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     What is the most important part of your painting?  The composition.  What do most people forget to make sure is correct?  The composition!  And therein is the problem for many new artists.  They are unsure what to do or how to ensure their painting has a good composition, so they just start painting a scene without planning it out first.  Let me give you a few simple pointers to follow to see if I can help.

     First if you want to learn a LOT, buy the book "Composition of Outdoor Painting" by Edgar Payne. (48.00 on Amazon) No it is not cheap, but it is a really good book for the serious student!  If you cannot buy this book, then I can suggest the older book "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting" by John F. Carlson. (14.95 on Amazon) It was originally written in the 1930's and has a higher level of words if you will (I just looked them up) but the lessons are really beneficial and still work!

     Before you pick up your brush,  always draw out your painting in a thumbnail sketch! By that I mean a small drawing that is only 3 or 4 inches in size.  It helps you make sure the composition is a good one and saves you MUCH frustration later when you are halfway into the painting and at a standstill because it just isn't looking right.  Many artists will draw it several different ways to make sure they have the best design, and then a final larger one, say 4 x 6 or so.  You are also establishing your values in the drawing at the same time.  The value ratio is usually no more than 30% darks  and 70% medium thru light values.

     In the book by Edgar Payne there are five basic types of composition that are rather easy to see and use and when used they really hold a painting together!  I will list them and then try to explain them below for you.  They are also known as design stems.   I have made the illustrations as simple as possible to make the design obvious.


1.  THE STEEL YARD:  The weight of the large tree on the left is balanced by three smaller trees on the right side.  It is a basic design pattern that balances out a painting.

This photo shows the principle.  The group of trees on the left are counter balanced by the lines of the dark tree on the right.

2.  THE CIRCLE:  The mountains encircle the lake forcing the eye into the middle.  The same effect can be achieved using trees or another object to take the eye in a circle around the canvas.

This is an obvious circle design.  The eye literally goes around the wave.

3.  THE "S" CURVE:  A road, a creek, even a hillside can wander up through the painting leading the eye back into the scene.

It is obvious in this painting that the backward "S" road takes you to the focal point of the lighthouse.

4. THE TRIANGLE DESIGN: Here your focus is within a triangle shape.  A mountain may hover over a house, barn, etc. or a triangle may be formed by a tree, line of ground, and a bush at the 3rd point.

You can see that the barn, tree and windmill all form a triangle.  The huge billowing cloud reinforces that triangle.

5.  THE RADIATING LINE:  Here all the structures in the painting point toward the focal point.  My recent painting "COUNTRY ROAD" in AVAILABLE PAINTINGS is an example of this type of composition.

The road, the leaves on the road, the subtle lean of the back trees, the fence, and even the branches and leaves on the foreground trees subtly point toward the barn.

     I hope that these illustrations and explanations have helped you.  A good exercise to sharpen your eye is to go through books of paintings, look at them online, or go to a museum and see if you can see the composition style used and how the artist created it.

     THUMBNAIL SKETCHES:  I mentioned in the beginning how important it is to make thumbnail sketches before you start a painting.  They are also called a NOTAN by some as these are used to establish the composition and primarily, values.  Notan is a Japanese form of art using lights against darks.  I have a photo below of the thumbnail sketch I did for the painting of the lighthouse above.
It is only 2x 3 inches.  Please give this a try and you will see a big drop in the frustration of your painting process.

There is not a lot of detail here, just the general lines and values established.  But it is enough to know that the painting will turn out well.  Notice the lighthouse is in one of the correct "spots" on the canvas.  There are four "ideal" spots on a canvas for a focal point.  If you are not familiar with them, I posted a blog on the subject back in Oct. 12th, 2018 entitled YOUR COMPOSITION IS IMPORTANT.

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