Thursday, August 16, 2007

Landscape composition--using your computer to experiment

"Goshen Field Study", Oil on Panel, 12x10 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007


"The most important ally in the study of painting is the art of thinking." Edgar Payne

A few days ago I promised to post some recent landscape work from Maryland, so I am posting the above study. I am not happy with it and will continue working on it, but I am posting it to make some points about landscape composition, as well as how to use technology to speed up the painting process. I am a firm believer that you should use all the tools around you to speed up the painting process--including technology. In the past, if you wanted to work out a painting problem, you might do 10-20 studies just to solve a problem. I am going to show you have to do it much faster over the next few posts.

Background. I did the above field study last night based on some photographs of the area around my house, which I took last weekend early in the morning. It took me a few days to get started painting, mainly because my eyes have had to get used to the scenery changes since leaving New Mexico. I have been doing a lot of looking around to get my bearings back--mainly looking at the color changes and how the trees, ground, and other things look in Maryland. I don't get to paint outside too often, so it important to observe what is out there when I can. Photographs greatly distort tone, colors, and contrast, so you need to look all you can when you are outside so your paintings do not look like photos when you paint in the studio. You need to do a lot of outside painting before you know what to look for, so if you are a beginner--I do not recommend running to the studio off the bat--paint outdoors as much as possible instead.

My objective in this study was to try to capture the sense of the morning light of a summer morning--and the colors of the fields and farms around my house. We are having a dry spell here in DC, so the ground is moving into a yellow-orange color--more like the early fall. While I don't consider the study a complete failure--when I finished it last night (in about an hour), I was not happy. The problem was I didn't quite know why. Was it the sky? The colors? The composition? I wasn't sure. Maybe all of the above.

Over the next few posts I will take you through my process for finding out how to improve the study--with the objective of mainly showing you how to work through painting problems as quickly as possible--and to use the technology around you to help, where it can.

So let's get started. The first thing I usually consider when a painting is not working is composition. Is it a good composition--can it be improved? So I took my handy copy of Edgar Payne's book with me on the train to work this morning and went through it. I noticed immediately that the one thing I was trying to do in this painting, was probably the wrong thing to do with a square format (10x12)--that is, to use what Payne calls the "grouped mass" composition. I like using a grouped mass format as a composition--because it is similar to still life painting, where you are painting a single object and the background is the backgound. This is the easiest type of landscape composition to use--and since I was getting started, using a the simpliest composition made sense. You see that the main point of interest is a single mass of grouped trees on the left hand side of the panel. This is not a bad choice, per se, but as Payne's book makes evident, this approach is typically employed where there is a much lower horizon line and where the ratios of width to height are much higher (more of a landscape than portrait layout). The desired effect is what he calls the "ell" or "rectangle" composition.

Fortunately, and with a quick trip to the studio in the morning--I had a photo of my painting on my memory stick--so I simply cropped it more along the lines that Payne suggests..and viola! In my mind, this is a much better composition, what was I thinking?!?


So one problem is solved, but can I do better? The answer is surely yes--there is a lot more wrong with this painting than just the composition. But, let me leave that until tomorrow--where I will take you through how to adjust the tones, colors, and even the design of this painting all using your computer. The objective is not to make a new painting, but to be better prepared next time you are in the studio to get your ideas out more effectively. Why do 10-20 studies, when you can move along more quickly just by experimenting up front on the computer.

And, just to let you know where I am headed, here is a glimpse of what I am starting out for as a starting point in the studio tonight--which is a much more along the lines of what I wanted when I started the previous study last night.

I will post the next study shortly. Stay tuned. Sixtyminuteartist


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