Art: What is a Perfect Composition?

First of all: What is A COMPOSITION?

Composition! This question may surprise some folks who are familiar with artistic terms, but still it provokes a great many other questions of importance, if you want your paintings to sell well and quickly!

So what is a composition?

  • To the general public they would perhaps associate the word composition with composers of music. An arrangement of score that makes up a beautiful melody.
  • Or perhaps the composing of poetry!
  • To artists it’s an arrangement or placement of elements or things in a picture. And how those elements should interact comfortably and flow effortlessly through the composition (just like a melody of music).
  • The fact is, artists are composers too.
Its all about composition.

A5 watercolour: A field of wild lavender.

That leads to the second question: What is A PERFECT COMPOSITION?

Haw, now that is debatable!

Why? Because artists have different opinions on what they favour. That is: it depends on their style of work and how their imagination pans out.

But here are the basics:

  • The selection of the boldest shapes take command of the scene.
  • Smaller shapes are supportive.
  • And fine details are reduced and selected according to their directive and decorative need. And of cause the selection of detail is at your discretion depending on your subject matter and style.
  • Variation of shapes and their size is important. Everything is the same shape and size within the composition, it gives the painting a regimental stiff appearance.

As to format:

The best compositions are those which are simple and uncomplicated, because they make the most impact and are easier to ‘read’. That requires simplifying planes down to three major planes: background, middle-ground and foreground.

  • These planes can lie or interact horizontally or transverse vertically.
  • The important thing is to have one plane more prominent than the other two, and one  with strong contrast. That can be  within the same plane or not.
  • Generally speaking: Each plane seeming to have its own basic or general overall tone level. That is: one light tone, one medium tone and one dark tone plane. The order doesn’t matter, as long as the main point of interest is attractive by contrast.

As to action and creating life in your paintings:

Besides shapes, lines and brushstrokes are read unconsciously like shorthand.

  • Oblique lines or slopes suggest action.
  • Crossed oblique lines suggest opposition and inter-action.
  • Varied and diminutive zigzag lines describe action, growth and lineal perspective.
  • Wavy Hogarthian lines create flow and movement.
  • Varied arabesque lines, whether curved Lyric or scrolled lines, they create flow of reasoning.

As to visual perception:

  • The main point of interest is generally in focus or in contrast.
  • And the outer edges of the painting out-of-focus.
  • Thus creating a tunnel effect, that draws people into your picture.
  • Of cause atmospheric conditions play a huge part in perspective.

So what about colour?

Is it important when discussing composition? Yes. And Why?

  • If the colours are mainly dull with close analogous hues, the painting will look flat and is boring.
  • There must be impact of colour to attract peoples’ attention in the gallery.

So how should that be done?

  • The first thing most people would say is: contrast of tone and colour.
  • But also contrast of warm and cool colours.

If you have other questions you would like to ask, first consider reading the introduction page:

Click on: Questions & Answer page.

Do what you love most

DOING WHAT YOU LOVE MOST

is all about your attitude, enthusiasm, action and emotions….

Love what you are doing

A5 watercolour: Misty river scene.

Love starts with attitude:

Whatever you love, that is what you will enjoy doing. When you enjoy what you are doing, things generally go more smoothly because your heart and soul is in it. You are having such fun that you don’t want to stop.

Your enthusiasm empowers you. If you happen to make a mistake it doesn’t worry you so much, your enthusiasm carries you on, trying again and again until you get it right or get the effect you want.

For example, I love art so much I can’t stop doing research. If I get an idea in my head, I delve into every aspect of the subject. Like `a dog with a bone’ I can’t leave the concept alone, seeking for the truth in Nature, in the world around me. Gathering theories and seeing if they jell competitively in charts or diagrams, using word play to summarize notes.

Theory on its own is no use if you can’t use it in your paintings, so I experiment with the concept or technique physically, either proving it or rejecting what doesn’t work. That’s not all, I can’t stop there, I keep building on the concept and techniques until I have new concept or technique. The whole process gives me such pleasure that I’m always looking for more stuff to do research on. That brings me to the point:

Paint what turns-on your creativity:

If you love painting a certain technique or subject matter, it empowers your artistic intuition and dexterity. If you can’t find what you like painting most, consider:

  • What colour or combinations of colours turn on your enthusiasm: warm or cool colours, contrast or gradation of colours, bright or mellow colours?
  • What atmospheric weather conditions in any given scene pleases you most: bright sunny or overcast days, dramatic or misty scenes?
  • What type of subject matter do you prefer? Stark abstract concepts, still-life setups, birds, flowers, landscapes, marshlands, seascapes, stream or river scenes, what
  • Does size and detail matter? When you go to a gallery or museum, which do you prefer: big complex compositions or small uncluttered canvases?
  • Which artist’s work do you admire the most? What do you like about his or her style? Is it because the artist painted fine detailed work or because of their free-flowing dexterity?

Putting it all together:

Write your answers down on paper and consider the facts. And if the collective deduction of the facts builds a conceivable visual conclusion, go with that as your possible style of painting.

  • When you are happy doing what you do, your tension and dexterity loosens up and your creative powers start flowing. Once your creativity loosens up you start building your own personal style of working.
  • Painting what you like brings out the best of you and your talent glows with your pleasure. It is this `glowing pleasure’ that attracts people attention to your art. They feel your pleasure and people buy with their emotions.

Conclusive talent:

What you enjoy painting most, that will bring out the best of you and your talent glows with your pleasure. It is this `glowing pleasure’ that attracts people attention to your art. They feel your pleasure and if you rightly remember, people buy with and according to their emotions and senses. If you are aware of the emotional side of art, you will begin to see how your sales can improve.

SO YOU SEE YOUR FEELINGS ARE IMPORTANT

Love what you are doing

A5 watercolour: A little imagination and a zing of colour.

The ecstasy of creating in the moment:

If your heart is fully in what you are painting, you will find your intuitive senses heightened. You are so hyped up on the power of creativity you feel, that nothing deters you from the moment of creativity. You are actually living in the moment, a time-warp so to speak, in the scene you are creating.

Everything and everybody in the physical world is forgotten. You’re feeling the dimension and atmospheric mood and flow of colours, your imagination runs wild; it carries you on and on. The feeling is so powerful and wonderful you unconsciously don’t wish it to end. You are now living in the scene and its part of you.

Action brings results:

This state of affairs causes you to loosen up your dexterity, and to other people your brush seems to flourish as though you are wielding a wand! So much so that they think your brush has magic and desire to get one just like yours. Meanwhile you have used the brush so often that you know what it can or can’t do, and of cause your state of expertise is really enhanced by living in the moment of creativity, that is, doing what you love most.

Please let us know:

Not just me but other artists out there, how as artists have you experienced this power of creativity? How were your emotions involved? And how has your emotions affected your talent and sales?

For more about making your paintings exciting, start by checking out ‘Art and Fame‘ page and category listing.

What makes great seascape paintings?

HOW TO PAINT MAGNIFICENT EXCITING SEASCAPES:

Have you ever wondered what makes a great seascape painting? Here are seven basic composition tips:

What happens to pounding surf.


A5 watercolour: Pounding surf.

1: Reduce subject matter:

Always consider the elements seascape before beginning to paint. The suggestions I give here can be varied according to the type of scene.

  • A small painting about 2-3 basic things, eg: wave, foam and rocks.
  • Big paintings about 3-4 elements or objects, eg: Cliff, clear wave, stormy sky, boat or birds.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • What is most impressive to you in the scene?
  • What should you leave out?

2: Dominating factors:

Don’t use similar shapes. Something must dominate the scene to give it impact and purpose.

  • One dominant shape, examples: A big wave, a huge cliff, or rock.
  • One open space, eg: sky area or less-descriptive area.

3: Differential tone values:

  • Where possible have three basic tonal areas, one light, one dark and one medium toned. Subtly interlace their format to give them natural occurrence.
  • Alternate chiaroscuro, that is, contrast and change of tone levels from one plane to another, so that form is distinguished perspectively.

4: Variation of balance and weight:

  • If there is a cliff on one side of the painting and you want some rocks on the other side of the composition, the rocks on the other side should be smaller than the cliff, so that the cliff-face dominates the scene.
  • Two big clear waves with a diminishing contour in the middle split one’s attention. One dominant wave gives the painting impact.

5: Action and motion:

  • Action: Oblique angles, contours and lines, eg: // ZZ SS.
  • Motion: Irregular arabesque lines and curves.
  • Rhythm: Big and small undulation contours.

6: Variation of detail and texture:

  • Lacy foam verses clear translucent water.
  • Soft blurred edges verses sharp hard edges, eg: sharp rocks verses blurred spray.
  • Big verses small brushstrokes: Where possible the ration of big brushstrokes (washes) should outweigh smaller strokes.

7: Variation of colours:

  • Water looks translucent when there is a combination of analogous colours, example: Blue seawater: warm and cool blues. Greenish seawater: Warm and cool greens.
  • Rocks: variation of brown tones, earth yellows and blue shadows.
  • Warm and cool colours in the sky give it atmospheric depth.
What a simple concept.

A5 watercolour: Even serene seascapes can look exciting.

Passing shot:

`All said and done’, what do you think makes a great seascape painting? Please leave a comment. I would like to hear what your opinion is.

Unlocking Colour Wheel Secrets

We have already confirmed how important it is to know the constitution of pigments and how the knowledge improves your watercolour skills. Now let us take it one step further:

Colour wheel secrets

A5 watercolour: Basically a yellow, green and blue analogous colour scheme, with burnt umber accents.

Unlocking colour wheel secrets:

If you use a specific combination of pigments you’ll get a particular range of hues, shades and special effects according to their constitution.

  • A combination of transparent cool intense pigments will give you beautiful fresh translucent washes of colour. Example: Rembrandt gamboge yellow and Perm Madder Lake, Winsor green and blue.
  • A combination of opaque pigments will make your painting look milky and smoky. Example: Naples yellow, cadmium red and manganese blue.
  • A combination of segmented pigments will give you dusty and grainy effects. Example: Winsor lemon yellow, Venetian or Indian red and cerulean blue.
  • A selection of earthy pigments will give you a muted range of colours. They are lovely to use when you want to tone down a colour that’s too bright perspectively. Example: Raw sienna, Light Red, burnt umber chrome oxide green and Indigo blue.
  • Subdued primaries: Raw sienna, brown madder alizarin and French ultramarine blue.
  • Delicate primaries: Aureolin yellow, rose madder Alizarin and cobalt blue.
  • Subtle energy colours: cadmium orange, cadmium red, manganese blue and Winsor yellow.

Exercise experience: If you make a simple colour wheel from each group, you will see what range of hues each of these combinations make.

Note: The example of pigments above, are only suggestions. If you had done the scrub and opaque test in the last blog chapter, you will have had some idea of which of your own pigments are transparent, opaque, segmented, etc.

How to make a basic colour wheel:

  1. It is made up of the three primary colours: yellow, red and blue, equally spaced apart.
  2. The secondary colours: orange, violet and green, are placed in between the primaries: Yellow and red make orange, yellow and blue make green, and red and blue make violet.
  3. The intermediate colours: are placed between a primary and a secondary. Example: yellow and green makes lime-green.
Colour wheel template

Cardboard colour wheel template.

It’s easy to make a colour wheel if you have a stencil template:

I made my colour wheel from a stiff piece of cardboard.

  1. I used small shirt buttons to get the size of the holes and then cut out the holes with a sharp blade.
  2. Notice the order of holes: The top hole should line up with the bottom hole (four holes in a row).
  3. I labelled the top hole yellow, like the sun high in the sky.
  4. The bottom hole will be the violet hole.
  5. Label the three primary colour holes, so you know where to begin filling in the colours. With red on the left and blue on the right.
  6. The six centre holes are filled in last (after you have filled in the primary, secondary and intermediate colours). They are for grey mixtures, made by mixing the complementary (opposite) colours together.
  7. When mixing the colours, don’t use colours straight out of tubes. Mix with a little water to an even consistency. Note some pigments are weaker intensity.
  8. To get the right hue balance, mix colours 50:50 in ratio, eg: 50% yellow to that of 50% blue to make true green.
  9. My colour wheels (see illustration) were based on Winsor and Newton’s quality control grading. AA been absolute permanent colours. S1 referring to cheapest range.
  10. Because my illustration is only a photo copy, you can’t actually see the texture quality of the pigments. That you will need to discovery for yourself, by experimenting with your own pigments.
Colour wheels

Simple colour wheel examples

Concluding remarks:

All these colour wheel exercises may seem a waste of time, but let me tell you, I thought so too years ago until I did it. Then, WOW!! I WISHED I HAD DONE IT SOONER.

I love colour. Especially the rainbow effects of colour wheels. Some pigment combinations give your painting a mellow old world appearance and some combinations give you such beautiful mottle effects. You feel you can create any mood you wish with this all-embracing knowledge!

I have a general basic palette that I use, but when doing a commission, I select and make up a personal colour wheel for each of my clients, to make sure I get the right range of hues and shades to suit their desired décor colour scheme and mood to suit their particular vision, portrait skin tones, etc.

Have fun experimenting with your colour wheels.

Stream in the Woods

Stream in the woods:

Photo of stream in the woods

Photo stream in the woods.

I enjoyed walking by this stream, down in the valley of the Kendal farm. It’s secluded under wattle trees and willows.  It’s so quiet and peaceful, away from the city with its noisy traffic and towering buildings.

I love trees. Their character is formed by the climate and weather. Some trees are bent and twisted by the wind and some trees stand tall and proud against all elements. Some trees are hit by lightning and some trimmed or chopped down. Some grow wild and carefree. Just as our characters are formed by the circumstances and environments we live in.

When you sit down and soak in the atmosphere of your surroundings and listen to the trickle of the water, as it sparkles in the sun and meanders down and over rocks and moss, it brings peace, hope and joy to the soul.

Watercolour: stream in the woods

Watercolour painting of the stream in the woods

Composition considerations:

Painting with oil paints and painting with watercolours requires different technique approaches. Photographs and painting also have different identities! Because this photograph is basically cool colours and has similar tone levels, I translated and transformed the scene by:

  • By considering what mood I intended and how I was going to go about it.
  • First I blurred the woods in the background, because I expected the foreground to be leafy.
  • I also wanted the stream to look like it was going deep, back into the background trees. So I selectively strengthened the tones in the background trees, especially where the stream disappears into the background.
  • Contrasting colour and tone between the background and middle ground, also helped to give depth to the stream.
  • Also used contrast of colour in the composition to bring the painting to life.
  • The reflection in the stream was done wet-in-wet and darkened both sides of the sparkling ripple to draw the eye up the stream.
  • As to the young leafy sapling wattle tree, growing out the foreground bank on the left, that was tricky. It consisted of different colours and shades. Wow, you may say, how do you do that? Well, to show it up against its background, I `push and pull’ the strength of the tones. That is, used chiaroscuro, alternating tone levels to differentiate the sapling from its surrounding background.
  • Also contrast the colours of the sapling to rhythm with the colours on the right hand side of the painting.

If you want to see more paintings from photographs check out Introduction to Photo Demos page and category.

I’ll be away during the month of September in Durban. I’m looking forward to spring and the warm barmy days down at the coast.  I’ll write as soon as I get back. In the meanwhile I hope you enjoy painting and that this blog on the stream in the woods has been interesting and informative.

Selling Artwork Effectively

SELLING ARTWORK:

You are not accepted as an artist until your artwork sells. If you want to survive as an artist you need to know what paintings sell best and what you need to do to get your art sold.

Selling artwork: The sea in action.

A5 watercolour: The sea in action.

Which paintings sell quickest?

Is it paintings with…..

  • Bright bold dramatic paintings with simple format?
  • Should paintings be unique or fanciful?
  • Have interplay of warm and cool colours?
  • Have emotional blur verses definition focus?
  • What is most acceptable to public: abstract format, creating illusion suggestion or precise authenticity?
  • Should artists adhere to the latest trends?
  • What of dramatic action? Example: seascape with clear wave breaking around a lighthouse or over rocks with spray.
  • Paintings with life in them, eg: people and children, wild animals.
  • Dramatic weather conditions, eg: sunsets or stormy skies.
  • Does the price make a difference?
  • Big or small paintings?
  • Best venue, right place and time?

Unexpected sales:

The very painting you think won’t sell sometimes sells first! Why because it generally has one of the following attributes:

First impressions when selling artwork:

  • Paintings with bright colours and simple format certainly attract peoples’ attention.
  • Emotional impact of colours:  How the combination of colours relate, ie complementary and analogously blends.
  • Instant reaction to the quality: Wether the artist is an amateur or professional: Composition format and how the brushstrokes were applied.

Uniqueness:

Shrewd gallery owners and investment seekers want to be first in on a new trend. When aspiring artists copy other artists they are judged by those artists’ expertise. Don’t jump on someone else’s bandwagon. Cultivate and get known for your own particular style and brand image.

Emotional impact when selling artwork:

People buy according to their feelings.

Negative reaction:

  • Monochrome paintings are boring.
  • Paintings with only cool colours like blue and green make people feel cold and depressed.

Positive reaction:

  • The interplay of warm and cool colours stimulates peoples’ senses and emotions.
  • Paintings with little children and cute little animals are appealing to the inner parent in us, the need to nurture.
  • Paintings with houses gives comfort, people want to feel safe within their home environment.
  • And sometimes it’s because the buyer has personal attachment or sentimental value to that subject.

Fantasy:

  • There must be something about your paintings that allows room for people to fantasize, and take time out from the harshness of reality of life, to make-believe and dream a little.
  • When paintings are seen at different times of the day and in different light conditions, can people see something new, ever-changing and fascinating within your painting? So they don’t get bored with your painting.

Blurred illusions:

People like using their imagination.

  • Precise definition and sharp neat contours throughout a painting suggests hard facts and jolts the flow of visual perusal, and therefore there is nothing left for imagination.
  • Misty scenes and blurring suggests mystery.

Dramatic action:

People enjoy television because there is action. It takes them places. Want to know what happens next, etc.

  • Putting life into your paintings, eg: people, animals, etc.
  • Put action in your paintings, eg: oblique lines and contours, conflicting and contrasting interaction lines and brushstrokes within the composition format.
  • Mash landscapes can be made dramatic with contrast of tones and colour temperatures.

Drama is powerful:

People love power and have an inner need to be in control of their environment. So they are drawn to paintings with dramatic weather conditions. It  gives them a feeling of power. Paintings that make bold statements, such as huge dramatic crashing waves swirling around a lighthouse or a seascape with a clear wave and violent erupting spray seen against a massive rock or cliff face.

Big or small paintings:

My husband thinks paintings should be big. What do you think?

Big dramatic paintings are usually found in large business forays, to impress customers and business associates. But not everyone can afford a large painting for their home. Most modern homes have small rooms and small paintings fit nicely in hallways.

High or low prices:

Quality and expertise must meet the price and demand. Like any business, there needs to be a fast-moving ‘bread and butter line’ too. Selling artwork also depends on what type of market place you are promoting your art.

Selling artwork

Watercolour flower painting

Venue:

If you want to get your paintings sold you can’t hide your talent. You need to be were the people are, on a tourist route or next to a busy important popular shop, where people are already on foot. Or place yourself in a home based gallery (to cut overhead costs) within an affluent milieu, with easy access parking.

What is your opinion on the topic of selling artwork?

Have you anything to add? Comments are welcome, whether you are an artist or just an observer of what a good painting should be.

More secrets: