Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Choosing a composition

Choosing a good composition is the first important step in creating a painting. This scene is a good example. There are multiple possible paintings in it.

There are two obvious elements. On the hill there's an attractive cottage with an eye catching splash of blossom. To the left, a compelling pine tree. Which of these elements will make an effective painting?

Most peoples response is to think 'both' and try to incorporate the two elements. In that instance, they would compete with each other and cancel out their potential impact So lets examine the options and try to understand why this is.

All of these compositional choices are based upon the size and proportion of canvas I was working with. 10 x 15cm.

Composition 'A'  

There are two main masses in this composition, sky and trees.

Other than the splash of colour beside the house there is nothing to draw the eye around the composition. Without any other visual movement in the forms the eye will arrive there and stay there. That makes a very restful, contemplative scene, which you may want. It can be made more dynamic by a play of light and colour but that's another story.

Composition 'B'

This combination tries to bring both elements together. However they end up competing for the eyes attention and the 'v' shaped wedge of green between the olive trees, in the foreground, literally divides the composition. Sending your eye into a no-mans land.

Composition 'C'

From this viewing spot, this is the composition I find most interesting. The line of the olive trees creates a nice perspective directing your vision towards a darker shape in the distance which then allows the eye to move to the right, to the next dark shape, which rests directly over the starting point in the foreground. This creates a triangle of movement the eye can float through and go into a loop allowing it to navigate the painting, resting on different elements as it travels, making it easier for the viewer to become involved with the scene.

Another way to 'see' this composition is through the 'V' shape of the olive trees contrasted against the higher chroma of the green grass in the foreground. It is a slightly aggressive, adventurous formation and will attract a dynamic viewer. The eye moves over the crest of the smooth expanse of olive trees to the interesting object in the distance, like coasting over a wave towards a distant island.

Painting the composition

The first thing to do is relax.
Step back and take in the scene. Make sure all your tools are in place. Once you've made your decision, step back from everything and allow the scene to flood through you. You want to capture nature, not objectify it, so smell the trees, listen to the birds and look.

I've separated this canvas into thirds and then drawn a line through the center. Then using my view finder I've compared that to the scene. The perspective starts at the point of the foreground olive tree. I've drawn a line that moves up the hill towards the darker bush. The  large pine tree and the elements on the crest of the hill are all represented as dark silhouettes.

This establishes the shadow gesture as well as the movement of the painting. 

The shadow gesture is important because, just as in figure drawing, the scene will move because of the movement of the sun. This is like the skeleton of the landscape painting.  

So this simplification does several things. It clarifies the composition and the dark masses give me a great foundation to start painting.

Now you are ready to start applying colour to the scene and I'll post about that in the next couple of days.

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