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
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.
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.
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.