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!


  1. So true ,was very happy to read these words of wisdom - it gives me a lot of security and all my fears and doubts about the way how almost any my current project goes are gone ,as a beginner i do now very well learning from Janhendrick Dolsma tutorials and blog,etc,Thank you so much Janhendrick!

    1. Thank you Arthur, very encouraging to know that my tutorials & blog have been helpful. It's an incentive to go on this way!

  2. It's breathtaking and outstanding as usual. Bravo

  3. Thanks Darrell. I take pictures of my work once it's finished, so I took a picture of what later turned out to be the first stage. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to compare the two stages and see the impact of the change in composition.