Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Composition, what is it?

This is from last year, April 28, 2013 to exact:

#131, Owlkill Creek

11 x 14


Thus morning I got this question on my blog:

Matthew Can you speak about your process? As a painter, I would be interested in hearing about how you set up and work your composition.

I thought it was a good question, but where to start? 

Composition is essentially the design of the painting, and subject matter speaks to the elements in play, (a reason  I've been liking bridges and silos) and an excuse to use those elements to create an abstract arrangement of forms. 

So where am I going with this? my sub-mission is to find scenes and paint them as they are, light, time and space and all that,  so I need to find a chunk of the world to put in a rectangle. Sometimes I'll find a new place right off,  or go back to a familiar place, but usually it takes a bit longer, and it's kinda the feel of the place, I want something that describes the qualities of this amazing place we call home. 

Now I'm out of the car.  I'm facing the general direction and thinking how much of the scene to include, where it's going to start, end, top, bottom, left and right, the process: I'm  "cropping" the scene.  I want to include only what is absolutely necessary, I want vertical, horizontal and diagonal shapes, I want shapes of various sizes, large and  small,  and I want contrast between dark and light. 

Art and nature what else is there? Nature is everything out there not man-made, art is beauty (just indulge me!).  In a picture, we want pattern and variation, we want focus and we want some breathing room. I want a bit of that nature in the painting.  I don't want a composition that divides the rectangle in 1/2, or thirds perfectly. I do want a picture that leads you in, (this might also be a function of the allegory of the picture).  I don't want a "portrait" of any specific object, be it a farm, a mountain, or river, so I want parts of things, to show the relationship between them, indicating there is something more and larger (not more interesting,) that continues beyond the frame.)

Thanks for reading this, I thought about trying to demonstrate what I wanted to talk about using photo shop, but, I'm not there yet. I also suggest reading Edgar Payne's book on composition, it's worth having in your library. As always I welcome your comments and questions. 


  1. Wonderful approach to composition, Matt! Excellent way to pull a painting together. I admire your site/size approach and enjoy your paintings.

  2. Diane, I'm touched by your comment, I've been a fan of yours and enjoy your painting journey too, Thanks!

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