What questions do you ask yourself when working out a new composition?

Perhaps you just ‘shoot from the hip’ or use your lizard brain. But if you don’t, do you have a plan or a checklist you use to create your masterpiece?

Assuming you ask about composition (the design on the 2D surface) as opposed to subject matter, I will block in a painting and then, if needed, become analytic.

I won’t do much analysis if the design feels or looks good, I start whaling away with the paint. By ‘good,’ I mean with balanced weight, some sort of center of interest, and a nice play of color.

If the design doesn’t look good, I’ll play with visual balance, usually using the steelyard principle (Stapleton Kearns of course has a dynamite discussion of this in his blog: http://stapletonkearns.blogspot.com/2009/07/balance-or-steelyard-compositions.html )

Then I’ll at least try to plug in one of Johannes Vloothuis’s Commandments - have something interesting in every n inches (“n” being relative to the size of the painting - from every 1/2 inch for a small one to every 2-4 inches for a largish one). A lot of this depends on light-to-dark values,but I’m still learning this aspect.

If I’m not scraping everything off at this point, I’ll plug in another Commandment - use graceful and melodic lines. This, of course, it pretty subjective. For me, much of this will reside in brush strokes and the abstract shapes behind passages in the painting.

(Johnannes has presented a number of demos, usually via Wetcanvas or Wetcanvas’s proprietor, Northlight Books/Artists Network. Many of have been free; lately they are for-pay).

The first thing I do is figure out my focal point - most of the time I have one, but not always. Then I think about the composition in general. What’s going where, how big, etc. Before I sketch it in I’ll figure out my horizon - I’ll mark it, then proceed to sketch in the scene making sure my focal point is in a good place (usually around the golden section). I’m only concerned with size and placement at this point - I go very slow. I don’t do a super detailed sketch, just overall shapes and placement using line. I use one color - usually warm and very thin. I might shade in an area to remind me it’s a shadow. Then I proceed to paint, starting with the darks usually. When I start this step I am keenly aware of my direction of light - from the left or right, low or high, front lit or back lit. Next, I just start blocking in with general colors and values that are close but not exact. I fill the whole canvas. I am open to changing shapes/placement etc. in this early stage, as necessary. Fix it early! Sometimes I do the sky first (if a landscape), sometimes not. I usually start with blocking in an area that is obvious or easier. From then on I work all around the canvas refining, sculpting, etc. Most important to me is VALUE. Color is relatively unimportant. Relatively. I’ll take all the time I need to get the value right, even if the painting is only 10% done in 3 hours. I paint in shorter sessions 1.5 - 3 hours tops. Otherwise I get burnt out and start ruining the piece. Each session I’ll check for spacing, size, flow of line, etc. Always analyzing - looking for problems. Scanning, like a predator. I use a mirror to help check for obvious things you don’t see after staring at your work for hours. It helps. How many sessions is up to you! I use this method for still life too. :slight_smile: