I use photographic references for my paintings. While there are always interesting elements that draw me to the photos initially, the compositions are not always strong, and often need some adjustment.
One tool to help clarify the elements within a composition is the use of a Notan drawing. Notan is a Japanese word that means “light-dark balance.” A notan reduces a scene to the basic black and white shapes and patterns that serve as the foundation of a composition. Notan recognizes not only the balance of positive and negative space, but also the relationship of a specific shape to its background. It can also help eliminate extraneous elements in a photo, more easily simplifying a composition.
John Carlson refers to "decorative composition", meaning the arrangement of value-masses into a design, almost as a poster designer would proceed.
The notan below is of the original photograph. After adjusting the balance, unity, movement, proportion, and emphasis–"BUMPE"– I arrived at a much better composition, indicated by the notan in the middle. The finished painting is on the right.
The first thing that the viewer of your artwork sees is the pattern of light, middle and dark values. If you get that right, they will look more closely at the colors and the detail.
My third book, on the fundamentals of drawing and painting, is in the final editing phase and hopefully will be in print this summer. Chapters include drawing, composition, color, perspective, angle and planes, elements of landscape and procedures for painting.
If you are one of my students, or have read my first two books, or just follow my blog, you know that I refer to "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting" often. It is one of the books on the required reading list for all my students.
Spring is finally here in the midwest, the trees are budding, so, as a landscape artist, I thought it relevant to touch on one of the favorite elements of landscape paintings–trees. One of the chapters in Carlson's book is devoted to trees.
" Know your trees, their nature, their growth, their movement; understand that they are conscious, living things, with tribulations and desires not wholly disassociated from your own."
I've simplified the thought process by making it one of the 42 rules in the new book: Rule 32- "Tree branches are curved using straight line segments." What does that mean? In the northern climate, trees go dormant in the winter. In the spring they will start to grow at a slightly different angle from where they ended. This "starting and stopping" continues throughout the growing season, and over the years.
At first glance, branches all appear to curve. Looking closely at its branches, you will see that a tree grows each year in relatively straight segments that form a curved appearance.
If you attempt to paint the tree and its branches with curved lines, it will look "rubbery" and unnatural. Study even the tiniest twig and you will see the history of a tree's growth.
Observe also, that trees in nature seldom grow perfectly vertical. Carlson says: "A tree seldom or never encroaches upon the liberty of another tree, if it can be avoided."
Depending on weather, or terrain, you will see the interesting variations in the growth of trees.