptop.
A photographer his camera.
A musician may poise herself in front of her instrument. She may need to prepare the instrument; a clarinet player must dampen the reed.
A ready desk area, work room, or shop encourages one to act upon inspiration.
Both plein air and studio painting require having one tools ready to go.
Here is my basic process for setting up to paint.
It can take a painter a bit of time to set up, and although I can get ready quickly---
some things cannot be left out. If I’m in the mood and I must move from room to room, gathering brushes, a carrier, water container—the mood may leave! Certainly inspiration will not flourish.
A daily routine is ideal, but I often work in spurts—several days in a row and then rest.
I love both oil and acrylic paint, but have been painting with acrylics for the past several years.
Acrylic Paint Advantages:
Cover many surfaces
Dries quickly -especially in a desert climate.
When on your clothes, it’s there for good.
Because it dries quickly, your brushes can dry full of paint and be ruined. (solution-even though you have been told not to leave brushes tip down in water- put them in water!!!)
One cannot just leave your paint to run an errand without taking precautions.
One of my most habit-changing discoveries is the stay-wet palette, similar to a Tupperware box with a special sponge and “paper” palette. The thin sponge keeps the palette wet and requires a 5 minute soak in cold water before using. The polyacrylic paper must be soaked in hot water for 15 minutes. Then, voila, you have a palette that will keep paint wet up to 2 weeks-in the tightly sealed box-even in dry climates! I didn’t believe it would work until I tried it. This beats a paper plate and wasted paint!
Laying out paints:
I recommend you develop a pattern to use consistently. This will allow you to reach for your colors automatically. Some painters limit colors. Some place cool colors on one side, warm colors on the other.
I find it natural to arrange colors from yellow around the color wheel, and ending in browns, unbleached titanium and ochre. I can introduce more colors within the change of hue. Reds and even a violet end on the upper right. Blues descend from a blue-violet to blue-green along the right. Green at the bottom and if I’m using black it would be in the lower left and traveling up the left are umbers, ochres and unbleached titanium.
Colors below are: Hansa yellow light, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, cadmium red medium, pyrrole red, magenta, deep violet, violet, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue (red shade), ultramarine blue (green shade), Prussian blue, phthalo blue, cerulean blue, phthalo green, viridian, yellow ochre, unbleached titanium.
Your paint will flow and cover the surface batter with the use of an acrylic medium. There are a variety available: mediums to aid drying, to keep your paint wet, glossy, dull with a matte finish. I most often use Golden Acrylic Matte Medium.
What you going to paint on? When acrylics first became popular in the 1960s, my mother, and avid oil painter and ceramicist, was delighted that acrylics would glide onto almost any surface: metal wood, old shoes, papier-mâché, craft dough (the old salt-flour-water variety) and so much more. Of course she began to experiment with it as a painting medium as well.
As a young artist, I began painting on pieces of masonite which my father cut, and my mother taught me to cover with white paint. Although we often used white latex paint, I have learned that gesso is preferable. Historically, gesso was made for oil painting and used to prepare or prime a surface so oil paint would adhere to it. It is made from a combination of paint pigment, chalk and binder. Traditional oil gesso contained an animal binder (usually rabbit skin glue), chalk and white pigment and was more of a glue gesso. Gesso creates an absorbent surface which and allows the paint to grab the canvas; it has a texture or tooth. Modern acrylic gesso does not contain glue and is a combination of acrylic polymer medium (binder), calcium carbonate (chalk), pigment often Titanium white, and chemicals for flexibility and long archival life.
Gessoed masonite, canvas and even watercolor paper all work well. Remember my mom attempted to paint almost everything!
brushes-my preference is a shape called “flat” in sizes from 4-12.
easel or table top
perhaps a palette knife
large water container
You are ready!
January 2023 marked 5 years of blogging about creativity, well-being and encouragement. Thank you to the many who have visited my website! I welcome comments and questions.
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