Monday, October 13, 2014

Create Compositions That Work

So... just what is it that makes one painting work, and another one fall flat on its face (so to speak)?

Have you ever worked on a painting that was not coming together, no matter what, and you just couldn't figure out what the heck it was that was not working? It feels pretty frustrating, doesn't it?

Chances are the painting has got a problem with its composition. And if a painting's composition isn't working, it doesn't matter how beautifully parts of it are painted. Those parts are like lipstick on a pig... no matter how nice the lipstick, underneath, it's still a pig. (My apology if I offend any pigs!)

Composition study — why isn't this working?

For instance, if you were to sum up what's not working in the composition study above — or why it's not working — could you do it in one word?

Is it easier to identify when you look at it upside down?

Is it easier to see why it's not working upside down? Give it a good, long look.

There are so many variables to take into consideration when you paint — there's line, there's color (although it's not in the study above), there's value, there are the relationships between the shapes in the painting, there are questions about drawing and whether the drawing works, and more... and then there's composition, which incorporates all of them.

That's what we'll be focusing on in the workshop I'm teaching on October 25th and 26th, 2014, Create Compositions That Work, at the Calistoga Art Center, in Calistoga, California. Because if the composition ain't happy, ain't nobody happy....

And that's why we'll be looking at — to start with — the painter's intention; the two basic kinds of paintings, compositionally speaking, no matter what the subject matter; and how to identify and manage the elements of both kinds of paintings, and make them work.

The same principles apply, whether you're looking at landscape paintings, still lifes, portraits, abstract work, or work in pretty much any other genre.

If you come, you'll go home with specific, practical tools and know-how that you can use to get out of, and avoid, those painting predicaments from here on out. Join us, and learn to create compositions that work!

You can find out more about the workshop here, at

So, how would you sum up what isn't working in the composition study above — or why it's not working, if you only had one word?

Here's the one I would choose to explain why it doesn't work: confusion. The painter hasn't decided what's important about the painting. Is it the sheep? The trees on the hill? The pattern of the rows? The painter hasn't decided. It's a decision that is absolutely basic for the painting, and determines how the painter needs to handle everything else as a result. Its lack causes confusion.

Does that make sense? We'll talk about more about it at the workshop!

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