Give a Dreamy Sigh for My Painting Hero

10 Nov 2011

Taking just a few minutes to survey a scene and sketch it can help work out any challenges you might come across with the orientation of objects, color, and more.
Taking just a few minutes to survey a scene and sketch it can help work out any
challenges you might come across with the orientation of objects, color, and more.
Okay, it isn't a he or a she, but an 'it': composition! I know, not the handsome hunk you were hoping for, but composition is the crucial part of any painting or drawing that I don't think ever gets enough attention.

I was talking recently to a friend about how using the "rules" of composition—the Golden Section and the Rule of Thirds—can often backfire for artists because they think these are a cure-all. But they aren't. In fact, my friend joked that you should learn these rules and then instantly try to forget them, and to a certain extent it's true.

When you try too hard to adhere to the rules of composition, an artwork can look formulaic and a bit boring. But on the other hand, you want your painting or drawing to have structure and a way for the eye to go in and around it.

Here, the artist used sketching time
to develop the colors that would be
used throughout the entire work.
That's where sketching comes in handy. Spending just 15 minutes or so making several pencil sketches of different compositional arrangements makes all the difference in taking a work to the next level with confidence. A pencil sketch or watercolor sketch is an ideal way of figuring out compositional questions because they are so quick to do. Plus, you can explore possibilities that you might not try if you were jumping right into the work without doing any sketch drawing first.

That's where Mastering Sketching comes in for me. There are lessons in the book devoted entirely to composing a sketch and how to sketch while honing your selective composition skills. Selective being the key word here because an artist needs to know how to choose objects and arrangements to good effect for a successful finished painting or drawing.

That lesson was especially important for me to learn because in the past I've felt almost obligated to depict everything I see, to the detriment of my work. But no more! Mastering Sketching was just what I needed to realize that sketching practices aren't just for doing quick sketch drawings. They are building blocks for working in a way that make a difference for me no matter what I'm painting, drawing, or designing. I think it would prove the same for you. Enjoy!

P.S. Do you have any sketching ideas that I should be using? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks!


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Mastering Sketching offers 40 carefully planned lessons devised to help artists put new theory and skills to good practice. Judy Martin guides you along the path of becoming comfortable sketching at your own pace, with exercises to help you from the first time you pick up a piece paper to when you finish perfecting your skills. This resource accommodates the needs of everyone from the complete beginner just getting started to the avid sketch artist looking to refine his/her craft.

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Comments

connieolson wrote
on 11 Nov 2011 3:31 PM

Courtney,

Your suggestions of books and continued emphasis on composition, etc. is exactly what artists need to hear.  So many struggle on their own through reading of books experimenting on how to become an artist.  Today, we have so many that call themselves an artist just because they picked up a brush or pencil.  As you know, during the Renaissance, a child of 12 would have studied with the master artist in town and stayed for many years, living there, seeing everyone working, observing the best way to achieve excellence.  What an experience!!!  Even in Ruben's day, they might study with one master for 3 to 6 years and then go out to become a traveling artist or a court painter, before they came back to their hometown to set up their own shop.  Unfortunately in the 1900's, it was easier to teach art history and art appreciation in colleges, and gradually the long instruction in art was replaced with 'just express yourself'.

Today, there is hope, with many new studios opening up and schools again reviving the lessons that all students of art  would learn before they took credit for being an artist.  People are hungry to relearn these rules that, of course, can be broken but they can see how the Old Masters never forgot them and only would break them occasionally.

You stated, "I was talking recently to a friend about how using the "rules" of composition—the Golden Section and the Rule of Thirds—can often backfire for artists because they think these are a cure-all. But they aren't. In fact, my friend joked that you should learn these rules and then instantly try to forget them, and to a certain extent it's true."

Following  and using the Golden Section of design is truly just a tool that is there to use to help the individual artist make his drawing or painting even more perfect than he could do alone.  It certainly is not a cure-all but neither should you learn the rules and instantly try to forget them...........I'm glad she was joking!  Unfortunately, many truly believe that it's not worth the effort and only 'what's inside you', your self expression is necessary for a great work of art.  The Golden Section takes years of study to comprehend how the Old Master's used this tool.  The study of the many ideas of balancing a picture and the different forms of compostion that can be used is always something that can be studied and learned.  Art is not only an emotional response but an intellectual pursuit and a strong basic foundation course always amazes those budding artists.  They often are irritated when they first learn how the old artists used an abstract design under their paintings, repeating angles, making visual music with abstract value shapes, leading anyone that is looking at the picture in the path that the artist wants them to go.  They are amazed when they learn how drawing is not just copying what's in front of you but getting rid of what is not necessary and exaggerating what is needed to achieve what your emotions want to portray.  Rules that have been applied for centuries, learned to save time and endless struggling, can move the artist to greater satisfaction.

An artist becomes a master, when he learns all that went before him, surpassing his teacher, and now has the tools to invent new ways that others will follow, to achieve his greatest goals.  In all of history, it is the high standards of excellence which survive, as we can readily recognize when we see a great work of art.  It requires no words, no explanation and just takes our breath away.

Good job!

Connie Olson

connieolson wrote
on 14 Nov 2011 4:38 PM

After rereading my comment, I wanted to clarify statements that I made. ( We are in the process of moving back to PA, so my attention is on packing.)  One was when I mentioned that a student in the Renaissance would study for 3 to 6 years and then become a court painter before he would return to his hometown and open shop.  I meant to say that he would study from 3 to 6 years with one master and then might go to another master to study.  At the end of the 6 years he would then go out to be a traveling artist or a court painter.  He then would have about 12 years of study before he returned home.

The other part was when I said that many students would be irritated when they learned how the old masters used underlying abstract designs, etc.  I meant to say, they were irritated because these lessons were never taught to them.  They realized that if they were taught these useful tools their struggle would not have taken so long.  We only need to look at the hours of practice that children have as they learn to be a gymnast and the many more hours to become an olympic gymnast to realize that becoming a great artist also takes training and study and many hours of practice.  A gymnast or a concert pianist does not have to figure it all out on their own as most artists do.  Tradition has handed down many helps to show us the way.  There is no reason to reinvent the wheel.  Your self expression then blossoms  after you have learned your trade.

Connie Olson