Thursday, January 9, 2014

Composition and Value

Composition and Value

Day 9 in the 30 in 30 Day Challenge

As I stated when I started the 30 in 30 Challenge, although I paint a lot, I don't paint every single day, and I don't paint that many small paintings.  But, I like a challenge and I like to make things work.  So, this week I'm working on a 20 x 20 of a farm from our visit in September to Vermont.  Everyday I'll post about 1 to 2 hours worth of work until I'm done.

One of the fundamentals of drawing and painting that can be challenging is composition.  We know that a painting needs a good composition to work.  But, what makes a good composition?  When you look at the work of a master in a museum, why does it stand out?  What piece in a gallery really draws you?  Sometimes it's the strong light, sometimes it's the bold or subtle value and color, sometimes it's the great composition.  There's a lot more to a painting than just painting.

Very basically composition is the placement of the dominant mass(es) and line(s).  I like the movement in the upper right sketch because the lines of the cornfield move up to the mass of the shape of the farm.

As many of us do, I have a lot of art books.  Two of my favorites are Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne and Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson.  I was much newer to painting when I first got these and found them hard to get through.  I've read and reread them (sometimes only a chapter or two at a time) over the years and appreciate all that they teach.  I love Paynes' drawings for his suggestions for design.  They are so helpful when landscape painting.  Carlson also has diagrams showing dominant mass and line schemes.

I don't do sketches like this with every painting, although I probably should do more.  I knew that I wanted to paint some of the barns and farms in Vermont.  I took so many photos that had good starts for a painting but needed work.  So I spent quite awhile just editing photos, before I even got to sketching.  After I picked four that I liked and thought would work I tried to get the composition working on the photo, then adjusted it as I sketched.  I don't always grid my sketches, but find that that is helpful with architecture.  By the time I got to the end of these 4 sketches I'd probably been working for about 2 hours.  I'm not used to photoing white, so the values don't show up very well.


Anne Winthrop Cordin said...

Thanks Pam, for the insight on composition (those two are also in my library!). I love to see your process unfold...I'll stay tuned!

Pam Holnback said...

Anne, thank you. Sometimes our libraries get so big that we don't take the time to pull those old books out and reread!