Inspiration and Composition

by Wendy Masters

I started by studying fine arts and graphic design for four years and now art is my life's work - 50 years using paint and clay.

Students sometimes say with despair that they can’t think what to paint. A suggestion I offer is to start with something they really like. Their affection for the subject should help them to examine it closely, think and
feel about it and interpret it with enthusiasm in whichever medium or style they choose.

As an artist works, hopefully two things are developing apace. One is craftsmanship - control of the medium - and the other is visual discernment - being able to recognize the proportions and the dramas of tone, colour and rhythm in their surroundings and in the work in progress. This honed vision can enable a satisfying and exciting interpretation of almost anything - a pile of books, a patch of grass, ideas or feelings.

No subject is a cliché, only, perhaps, the way it is handled. The characteristics of the medium itself, the skill, feeling and vision of the artist are what counts. The close attention paid to a subject often engenders a fascination that results in a whole series on a theme or a return to explore another aspect of it.
Artists fall in love with their models, moviegoers are fascinated by stars. I am besotted by whatever I'm working on - it's exhausting!

For landscape, I'm grateful for the car and camera,especially the zoom lens. A biography of the Impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro brought home to me how time-consuming and exhausting it was for him to trudge the district with gear strapped to his back - hours spent searching before settling down to paint. I park as close as possible to a promising site, and as the view changes like a kaleidoscope with even a slight variation in eye-level, clamber up and down banks, even sitting in ditches or on gateposts to get that particular viewpoint.

A certain amount of adversity acts as a spur to get on with it, to concentrate, to capture the essence without getting distracted by minor details. Patchy clouds, low sun, wind and haze all create more interesting pattern than a fine flat day. I prop my cardboard folder (spare paper inside, painting clipped firmly to the outside) against anything handy. I only stretch paintings later, if necessary. On the way back to the car paintings present themselves to my attuned eyes - the way the track curving down the hillside meets up with a shining loop of creek and the whole is sliced across by a pale, slim board walk which spans not just the water but the whole damp floor of this little valley. I take a photo, dump my gear in the wagon and concentrate on the road home

Composition - the structure of a painting

Composition should be the first, middle and last consideration of a work! To choose and position the elements in a work, with regard to their shape, colour and tone, to keep the eye interested and moving around within the painting.

A Few Tips:

  • Mark the edge of a paper view finder hole into thirds and the edges of your painting paper likewise. Any of the lines which would connect these marks horizontally or vertically are good positions for strong features, and where they intersect, for focal points. The marks also help you fix where lines exit your papers edge. Emphasize angles which lead the eye into the painting.
  • Use the viewfinder to choose the most interesting view; trying different eye-levels, walking around the subject, and zooming in and out before committing yourself.
  • Half close your eyes to simplify the tonal values and do a quick shaded pencil sketch. Bear this TONAL pattern in mind as you paint - it's easy to lose track of it, colour confuses you sometimes.
  • Sketch in loosely and lightly, juggling the main bones into position. A 2 or 3 B pencil marks can usually be rubbed off once the painting is completely dry, aquarelle pencil willusually merge in with the painting. (Sometimes I draw with a permanent medium under or over the paint as I like the combination with watercolour.) Look out for shapes or lineswhich echo and reinforce each other and shadows which may fall over an area and describe its shape as well. Don't spend too long on this stage or you'll be exhausted before you start to paint!
  • When you judge the painting nearly complete, look at it carefully to see if the composition needs adjusting - perhaps an area needs to be a darker tone, or a colour needs to be placed elsewhere in the painting as well. Try this out with torn up pieces of magazine pages before committing to paint. Sometimes a long gap is needed, to see the work with fresh eyes and make this decision.



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