Thursday, March 31, 2016

The importance of composition

A couple of days before Easter I finished an oil sketch of a beach with evening clouds. It was the second time I worked on it, after telling myself it was finished. It wasn't.

Here's the first version.

And here's what it looks like now.

Evening Clouds, oil sketch on paper, 30 x 40 cm

I wondered what made me want to change it. I mean the light was okay, the reflection too, but something was a bit boring. I decided it was the composition. In the first version the movement to the left is very dominant, predictable even. In the second version the land wash makes a counter movement that interrupts the symmetry of the clouds and their reflection. As a result the viewer's eye is drawn into the distance. Cool, eh?

A symmetric composition has it's advantages. It's balanced and it's stable and the different elements are automatically tied together. But if you're out for a more dynamic image symmetrie is a bit of a challenge and you got to find other ways to unify the composition. The answer is often found in rhythm. The repetition of a shape or direction, but with a slight difference. In this case the land wash is an echo of the shape of the cloud.

Do I think about this kind of stuff when I'm painting? No, I don't. But when I step back and something bothers me, an analytic approach can be very useful. Painting is not only expression an emotion, it's sometimes rational and analytic as well. You gotta use everything you got!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Painting without a plan #2

In my last blog entry I told you about the process of making a painting without a plan. I thought it was finished, but the thing has a mind of it's own. All I could do was listen en so I began working on it again. This is what it looked like 14 days ago:

And here's what it looks like now:

Morning, oils on panel, 90 x 120 cm

Spot the differences! 

- I reworked the cloud at the horizon. I felt it needed more detail and the edge of the cloud repeated the contour of the dune, which started to annoy me. Softened the edge by adding a yellow glaze on top of the blue  bottom layer. Lightened up the cloud too.
- I felt the composition was out of balance. Too much happening on the left side, so I added a bunch of fluffy clouds on the right side which also put more emphasis on the composition's focal point, the tip of the dune.

Now that I see them together on the screen, I'm not sure if the changes are all for the better... I think the clouds on the right are an improvement. Don't know about the rest.

Let me know what you think!  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Painting without a plan

In one of my Top Ten painting tips (blog entry May 5, 2014) I quoted a fellow painter who said: "Failing to plan is planning to fail". I agree. He's right. Problem is I have another rule that says: "You need to break your own rules every now and then". And of course there is Leonardo da Vinci, who advised painters to look at old, weather-beaten walls, to sharpen their imagination. Much like kids look at clouds and see elephants and castles.

A few weeks ago I really felt like painting without a plan. I had a 90 x 120 cm panel, paint, brushes, everything you need to make a painting. I mixed a lot of soft blue and covered the panel with it. Sadly I forgot to take a picture of this first stage. Then I decided where my horizon would be and painted a slightly darker color above and below it. Immediately it looked like the reflection of a band of clouds. The fun of the whole thing is that you start seeing things in what is basically a surface covered with paint. By coincidence the right side of the painting was a bit darker than the left side and I imagined a dark cloud coming in. In this first stage everything is done wet-on-wet and with big flat brushes, so called spalters.

I won't bore you with every single step of the process, but in the end, the cloud disappeared, a dune popped up and I had a great time. The final image was (in my mind) a picture of an early morning with soft light coming through.

You should give it a try. If you do, let me know!

Morning, 90 x 120 cm, oil on panel