How Do I Plan My Compositions?

Planning avoids a lot of erasures and do-overs!  I plan what my work is about,  what color scheme will support my idea, and what composition will help me express my idea.  Then, I plan the place I want my most important thing to be.  In other words, I use a place of emphasis to keep “the main thing, the main thing”.  The one way to do this is to divide the whole work  into a 9 box grid. The spaces do not have to be squares. We are only interested in where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.  I call these ‘sweet spots’.  These spots are meant for me to avoid placing my most important item (emphasis) in the bulls-eye center.

Once I decide where the emphasis part of my composition will be,  I plan my point of view.  I may try to avoid an eye level view for a still life.  I imagine how it would look if my eye level was looking down on my subject.   I may think how it would look if I have a low horizon line.   In landscapes, this will reveal more sky.  If my interest is in the foreground, like what is closest to me, I would try a higher horizon line. This also can apply to a still life.  How much of the table items do I want to see?  Will  this point of view show more detail.

With these decisions made, I can begin to draw the parts of the composition that will form the composition.  I keep my lines light.  It is important to note that if you use pencil on a canvas, your lines may show through the paint, unless you paint very thickly (impasto).  I use vine charcoal that can be wiped off easily.  I follow this step by using  a liner brush  and paint thinned like ink to go over my charcoal lines.

Once I have outlined my composition,  I will start to block local color  in the areas farthest away like sky and mountains.  I tell my students to imagine a loaf of bread. The end slice, furthest from you, is like the sky or the wall, the drapery, the window or whatever.  After blocking in the local color (the actual color of the object)  I work in my color values.

I never paint one area completely with all the detail and then move to another place.  Painting has to develop in a totality  all around, to keep the unity of the colors and the style. Sometimes I block in the same color in three or five places and at the same time.  This ensures visual ‘movement’ around the painting because you don’t want the viewer to be stuck in one place. You want their attention around the entire work.

I avoid putting important things at the borders and especially at the corners.  My students liked to start at the edges of the paper as if they were afraid to get in there and be bold.  I had to impress on them to plan where things were going BEFORE starting and to avoid starting at the edges. They had to consciously to move around when painting to keep their style and color consistent.

If you goal is to achieve UNITY,  the most important art principal,  you will paint with this in mind.  Balance and unity are what you always try to achieve to give the viewer a pleasurable experience.