Sunday, March 6, 2016

Three Rules for a Strong Composition

I am rather a straightforward painter. I do not use fancy equipment or expensive brushes and have a limited palette.  One of my painting strengths, has been to create strong exciting compositions.  So these are some of my Sunday musings on that subject.

1. Always have a wide assortment of sizes and shapes of canvases.
You should never compromise an inspired view to be compressed onto the wrong sized surface.  There was a reason that the image spoke to you and your job is to translate that inspiration.  Different sizes of canvases tell different stories.  Small are intimate, large expansive, long can be flowing.

Last fall, I did several camping scenes.  In one I used a vertical 12" x 24".  This allowed me to capture a slice showing the sweeping height of the trees and also the details of the campers below.

2. Do not be afraid to eliminate the unnecessary!
Recently my father said to me has he was impressed how I was able to streamline complicated scenes and take out the unnecessary.  I had to stop a moment and think about this because it had become such a natural part of my painting process.

In this step, go back to what inspired you to paint the scene then look at all the subjects throughout the scene and decide if they strengthen the view or take away from it.  That telephone pole is not always necessary!

3. Do not be afraid to move and rearrange subject matter you are painting.
 One of my all time favorite artists, Wayne Thiebaud, is wonderful at pushing angles and edges.  His San Francisco cityscapes tilt the streets into unfathomable inclines and boy are they exciting!

In many paintings there are rhythms to be found and odd tangents to eliminate. Too rhythmic can become stagnant and bad tangents can lead a viewer's gaze the wrong direction. An example of a bad rhythm could be a fence line, removing a few posts or tilting a couple can create some nice tension or open up areas for the eye to travel through.

An example of a bad tangent can be when two objects touch at their corners and draws the viewer's attention to that vertex. An example could be a corner of a sign touching the corner of a roof line.

Then there is the fun part of pushing reality be it in color or perspective. That hill might just need to swoop a little higher or that car might need more extreme foreshortening. "The world is but a canvas to our imagination" as Henry David Thoreau so beautifully put. It is your unique vision you are sharing and the image or scene is just a jumping off point.


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