Rules for Composition

  1. Every picture is a collection of units or items.
  2. Every unit has a given value.
  3. The value of a unit depends on its attraction, and its attraction varies according to placement.
  4. A unit near the edge has more attraction than the same unit at the middle.
  5. Every part of the picture space has some attraction.
  6. Space without detail may possess attraction by gradation and by suggestion.
  7. A unit of attraction in an otherwise empty space has more weight through isolation than when placed with other units.
  8. A black unit on white or a white unit on black has more attraction than the same unit on grey.
  9. The value of a black or white unit is proportionate also to the size of the space that contrasts with it.
  10. A unit in the foreground has less weight than the same one in the distance.
  11. Two or more associated units may be reckoned as one.  Their united central point is the point on which they balance with others.

from “Composition in Art” by Henry Rankin Poore, page 10.

How Much Do You Plan Your Paintings?

"Hex" Oil on Canvas 16" x 12" © 2009 Marilyn Fenn
“Hex” Oil on Canvas 16″ x 12″ © 2009 Marilyn Fenn

I recently read an article by a representational painter on another blog, in which the writer said that one should very carefully and thoroughly plan one’s paintings.  My first thought was, “No waaaaay!”  That would take all the fun out the process of discovery that, for me at least, is a great deal of what painting is about.  Feeling a little smug, I thought of the following much-loved quote:

You are lost the instant you know what the result will be. – Juan Gris

Continue reading “How Much Do You Plan Your Paintings?”

How Do You Know When You’re Done with a Painting?

"Bubbling Up" Oil on canvas 6" x 6" © 2009 Marilyn Fenn
“Bubbling Up” Oil on canvas 6″ x 6″ © 2009 Marilyn Fenn

I was in a class several years ago in which another student complained about painting abstractly because she didn’t know where to stop.  She said when she worked representationally, at least she knew when she was done — for her, it was when the painting looked like the thing she was representing.   Of course, it’s not as simple as that for many representational painters, but often it seems when one is just starting to draw and paint, success is measured by how close one’s piece gets to looking like the object or scene one is depicting.

It’s so different when you give up representation.   The answer to the question, “how do you know when you’re done?” becomes more elusive.

Is it when you achieved what you set out to achieve or perhaps when you discovered something you didn’t know you were looking for?

For me, it’s a bit of both — I like to keep my goals pretty loose so that I can explore an area of the process of painting that fascinates me (like color), and still discover something new in that process.

Sometimes — in a glorious moment — a piece just comes together.  Everything seems to work — the colors sing, the composition works, the texture and brushstrokes are interesting and well-integrated.  One more stroke and you could really lose it.

At other times, there’s something not quite right that keeps nagging until you figure out how to make it work.  I had a wonderful moment yesterday when I reworked a small painting from earlier this year that never really sparkled, and suddenly, I got it right!  Oh, the thrill!

Sometimes though, I lose interest in a piece before I feel I am done…and then it may languish in my studio until I regain interest and work on it some more, possibly finishing it…or it may just be added to the stack of unfinished pieces.

What about you?  How do you know when your piece is finished?

Tips for Improving Your Paintings

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series SAIC Class Notes
Drawing by Rembrandt van Rijn "Reclining Lion" pen and paint brush ca. 1650
Drawing by Rembrandt van Rijn “Reclining Lion” pen and paint brush ca. 1650
Class notes from art camp classes with George Liebert and Dan Gustin, Oxbow, MI, summer 1991.

Make a list of verbs and adjectives about your own work.

When struggling with a work, isolate parts of it and do lots of sketches to come up with a better composition.

Continue reading “Tips for Improving Your Paintings”