|Little Brass Horse, oil, 12x16|
|Finished painting and setup.|
Composition and Discipline
The painting is placed in a frame and set aside to dry in my studio. As I glance at it in the days to come, I’ll look for passages that bother me. I also took a photo and viewed it on my computer screen. When I did that, I noticed the horse’s right leg looked odd and made a note to correct the highlight. The correction will be made after the paint dries to avoid smudging the paint and creating a major repair.
When the painting is dry, some colors will be dull; others may appear faded. I will apply a coat of a medium, such as Liquin, to bring back the shine. I’ll then decide if I need to strengthen any areas with a glaze of transparent color or intensify the highlights with opaque paint. This is not the time to make major corrections. My composition should have been correctly established at the beginning. Any major corrections at this time would require scraping and repainting. The spontaneous effect would be lost and the painting could have a labored appearance.
Most of us are so eager to begin applying paint that we neglect the composition, which is the foundation of our painting. A good compositionrequires a variety of shapes, colors and sizes that relate to each other - unity. These objects are grouped to distribute their weight equally across the canvas to create balance. You choose your objects to create a certain mood and color harmony. And don’t forget the all-important light - one source of strong light, adjusted to enhance the mood and show the five tone values. These five tone values are vital to creating a three-dimensional effect on the two-dimensional flat canvas.
A good way to check your composition is to photograph the setup and view it either in your camera or on your computer screen. Make sure you photograph the setup from where you will be sitting or standing at your easel. Move objects around until the setup looks right to you. Even though the painting will take on a life of its own as you progress and you may modify the shapes and colors, the basic setup should be as close to your initial idea as possible. This basic structure will be the foundation of your painting.
And talking about modifying shapes and colors - these modifications should be small adjustments not major changes. If you find that you have to make a major change, you need to rethink your original setup. You can see that I modified the shape of the little brass dish and grapes. I also softened the flowers and changed the color and style of the cloth. These are all minor changes and my basic composition remains intact.
Thumbnail sketches are a good way to check the placement of your composition on the canvas. When all looks right, do a light sketch on the canvas with thin, transparent paint. Recheck your placement and size relationships of your objects, both to each other and to the canvas. You can easily wipe it off with turp and make corrections - so easy to do at this stage. Don’t begin to paint until you are satisfied with the placement and the drawing. At this point, it is a good idea to take a break and walk away. When you return you can look at your canvas with a fresh eye.
This all sounds so very elementary until one day, after putting hours into a painting, you realize that your composition is flawed and the painting just won’t work. Good painting requires discipline. Problems at this stage will come back to haunt you. You would never build a house on a poor foundation. It’s better to get it correct - right from the beginning.
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