A Challenge. How do you make a composition?

edited September 17 in Painting

Explain you process from initial conception to acceptance.

At what stage do you start painting?

For example:

A few years ago I painted this still life of a fishing lure.
the story from my blog: https://jimkingston.com/wetpaint/2019/4/12/jitterbug-straight-up
Oil on Linen Panel 2019

Sketches were done in procreate. Note how I started with the tangents of the rectangle as focal point indicators.

Sketches in procreate.

Every painting starts from a different place. Sometimes abstract shapes. Other times photo swipe.

I started this idea of making a Trompe-l'œil with some of my printings with live objects. It evolved into a simple lure in a glass. I had no idea of proportions. I went to the store and got 4 rocks glasses each a little different. The composition defined. Not detailed but defined.

I've been making up pictures in my head for more than 50 years. Every painting I do uses this manner of thinking. Even if a photo is the source to some degree.

The challenge.

Outline your process of composition along with some visuals.
Remember there's more than one way to skin a tube of paint.


  • GTOGTO -
    edited September 17
    I don’t have a lot of illustrations but I will explain the latest setup.
    I have thought about what to paint next for about the last two weeks.  Looking for inspiration.
    I happened across a desk of fortune telling cards by Marie Lenormand, a French fortune teller from the early 1800’s.  I like the old feel of the cards.  The last painting I did has old cards from the early colonial period, so I thought this would be interesting.  
    I like having boxes in paintings lately so I included a box.
    I setup the following:

    I don’t have pics of the previous stages but prior to this I did not have the teapot on the books.  I felt I needed more height so I added the teapot because it relates to the upside down teacup used for reading tea leaves.  
    Also the previous stage used a more elaborate China cup and saucer but it looked too out of place with the feeling I want to evoke.  
    I also had the box in the back shifted left but I didn’t like that because the beautiful latch was obscured.  

    I didn’t like all the empty space in the upper right so I moved the pendant to 14.8” from the left and bottom of the painting (the painting will be 24x24”).  That helped but there was still too much empty space so I added a candle on a stand.  I kept that darker to not draw too much attention but still prevent your eye from exiting the painting.
    Heres the revised image.

    You will have to excuse the wonky pictures and lighting.  I took these with my phone. 
    The actual painting will also not crowd the left and right sides of the painting and the narrow table edge will be changed as well. 
    Also these pics don’t show the actual lighting because the scene will be lit by the Victorian lamp on the left.  (Taking a photo with that lit washed out the lamp so I took the pics without the lamp lit). It looks way better with the lamps lit.
    That’s it.  That’s the process.  Look for an inspirational idea and then piece it together  until it feels right.
  • edited September 17
    @KingstonFineArt and @GTO, it's interesting to see your creative processes. This is a good idea for discussion, @KingstonFineArt. As you say, there's more than one way to skin a tube of paint and I imagine everyone's methods will be different.

    I don't have any visuals from previous paintings (they get tossed when the planning is complete) but, when I finish my current project in about two weeks, I will be doing another of the wilderness that is at the bottom of my garden so I will keep the planning material and post when I'm ready to start the painting. The planning material will include the onsite colour notes I make, plus the original photo I use and a description of how I go about cropping and moving things around in my image editors to get a composition I'm happy with. This often involves reference to dynamic symmetry and the Golden Ratio.  I will also describe how I get the final print I work from to match my colour notes. (I make color notes in oil paint on scraps of canvas because my landscapes are big and it's not possible to do them completely en plein air. They take weeks and the light is never the same from one minute to the next, and I'm too old to be standing outside in the weather.)

    In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how others go about arriving at a composition that works for them. 
  • @GTO
    A very interesting bunch of objects. 

    I would do a lot of things if this were my painting. Mostly color.. Simple hints of muted color. Maybe 2 of the ribbon bookmarkers. Muted and worn and not pointing out of the scene. 
    On the right I nudged a few objects around. I was trying to make an interesting negative shape for the eye to travel on.
    I would usually try doing this in 'pencil ' with procreate. Making layers of tissue to move about.
    Notice the pull chain how I moved it ever so little toot make a coincidental path moving downward. I also eliminated the light poles because they were to noisey. I can see a quick solution.

    Again I would take a photo put it in some layered image processor and sketch my way to harmony of shape. Just shape - color comes later for me.

    A word about the rectangles we paint in. I love my classic composition stuff. Dynamic symmetry, rabatement all that stuff. Square are unique creatures. Their Tangent is in the very center. The targent of rectangle is where the diagonal makes a 90° angle with the line coming from the corner opposing the diagonal. They create natural focal areas within the rectangle. 

    I have drawers full of complex images some over 20 years old that I can't find solution for. Making these things are puzzles.

    I cam't wait for the progress on this one.

  • GTOGTO -
    edited September 18
    Interesting @KingstonFineArt. I will check that out on the canvas.  Little adjustments can make a difference.  I usually draw it out on the canvas and make those minor adjustments as I go and the after getting it all drawn review it for anything that feels “off”.  I’ve made the mistake of skipping that step in the past and had to scrape and repaint it.  Better to be sure up front.😀
  • Hum. The most important part of the painting process is the 'building' the composition. If you work directly from a photograph then the composition has to start in the camera. Chances are that even a very well composed photograph will need some tweaking. I'm really interested in how people make their choices. The are many great resource for this. The top 2 for me are the simplest. Ian Roberts https://masteringcomposition.com/free-bonus/. And Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7R4ehObzob3bm1UMFpOVU9DUUU/edit?usp=sharing A free Pdf version.

    Check these out. What do you think?
  • edited September 22
    I've found composition the most difficult thing in painting. I'm not sure that painting from life or from a photo has much bearing on the problem. Whether you arrange objects and paint them from life, or whether you take a photo of the arrangement and paint from that will depend on a number of considerations. For example, if you are painting flowers or food, it's worth taking a photo in case they wilt or go off. Or, if you don't want to spend the time physically shuffling objects around and lighting them, you could just toss together some items you want to paint, take a photo of them, then shuffle things around and adjust lighting in your image editor. I don't think it matters whether you paint from life or from a photograph. Either way, there's a bit of tweaking to do.

    Those links you pasted, @KingstonFineArt, are worth looking at. Those guys know a bit about composition. And as you mentioned, there's also Dynamic Symmetry, rabatement and the Golden Ratio which can help. I make use of these quite often in landscape painting. So, yes, there are lots of resources available. It just takes a bit of time and study to understand them and learn how to use them. We might occasionally get lucky, but I'd say that good compositions rarely happen by accident.
  • For those in the mid west states here's a workshop opportunity with Greg Manchess. A master of story telling composition.

  • A composition evolves.

    The composition on the right has evolved from the one on the left. The background on the right was added using one made with AI. The right version has focus and scale. The background story is that these jars of Christmas gifts were collected over 10 years. The right image focuses on that story. Ghosts of Christmas Past. It took 8 months for me to solve this composition.

  • Is everything except the background something you physically setup?
  • edited September 24
    I had this photo sitting on my computer desktop for a year. Apart from the fact it didn't capture the fulness of the colours (on the day I took some controlled photos to make sure I remembered how strong they were) I knew it still wasn't quite right but couldn't figure out why.
    I was watching an Andrew Tischler video where he was fixing someone's composition of a creek. He said, well that big rock in the foreground is in the way and doesn't invite us in. Bingo! I immediately thought of this photo and realised I wanted water in the foreground and shallows that you want to dip your feet into. I ended up using about 8 different photos that I had taken from slightly different angles or nearby and wove it together. I also decided I wanted it in golden ratio so that was the first change.
    Once complete I did a lot of play on photoshop to understand it.
    S's - My dad taught me about Ss related to photography when I was 13-14. This happily had 3-4 of them.
    Lines - I saw someone do this once and I find it helpful to understand the composition. Lines lead the eye, so where are they leading us?
    Different version. We also look towards what someone in the painting is looking at. My wife swept me off the rocks and out to sea.
    Vanishing points - not sure how scientific but I found it helped me think about it.

    Fibonacci spiral - which I suddenly realised was there. I moved my wife slightly for it so that the central point was just in front of her line of sight.
    Later I analysed the waves - sat there with ePen and drew them all to understand the different directions, angles, sizes... It's funny that we don't comprehend the patterns of the way waves move in a complex environment like this, but if I had done it incorrectly the viewer would probably know something was wrong even if they couldn't say what it was.
  • @GTO
    Yes. I set everting up making many adjustments along the way. I used Metascan to make a 3D fly around to choose camera angles. This is a new thing for me. 

    The thing about the new final image is the scale of the mass relative to the rectangle. The light and dark shape interplay. Light and dark shapes are so important. 
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