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Checklist For A Successful Painting

Permanent Linkby RichardDevine on Mon Apr 28, 2014 10:29 am

For a painting to be successful it must be able to engage the viewer and keep his or her interest. It must have the right combination of elements and arranged in a way that keeps the viewer from walking on to the next painting without any further thought. It must draw the viewer in and make the viewer become a participant in it.
There are many good books out there on composition and I have a few. Well, more than a few. I try to go through them before each new painting, so that hopefully I retain enough to put together a nice composition. I recently condensed thoughts from these books into a checklist for myself that I could use when putting the composition together.
My process runs along these lines. First I refresh myself on the most important elements of composition – my Checklist. Then I do some small, quick thumbnail sketches to get a general idea of what I want the painting to look like. The size varies but I generally make them 3” by 5” to 5” by 7”. It may be that I already have a photo of a scene I want to do, so I use it to develop thumbnails. I might have to rearrange things a bit. Take some stuff out, move other things over a bit. Maybe the branch of a tree is blocking part of the view I want to keep or maybe I want to extend the branch to help frame an area of interest. Maybe I want the sky to be more interesting or less interesting. The good thing about the thumbnails also is that I can forget about individual objects for a moment and concentrate on forms and flow and balance – how they fit together and relate to one another.
When I’m satisfied with the arrangement of elements in my sketch I work out the tones and colors. This requires a tone sketch and a color sketch. Both are the same small thumbnails and, again the sketches are elemental with just forms and lines blocked in – no emphasis on objects. The tone sketch comes first because I think tone is more important. When I’m pleased with the arrangement of tones I work on the color sketch using the tonal sketch as a basis. Sometimes I’ll make a black and white photo of my finished color study to see if it matches my tonal study.
After I’m satisfied with all of my study thumbnails – the layout, the tonal sketch and the color sketch, I start to gather reference material. I use the reference material to start working up the full size pencil drawing. I don’t intend the pencil drawing to be a finished piece of work, just full size with all the elements without small details. I usually do the drawing on tracing paper because it’s easy to erase and start over. Also, I can draw elements of the painting on other sheets of tracing paper, cut them out and move them around on the main sheet and when I like the arrangement, tape them down. Then I just lay another piece of tracing paper on top and re-draw it. I might do this a few times before I end up with a drawing I like.
When the composition is finished I use the checklist to see how I did. Sometimes I’m happy with it, other times I have to make more changes. It doesn’t always work out perfectly but I think the less I leave to chance the more likely I’ll wind up with something good. At least, that’s the plan.
Next week I’ll present Part Two – The Checklist.

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