Mapping Out Composition

April 30, 2009

compositional study for large painting (30x40"), charcoal on newsprint
compositional study for large painting (30×40″), charcoal on newsprint

This is a study I did in preparation for beginning the large still life of glass objects. There are 34 separate elements in this composition, therefore a compositional study is absolutely necessary to map out how this will layout on the canvas.

I taped a large sheet of newsprint directly to the canvas I am going to use (it is still in its wrapper so the surface won’t get damaged or dirty). Using charcoal, I began mapping in the bottles, glasses and corks. The numbers indicate the sequence in which I placed objects. I did this for 2 reasons:

  1. it will assist me when I begin my under painting in that I can just follow what I did in the study in terms of establishing landmarks for proportion and placement
  2. it will be useful as a teaching tool since I’m often asked “where do you start?” especially on still lifes or urban landscapes that are highly complex

I will bring this with me to all of my classes this week. As I begin the painting on canvas, I’ll bring that along as well so students can see the work in progress and better understand the process.


Top 10

April 29, 2009
quick study of lilacs (about 1/2 hour), pastel on Wallis paper

quick study of lilacs (about 1/2 hour), pastel on Wallis paper

Just putting the stuff you hear me say a hundred times every week in one convenient place. 🙂

  1. Form and value are the most important concepts in creating a successful representational painting–get these right at the beginning.
  2. Forget “what” you are drawing, block in the basic geometric forms that make up the elements of your composition, then focus on the values and their relationship to one another–constantly ask yourself is the area next to the one I’m working on darker or lighter?
  3. Practice drawing from life at least 10-20 minutes each day, it will help you to see and understand the relationship of form and values, proportion and perspective–there is no “formula” for learning these things, you have to just constantly do them until it becomes second nature.
  4. A successful composition is based on balance. Colors, values and shapes repeat throughout the composition and keep the viewers eye engaged. A composition can be contemporary or traditional, neither is better than the other they are just different. A contemporary composition has multiple focal points and encourages movement and an overall essence of the elements contained within, a tradtional composition is more formal and relies on a strong focal point to tell a specific story.
  5. Color variation is an important factor in a succesful painting. Don’t just lighten your colors with white, use complementary colors to create your darks, this will heighten the intensity of the brighter, lighter areas. Burnt umber and cobalt or ultramarine make a beautiful dark neutral.
  6. Try working with a limited palette, it really helps to create strong color harmony and will ensure that your colors don’t fight with one another on the canvas. Three primaries + a dark neutral + white make an excellent limited palette. My favorite is: cobalt + alizarin + cadmium yello + burnt umber + titanium white. I will also frequently add cadmium yellow to this palette to make a bright green in landscape paintings. A limited palette does not limit your range of colors–it simply gives you a head start on color harmony and ensures that your colors will relate to one another without conflict. If the colors don’t work on your palette, they won’t work on your canvas.
  7. You can always pull in a color from the tube if you need it for a certain element in your painting. Just make sure it works with the colors in your limited palette and be sure to use it in at least three places in your composition, even if it is just used as a color variant in your darks.
  8. Use class time as practice and experimentation time–don’t expect to produce a masterpiece in a 2.5 hour studio class! Allow yourself the leeway to make mistakes and learn during the time you spend in class.
  9. Paint what interests you–not what you think will sell or get into shows. You will always do your best work if you are working on something that you want to paint. Work from life whenever possible, using photos is perfectly ok when necessary but use them only as a departure point–remember, you are not a copy machine, you are creating something new not replicating a photo. Always work from only your own photos, particularly if you plan to put them in a show or sell them–plagiarism or copyright violation are serious offences.
  10. Take ownership of your artistic goals–know what you want your work to say and how you want it to look. Realize that figuring those things out take time and that they are the type of things only you as the artist can do on your own–an instructor can’t do that for you. Look at art from the past, visit museums, become acquainted with many different styles of art. Learn to identify and focus on your strengths, and make every effort to improve those areas you feel are weak. Be open to new ideas, techniques and mediums–enjoy the process of creating and growing as an artist.

2-Day Workshop at Somerset Art Association May 7 and 14

April 28, 2009
experimenting with oils on Wallis pastel paper, oil paint and soft pastels

experimenting with oils on Wallis pastel paper, oil paint and soft pastels

Loosen Up! a 2-day workshop will be held at Somerset Art Association on May 7 and May 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The class will focus on using existing materials you have in your studio to experiment on alternative surfaces and with mixed media combinations.  Any and all media are welcome, and you may bring a variety of surfaces to work on: corrugated cardboard, used canvas, cardboard from the back of drawing pads, just about anything you can think of that will accept water, dry or oil-based mediums. Rather than having a goal of creating a finished “master piece”, this workshop is best for experimentation and practice. Form, value, color and composition will be explored in depth and several demonstrations will be given in each session.

To register, call SAA at 908-234-2345, registration fee is $94 for SAA members or $114 for non-members.

Class Notes – Expressive Drawing 4/24/2009

April 26, 2009
charcoal and white pastel on greyscale paper

charcoal and white pastel on greyscale paper

Concepts presented:

  • working directly from a still life is a great way to practice getting proportions correct
  • I began this by sketching in the basic form of the center object and using it as a guide for sizing the objects next to it
  • the first thing to consider is the initial object’s proportion to itself and its size on paper relative to its size in real life (scale)
  • the scale of this drawing is approximately 3/4 of actual size or .75:1, scale can be thought of as a ratio
  • personally, I prefer to draw still lifes 1:1 or close to that ratio such as here where I made the objects in the drawing just slightly smaller
  • once you’ve established the scale of your drawing, you need to make sure the proportions of the first object are correct
  • parts of the object can be used to help you check proportions, for example, the width of the jug relative to its height, etc.
  • once you have the first object in place, use landmarks on it to establish how the remaining objects relate to it in terms of proportion
  • in this case the ellipse of the pitcher on the right comes up to the “shoulder” of the jug, the ball on top of the teapot comes up to the shoulder on the other side, etc.
  • establish the height of the objects next to the main one and then use the objects themselves to determine proportion the way you did on the first object (compare height to width of specific parts, etc.)
  • after your objects are blocked in, begin your shading from dark to light, block in values with the side of the charcoal, save the highights for last
  • practice like this will train your eye to “see” proportions–measuring and other methods are fine for checking accuracy, but the best way to enhance your skills is to practice getting it right “by eye”, the more you do it, the easier it will become, it is also a much more natural and pleasurable way to draw

Study of Glass Completed

April 25, 2009
acrylic on canvas, 14x18"

acrylic on canvas, 14x18"

Final verison of study, will likely move on to start a much larger one in oil. For this version, I only used natural afternoon lighting on the bottles, the larger one I will have to use a directional spotlight, otherwise it will take too long to complete. I will also do the larger version in oil insteadof acrylic.

Class Notes – Pastels and Acrylics from 4/23/2009

April 24, 2009
flower study, acrylic on watercolor paper

flower study, acrylic on watercolor paper

flower study, pastel on watercolor paper prepared with Art Spectrum pastel ground

flower study, pastel on watercolor paper prepared with Art Spectrum pastel ground

Concepts presented (similar demos in both Acrylics and Pastels classes, so I’ve combined the notes for simplicity):

  • when painting flowers, try to simplify the forms into their basic geometric shapes
  • don’t think of individual petals, think instead of masses of color once you’ve blocked in the values
  • begin with either an underpainting (acrylic) or value study in a dark neutral (pastel)
  • work from dark to light massing in the forms, be sure to get enough variation in form in the foliage areas
  • give yourself  “landmarks” so you don’t get lost in the complexity of the individual forms
  • you don’t have to capture every detail on every petal, imply details rather than painstakingly copying them

Private Plein Air Class Scheduled for June 9

April 23, 2009
Plein Air Irises, 7x10, oil on canvas

Plein Air Irises, 7x10, oil on canvas

One of my students has offered to host a private plein air workshop in her garden. There are lovely perennials, roses and mature trees in a park-like setting. Relax with coffee and light breakfast during the demo, then pick your painting spot and enjoy the surroundings. Imagine a plein air class where you have good parking, access to a nice bathroom and coffee and snacks provided throughout the day! Bring your lunch and enjoy it on the deck during an informal group critique session.

  • Time/Date: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Tuesday, June 9, 2009 (rain date is June 16)
  • Location: Millington / Basking Ridge, NJ
  • Fee: $60, payment in advance by May 15, 2009 – registration fee is non-refundable so please check your schedule carefully before you sign up
  • Class is limited to 6 participants and because this is held at someone’s home, I must know you personally
  • E-mail me if you are interested and want to reserve a spot