Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Composition

The dictionary defines 'composition' as the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole. The word 'act' literally means anything done, being done, or to be done. When we go out to paint the landscape we are well aware that there is work to be done but we must realize that nothing is more important than the time we spend planning out how the elements in the scene are going to fit into the space of our canvas...

No amount of beautiful drawing skills, color sense or paint application is going to be enough to make a painting work if it is not well composed. So many times we will bring students to locations that have subject matter for numerous paintings but they fail to see anything but the very obvious one. In so many cases, students will hold up their 'viewfinder' and then proceed to slavishly copy the scene that fits into that little rectangle. I know what they are thinking. If they can copy what is out there, they will make a great painting...

Many years ago, I saw a copy of Harry Ballinger's book 'Painting Landscapes'. This is a great little book that defines landscape painting in very simple terms. In it, he describes compositional ideas like the circle, the L, the S curve, Radial composition etc. The Edgar Payne book 'Composition of Outdoor Painting' which was reprinted in 2005 is a great book but also very technical. It's not an easy read by any means. For the beginner to intermediate, I would recommend the Ballinger book for its simplicity overall. This book can be found on ebay for very little. While the reproductions of paintings in the book are not very well done, the information in the book is simple and to the point...

This weekend we teach an indoor composition workshop. We look at a small plein air painting and decide how to compose it into a stronger piece for a larger painting. Sometimes, a small painting can be enlarged just as it is and be a strong piece. Many times though, with a little bit of thinking about compositional ideas, we are able to make it better. In the workshop we also talk about and demo different types of compostional formats. Students then take a study and work to improve it and make it into something as small as 16x20 or as large as 24x30...

Next week we will post some images from the workshop and talk more about composing...

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Hi David,
Wanted to thank you for the book recommendation. Ballinger reminded me of Gruppe(but I liked his work a little better)! Very nice to find out about his work and read his book.


-Aaron

www.aaronholland.com

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