|BASICS OF LANDSCAPE COMPOSITION
L. Diane Johnson
Composition is one of the most challenging yet powerful and exciting aspects
of painting. It is the technical foundation of your painting.
Without it, paintings visually fall apart. Careful consideration
of the composition before putting paint to surface will make
your session more enjoyable, and contribute to the success of
Work out your composition early, moving yourself or elements
around until the arrangement is pleasing to you. Making major
changes and adjustments later in the painting process is much
more difficult. All of the elements found in your painting (sky,
land, water, buildings, etc.) should be in balanced relationship
of scale, shapes, rhythm, pattern, etc. In a landscape painting,
you'll look for a foreground, middle ground and background.
are just a few things to keep in mind and check while
- balance, of elements & color
- proper rendering of light using value
- center of interest · perspective
- space division
- direction of line(s)
- positive/negative shapes
- balance of patterns
- overall design quality & visual strength
You should have a strong center of interest, or focal point.
This is the element to which all other elements will direct
the viewer. You may have secondary elements, but attempt to
have just one center of interest. Use the other features in
your painting, sky, trees, and flowers, to lead and keep the
viewer coming back to the focal point. Doing this will also
create a sense of depth and space in your painting.
Technically, there are two kinds of balance in a composition.
Symmetrical balance (also referred to as "formal"), and asymmetrical
balance (also called "informal balance"). Symmetrical balance
produces paintings that are restful, calming, and visually stable.
Asymmetrical balance is characterized by arranging related or
unrelated objects of differing visual weights counterbalancing
one another. This can heighten interest, bring informality,
or even produce tension in a painting. While both are ways correct,
yet each offers different advantages and purpose.
to Compose: Using a viewfinder
Once you've selected your subject, how do you compose your painting?
There are several approaches. One simple way is to use a viewfinder.
An empty 35mm slide holder will do nicely, or simply cut two
right angle corners, or fixed rectangle out of a piece of cardboard.
If you have a prepared size canvas, board, or paper, first look
through the viewfinder to capture the proportion of your painting
surface. Then look through the viewfinder with one eye while
squinting with the other, to view the scene you wish to paint.
Move the viewfinder toward and away from your eye fine-tuning
the composition by deciding whether you prefer an symmetrical
or asymmetrical, vertical or horizontal composition, and so
on. Don't be limited by the shape of the viewfinder (unless
the surface you are using is a fixed shape.) Physically move
around until you see exactly what you want, then set up your
Rule of Thirds
Another guide in composing is the "rule of thirds". Used more
in photography than in art, the concept still applies. Simply
put, look for naturally occurring in divisions of thirds in
a scene. Try to avoid splitting your painting top to bottom,
or side to side in half. It is more interesting to have a low
or high horizon for instance, with one third at the top, two
thirds at the bottom (or visa-versa) than splitting a painting
right down the middle. Of course, many more variations are possible.
Law of the Golden Section
A classic mathematical formula for distributing weight in a
painting. Portrait painters since the Renaissance have adopted
the use of this formula which is also applicable to any other
subject as well. The law established by the ancient architect
called Vitruvius, states:
"For a space divided into equal parts to be agreeable and aesthetic,
between the smallest and largest parts there must be the same
relationship as between this larger part and the whole space."
You can find more in-depth explanations about this law in the
book, The Big Book of Oil Painting, by José M. Parramón.
The idea is to become familiar with the principles above as
a guide in training your eyes to naturally create interesting
and powerful compositions. In so doing, work to simplify, reducing
all elements in the painting to only the information you need
to express your subject or idea. In time, the very deliberate
process of developing a composition will give way to a more
natural, intuitive, interesting, and automatic activity, resulting
in more original arrangements. You will also be better able
to control your visual statement by expressing what you wish.
To check your composition while painting, view through a mirror
turning your back toward the scene & easel. Shift your eyes
back & forth between the painting and scene. Check for skewed
elements, alignment, color, etc. Turn back to the painting to
make your changes.