The success or failure of a painting occurs before you even pick up your brush.
Good compositions don’t just happen. Adjustments to value, color and arrangement of subject matter within the picture space always improve your compositions.
The students in the Fundamentals of Drawing and Painting class at the Palette and Chisel Academy are ready to paint only after spending a good deal of time studying the components of good composition.
Small sketches, or thumbnails, are critical. For many years I did thumbnails with pencil and paper to explore different arrangements of objects, values and colors within my picture space to find the best composition. That process not only helped me learn to develop good compositions, but also enhanced my drawing skills.
Now I use a photo-editing software program to do the same thing. With the computer I can easily execute many sketches, changing value color and moving, adding or eliminating objects within the composition.
The photograph below was taken as I was driving on a road near my home. The existing composition is adequate, and would make for a good painting. However, I always want to look at the possibility of creating a better composition.
As you can see in the examples below, one photograph can lead to many paintings if you look beyond the obvious, and explore other possibilities.
In this version I simply cropped the original photograph and then lightened all of the light values to white.
The result is a high key composition.
Here I warmed the light source and then increased the contrast of values.
The foreground breaks up the horizontal lines in the composition. I also melted some of the snow on the roofs and then moved the dark pine trees on the right along with the horizontal barn in front of the larger barn so that they overlap, thus creating more depth.
In the third variation I first made the light source cooler and then melted some of the snow in the foreground.
The melted puddle creates a great place for a reflection.
This version shows a warmer light source with some grasses and shrubs in the foreground.
The composition is generally better when you have a foreground, middle ground and background.
The red in the barns was also increased in intensity to contrast the cooler colors of the snow in the foreground.
I eliminated all of the structures except for the main barn.
The change of light with a cool gray sky places emphasis on the warm red of the barn and a few warm yellow grasses in the middle ground.
I could go on and on with many more variations using just this one photograph. The point is that every reference can be manipulated to create many good compositions. I have never seen a photograph or a scene from life that could not be improved.
The creative process is one that we should embrace and enjoy.