View Full Version : Help with composition

09-03-2016, 12:33 PM
After multiple attempts and following all the hacks I could find on the forums, I've given up on posting the reference photo which my question pertains to, but...

It is a beautiful photo of my son in his kayak underneath a big beautiful oak in the water. Across the river is a background of gran trees.

I have attempted this painting once already... The trees in the background are my problem. I just can't seem to make them look right. I've considered leaving them out, but can't imagine how to do so. I'm a very baby artist, so not too many techniques or practice under my belt.

Any thoughts would be appreciated!

09-03-2016, 08:29 PM

Ok...I was able to upload it by using my computer instead of my Android phone. I would appreciate any suggestions.

water girl
09-03-2016, 09:58 PM
My only suggestion would be to be sure to add cool colors to the distant trees and soften the edges so that they recede. I too like the way the tree frames your son in the kayak.

Donna T
09-04-2016, 09:36 AM
I can see why you need to paint this scene; it has a lot to offer in addition to being a nice shot of your son. Since the kayak and the branch above provide plenty of horizontal interest I was wondering if you couldn't break up that tree line in the distance. It is quite a long, unbroken horizontal band. Perhaps a bit of virtual chainsawing would relieve that effect and also give you an opportunity to add distance by pushing some of those trees way back. Something like this maybe?


I like Karen's suggestion of softening the edges of the trees and also suggest that you lessen the amount of detail of their foliage as they recede. Squinting will help a lot with that! Too much description would take the focus away from your main subject and the photo is not helpful because it describes everything in great detail. I find it helpful to imagine myself there and observing the scene. Without taking my eyes off the figure in the kayak, would I really notice all the various shapes of the distant trees or would I get a general impression of a mass of trees? I hope your next attempt will make you happier and let us know if we can help along the way!

09-04-2016, 10:24 AM
Great advice from Karen and Donna! Another challenge is to make sure the overhanging branch does not compete with or detract from your subject. You are allowed to tweak the shape of that big branch so maybe draw out a few shapes on scrap paper and see if you can come up with one that pleases you. Some may think that the dip in the branch and the "pointer" directly above your son's head make for a good composition. Personally I would consider leaving out the "pointer" altogether and putting the dip in the branch to one side or the other of his head. If you take Donna's advice with the treeline then maybe put the dip further to the left.
Ultimately it's all about shapes, if they work you have the potential for a good painting. Most importantly....have fun!

09-05-2016, 04:11 PM
Thank you Donna and Ruth!

Donna, I love what you did with the trees... It adds a lot of depth and perspective, while also eliminating some of the problem.

I had also considered breaking up the tree line and making it less of a mass. I'll try some sketches and see what can be done.

Ruth, I do think I might want to move or eliminate that pointer, and change the shape of the tree slightly.

I'd like to be able to give this to him for Christmas, so than k you for the great ideas.

09-06-2016, 12:42 AM
The lighting in the reference is very flat. I could imagine trying to draw this, and forever fighting with the fact that the big dark branch is overhanging the kayak, but not shadowing it. Perhaps play with the lighting? Cast a warm light on the subject, so that the branch frames it without menacing?

I also like the suggestion of reshaping the background forest to give the river a vanishing point and depth.

Good luck!

09-06-2016, 08:14 PM
Simon, thanks for that thought. I hadn't actually noticed. The tree is more behind him than it appears in the photo, I think.

The light is coming from the right and almost behind the tree and the subject. Perhaps it would improve everything of I brought the light more forward?

09-07-2016, 04:07 AM
Good idea to adjust the light! To me the tree branch appears, in the photo, to be slightly in front of him, maybe because of the dark and detail that the camera has picked up. For the purpose of a painting it would probably work best to push that branch back so that it really appears to be behind him, therefore making him and the kayak the most important element and the branch a supporting player :)

09-11-2016, 05:39 PM
Since you asked, here it goes:

Darken the sky at the highest points and lighten the sky at the tree line. It gives distance.
Just add dashes and dots for the trees highlights in the distance and add the same sky blue to them at their tops to blur them together. It adds distance. Use a fan brush on the tree tops.
Use a pastel pencil to create an edge of the son and boat. That will make them both stick out. It clarifies and defines them both.
Ripples up front of pic are short, somewhat choppy while ripples and water movement is long and smooth in the background.
Breaking up the back ground trees and lowering them closer to the water line will also add some distance.
Just my .02 worth.


09-11-2016, 10:17 PM
actually it would help a lot if you posted one of your failed attempts. Then we can see your level of experience and can make suggestions which would be helpful - otherwise the suggestions might be accurate in verbal terms, but not helpful for you in terms of your ability to use them!

09-11-2016, 10:50 PM
Good thought, and thank you. I will try to get to that in the next few days. But... Disclaimer: when I attempted it, it was early on this summer. Parts of it really look immature. I've done three or four since, and have improved a lot (if local artists' comments are anything to judge by). ;)

09-13-2016, 10:27 PM
Ok, I had buried that attempt in a stack of other rejects. Note that I've pulled it out and looked at it, after working on projects all summer and learning so much...

It's really much more awful than I remembered. Too awful to post. The good news is... I'm confident I can do better now!

If I ever manage a credible painting from this photo, I'll come back and post it.

Thanks for all the feedback! So helpful.