Today I’m going to move on to learn a bit more about how to compose a painting. Previously I’ve always done this by eye and by just “having a feeling for it”. However in my painting tutorial book – “The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted” by Kathleen Staiger – there is a whole chapter on it and I’ve not even heard of most of the technical terms before, let alone know the theory.
The first part of the theory is the “Format” of the painting. This means the shape of the paper or material which is being painted on. I frequently work on A4 paper as I’m studying paintin becuase this provides enough space for em to try things out without using too much paint or taking too long for each study. I am aware that you can have all sizes of canvases but I’ve never really though of having an irregular canvas or a circular one. It’s interesting to think about that.
The second section of theory is something called the “Interval”. This is the space or spaces between objects in a painting. Bascially instead of look at the picture as what it is you can look at it as a set of shapes which form part of the painting. There are spaces or somtimes lack of space between each of the main shapes an this has an effect on how a viewer looks at the painting. Now I quite like things lined up in a regular pattern but this is not generally regarded as artistic so instead I try to follow the patterns I first saw in chaos theory and in fractals which mimic natural forms. Apparently having a painting with good intervals means having each interval different from the others.
The third aspect of composition is shape. The idea here is to get a variety of shapes and sizes of shapes in a painting
The fourth thing to think about when composing a picture is “Space” this means creating a sense of depth in the picture. This is done by making things which are further away smaller and less intense and by overlapping things. Giving the viewer a picture to look at which appears to have depth also makes a good painting.
Leading the Eye
This final element of composition is the hardest for me to understand and put into practice. Basically the principle is to make some part of the picture the main ‘point of interest’ and make this part stand out a bit using a wide tonal range and stronger and more intense colours. Then you use the other things in the painting to kind of point to the main place of interest. So, for instance you could surround the main interest of your painting with a pattern of objects which provide a contrast to the focal point which makes it stand out a bit more. Or you could get some inanimate objects to literally point to what you want the viewer to look at. Another method is to use a figure in the painting and make them look at the point of interest.
So thinking about all of this I did a quick illustration today of a little rabbit in a flower meadow. I first saw this little chap on a birthday card and I just really liked him. Hoever on the card he was centred in the middle of a plain field of grass which was just drawn as lines. Because of the way the card was designed I saw an opportunity to completely rework the composition.
Here’s my sketch with a bit of painting done:
I chose to move the rabbit, my point of interest, to the left slightly and then have the grass and flower stalks poke up in a spray heading upwards and outwards – like a spray of flowers. I also positioned some flowers around the rabbit to frame him. I kept the flowers simple with him between them to try to make him stand out even though he’s kind of popping his head up in the meadow. I painted him with my darkest darks and lightest lights to make it clear that he’s the subject although I did use a couple of dark greens int eh foliage on the left and in the centre to balance the heavier foliage on the right hand side.
Here’s a picture of my drawing with the main shapes put in via the computer:
Two of the flowers are seperated from the rabbit but one is overlapping and they have different intervals vertically and horizontally. I didn’t put anything over the rabbit and let his large ears extend into space to give the feeling of him being in the open and free.
I’m not sure if all of this theory works but here’s the final picture: