“Good composition is like a suspension Bridge; each line adds strength and takes none away…Making lines run into each other is not composition, There must be motive for the connection. Get the art of controlling the observer, that is composition” Robert Henri
Once you know your intent, understand your materials and have them together, you need to decide how you’re going to express your intent which is part 3 of the “simple plan”. Composition is a key component to a strong painting, so it seems logical that you would give this some thought before you start.
Let me start with the realistic painter.
“Plein Air” painters will find a scene, decide what their center of interest will be, mentally edit out what is unimportant to the scene, chose a palette and start laying in their larger shapes.
Realistic painters, painting from a photo reference, will need to edit their photographs. They will decide which area is going to be their center of interest, decide what is not important in the photo to tell their story, mentally edit the aerial perspective, pick a palette, and lay in the large underlying shapes.
Abstract and Non-Objective painters have more choices, because their reference material is internal. If they know their intent they will know what colors will best describe their thought process, so pick a palette.
Then they can choose to:
- Play freely with colors, making a variety of shapes and marks, and textures, then go about the business of pulling it together to make a strong composition.
- Start with a basic format, lay in the three values, roughly decide where the center of interest will be, and continue to paint letting their creative energy take over, knowing there is a strong under structure.
How you like to start is an individual choice, but a ‘simple plan” will save you from being disappointed in what you are doing, having to constantly do and redo, and making mud.
Basic knowledge is important. There are many rules you can follow to develop a strong composition; which after you have used them for a period, become second nature to you. And, once you are secure in them, you will know when it is advantageous to your work to break the rules.
We all have the capacity to be extraordinarily creative. I have never met anyone that could not make original art. What you need is desire, curiosity, and to learn some basic art making information. Creativity is not a magical gift given to some and not others. We are all born creative, sometimes during our childhood it may have been stifled, but it can always be found again with a little effort and desire.
Before a musician writes a symphony, he/she spends years practicing scales, learning about chords and how to combine tones to make something that is beautiful to listen too. Writers need to have a knowledgeable command of word usage and of grammar before they start their first novel. So, it is with the visual artist, you need to know the basics before you set out to create your first masterpiece.
There is a large array of materials and techniques out there, and new ones come out every day. You must find what speaks to you and if it is right for your voice. But most important, give yourself playtime with them and find out what they can do before you start.
Know your intent, know your materials, and lay in a simple composition. A little knowledge, and a “simple plan” makes for a more successful painting experience. Happy painting!