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Checklist For A Successful Painting: Part 2

Permanent Linkby RichardDevine on Mon May 05, 2014 11:48 am

Although I’m not always successful in using the Checklist for Good Composition formally, I do try to keep it in mind and review the principles each time I’m ready to start another painting. By going over Composition before each painting I hope eventually the ideas begin to stick and become part of the unconscious process. Even if I don’t remember everything, the more I remember the better. Much of this Checklist comes from the ideas contained in a book by Greg Albert titled “The Simple Secret To Better Painting”, published by North Light Books. Albert is Editorial Director of North Light Art Instruction Books and has been teaching art for more than twenty years. He has tried to simplify the principles of Composition to the idea of “variety”. We human beings need variety to keep us interested and variety is achieved through Albert’s simple rule “Never make any two intervals the same”. Intervals are all the elements that make up a painting.
So as not to make this discussion too long I’m going to divide the Checklist into two parts. I’ll cover the first part now and the second part next week. Then I’ll summarize it.
Is the painting divided up in an interesting way? The first part of the Checklist has to do with boundaries. Never divide the painting into even sections. If it is a landscape, the horizon should not be in the middle. The landscape should be divided such that the area isn’t divided into equal parts.
The objects in the painting should have an interesting and varied spacing and the objects themselves should be of different sizes and shapes. If the objects are grouped the groupings should be varied. Even the objects should have interesting shapes. Trees shouldn’t have round canopies but be irregularly shaped and have sky holes in them. The trees should be of different shapes and sizes.
Is the Painting Balanced? The painting must have balance. Objects cannot be all on one side of the painting. Nor should they be in two groups – one on each side of the center axis. Though they may be balanced here, it’s static and there is no way to connect the two sides and have the viewers eye move through the picture. Balance can be achieved through a number of ways. One large object on one side can be balanced by a number of small objects on the other. Different shaped objects can balance each other. A small area of activity on one side can balance a larger, more quiet object on the other. Colors can balance each other. A large cool color can balance a small warm color. A large simple object can balance a small complex object. Balance can be sensed in the painting by standing back and just looking at the painting as a whole without looking at the objects themselves.
Center of Interest
Does the painting have a center of interest? The painting must have something in it that draws the eye to it. A focal point. The center of interest should also be different from its surroundings such that it stands out. This can be achieved by tonal contrast, intense color, hard edges or a change in pattern. In addition to being different from its surroundings, elements in the picture must lead the eye to it. This can be achieved by the use of lines or the way shapes are arranged. A meandering river can lead the eye to a fishing shack. The ridge along a rock formation can lead down to a fisherman standing at the edge of a stream or a line of grasses can direct the eye to an elk standing on a hill.
Sweet Spots
Is the center of interest located at a sweet spot? The placement of the center of interest within the picture is also important. The best spots are called “sweet spots” because the eye has a tendency to look to these areas when exploring a painting. So, the eye should be helped to settle there by the use of lines and pointers. These sweet spots are the intersections of invisible lines that divide the painting into thirds both horizontally vertically. If the painting is divided in this manner, the intersecting lines produce four sweet spots. Locate your center of interest at one of these spots and have your pointers lead the eye to it.
Blocks and Exits
Is the viewer’s eye kept from running off the painting? Just as important as getting the viewer to look at your painting is keeping the viewer’s eye from leaving the painting. Everything should be directed into the painting, not out. Don’t have objects on the sides lean out toward the edges. Don’t have figures on one side facing out. Lines shouldn’t lead out or end up in a corner. Objects shouldn’t be tangent to the outside edge.
To keep the eye inside the painting put in blocks. If the eye is led toward the outside stick in a tree or branch near the edge to stop it.
These are some good principles to keep in mind when composing a painting. Check out “The Simple Secret To Better Painting” by Greg Albert. It’s helping me to think more about the structure of my painting without getting overly technical.
Next week I’ll discus the last two items in the Checklist: Tone and Color.

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