View Full Version : Composition this year! WIP

12-29-2005, 08:08 AM
I should have added to the subject line that this would be a WIP -- so . . . the rest of the story is the composition and design . . .

I have posted a thread in the Composition & Design forum about my plans to concentrate on composition this year. In the past 3 years I have had a "subject" to concentrate on -- value, temperature, color -- and these were the previous subjects of study. Though even saying this, of course, I do keep working on all of these at any given time. I just have "one" that I really do some research and study on.

I have started a painting and just took the photo of the "bones" of the painting and will post it in a minute. The gist of that other thread in Composition and Design was asking the question -- what do you think is the most important element of composition. I know there will be many diverse answers. But, I thought I would also bring it up here along with my WIP on this particular painting.

So -- I'll connect my camera and post the photo in a moment.

12-29-2005, 09:40 AM
First is the photo that I am working from -- and then the sketch with a little dark and light added. The work is on Wallis and is 16 x 20 dry mounted to foam core board. I notice that the photo that is in my computer has a larger image area than the photo that was printed by Walgreens. I have found that when they print from digital, the top and bottom are cut off somewhat to fit. Bummer!!!!



Any input is welcome!

12-29-2005, 10:51 AM
The reference point you picked is really interesting...can't wait to see the progress. Is the scene in Georgia?

12-29-2005, 01:20 PM
Hi Mike - the scene is the Ocoee River just over the border from Georgia into Tennessee. The same river, Toccoa River, goes past my cabin outside of Blue Ridge GA, but the name changes to the Ocoee once it crosses the Tennessee line -- and it flows North - which is unusual. This is where the white water rafting was done during the Olympics. The day I was there painting on location, they were not releasing water, and so many rocks were showing that normally would be covered when they generate from the dam. I like it better this way!

Here is my progress so far today, and most likely all I'll get to do today.


I have changed the major rock section that sticks out from the right side. I had shortened it too much which made the rock behind the little trees too round -- part of what I like was that long grouping -- which also brings the water coming around the grouping from being smack-dab in the middle!

I have added some more color notes -- just using the harder Nupastel to get a layer down on the paper. I usually tone my paper first, or do an alcohol wash after the first layer. I might decide to do the alcohol after I get one complete layer on everything. It gives it a nice abstract quality to work on for the following layers. I've also darkened some areas to give me a reference for other values. Again, I am trying to not paint quite as dark as usual, so I most likely will go over those dark areas with a little lighter value in the next stages.

BTW - those darks are not black -- they are "Spruce Blue" No. 305 Nupastel -- which is what I use for my darkest darks in the early stages.

12-29-2005, 06:36 PM
This is going to be great! I'm really looking forward to following your progress.


12-29-2005, 08:21 PM
Hi Marsha,

It's been quite a while since I've seen you. I look forward to following your progress on this painting. It's a great scene and captures a great sense of the river.


12-30-2005, 07:56 PM
Marsha- will be stunning when you are done- LOVE the rocks.... thanks for showing the steps...

12-31-2005, 03:18 AM
Marsha ...I hope yo won't mind this comment....but you say that this thread is "about" composition, yet all you have shown to date is your work in progress from the photo. Interesting tho this is, it would be nice to have some input about your thoughts re the composition.

To my mind, composition = design, and if you are planning the design of a painting in advance, it is usually a good idea to begin with a thumbnail sketch from the source (be it rl or photo) which explores ELEMENTS OF DESIGN/composition. Did you do this? If so, could you show your sketch, and describe your thoughts? I think that would be most helpful - both to you, in terms of your "project", and to those who are following your post.


Mikki Petersen
12-31-2005, 01:51 PM
Marsha, this is such an interesting subject for a painting and the focus you've taken should make for a dramatic finish. I'll just sit and watch. BTW, it would be nice, as Jackie has suggested to read your thoughts on why you chose this particular composition and what you think the strengths are. I'm really struggling with all the components of design right now, and look for as many examples as I can find.



Paula Ford
12-31-2005, 11:55 PM

I'm not budging from my seat until this is done. So looking forward to see what you do with this.

I've been painting all week (on vacation) with great success and having lots of fun, so tonight I sat down to do a painting and couldn't do a thing. It was like I lost all of my skill, knowledge, and talent. Has that ever happened to you? Does that ever go away.....I hope?

The painting I'm attempting is from a photo I took that is kind of similar to this. So here I sit, waiting patiently for your progress.

(P.S. Hoping to take your workshop in April, neighbor.)

01-01-2006, 08:49 AM
Hi Binkie, Elaine, Linda, Jackie, Mikki, & Paula.

Thanks for watching, but I won't be doing anything again until Monday afternoon, because we helped my Mom & Dad get ready for a party yesterday, this morning I have to make Mexican Cornbread to take to my Mother-In-Law's home to have with their collard greens and black-eyed peas today. Then my husband will be leaving for the week tomorrow around noon. So . . . I am just replying today, but most likely will show the thumbnail, etc. tomorrow afternoon! Can you wait? hope so!!!

Jackie, thanks for bringing me back to task -- I had planned all along to show the thumbnail and discuss what it was going to do to help me and why I am doing certain things, etc. This is somewhat of a "L" composition -- can you figure it out? I'll just leave you with that -- I hear my husband getting off the phone, so I best get back to my "home" job this morning!

See you guys tomorrow afternoon!
Happy New Year!

01-02-2006, 05:25 PM
Okay, Hubby has left for his job which is about 2 hours away and necessitates him staying for the week. So . . . I have some time tonight.

Quickly -- Elaine -- how are you? Miss seeing you. Plan to come to the Pastel meeting next Monday!

Paula, definitely a yes about sometimes sitting down -- or standing at the easel (which is what I do) -- I do have those times that are not about painting -- so I just follow the instinct to not paint. I try to involve myself in some other aspect of my chosen career -- marketing, printing borchures, reading hear on WetCanvas, looking at an art book . . . learning, etc. So, I feel when I have those times, they are telling me I need to pay attention to another aspect of my art. Go with the flow . . .

Now, back to my composition. After coming back and uploading the thumbnail, looking at my photo, looking at what I have on the easel so far, I am thinking my comment about the composition being an "L" shape. That was my initial gut reaction, but studying the images -- all three -- I'm not so sure.

Here is the thumbnail:
Here is a correction I made on the computer:
Here is the photo again so you can compare:

You can see where I drew (very badly) with the computer what I wanted to change. The changes were the upper left corner to square it up and also to make it sky instead of having the trees go off that edge just like the right-hand upper corner. I purposely don't want my corners to be the same.

I noticed that the most prominent rocks with the trees growing out of them was quite shortened and so I am elongating that section -- which will be the focal point. Why I want this for focal point is:
(1) very interesting shapes and value changes in that section -- the distant elements and values that you will be able to see between and in and around the tree leaves, trunks, and upper rock edges;
(2) the most intense colors will be there -- those rocks, the light and bright green foliage;
(3) the water coming around the rocks and the sky color in the water;
(4) the contrast this section will have with the further planes, which will lead you into the distance, to the bend in the river, up through the trees on the right and back down again to these rocks and scrub tree formations.

This is the way my eye saw this scene when I was standing on the side of the river. I fell in love with the trees protruding out of those wonderful rocks, the colors the rocks had, and that wonderful water winding its way from the distance. I tend to paint scenes that are early morning, or later in the afternoon. My photographs tend to be on days where there is no significant light paths, and shadow paths. When I paint from them, I usually add my own subtle light and shadow paths -- because for me that is what makes a painting sing! And . . . I will try to keep from letting any of the background areas compete with that foreground.

Now remember that I will be pulling memories out, as well as using the photo. I always tell myself the photo "tells lies". Not enough real color, and the shadows are too drab.

01-02-2006, 05:33 PM
And . . . here is my final covering of the paper -- what I call my first layer and then I stand back and see if I have been truthful to my initial thoughts.


I will most likely work on this by using the alcohol wash technique. This usually give some wonderful drips and happy accidents I can use.

Oh dear -- I hear massive thunder. So . . . turning off the computer, we are expecting severe thunderstorms here north of Atlanta. See you most likely again on Wednesday with updates.

01-02-2006, 05:36 PM
Can't wait to see the effect of the alcohol!

01-13-2006, 01:04 PM

Here is what I have done this morning.

I apologize for not getting back to this sooner. Also, I did the alcohol wash, and thought I took a digital, before I started working on the sky and background trees -- but guess what? I can't find it. So, hopefully you can see the wash in the rest of the painting. Alcohol dries so fast and gives you these wonderful mixed colors, runs that you might can use for inspiration, etc. I always start my wash with the lightest color, wipe off the brush, and continue to the next darkest until I have made it to the darkest colors. I use a fairly soft brush so that I don't scrub into the surface. I also keep a towel, or paper one, in my other hand to stop any runs that I don't like. Especially if a dark area starts contaminating a lighter one that should really not have dark in it.

When I started back with my pastels on the dry alcohol wash, I started with the sky. I had a pink underpainting that was used, but I used a light blue for the next layer, then some more very light pink. I also started using darker blue at the zenith, and a warmer light blue at the tops of the trees. I put little touches of pale yellow for indications that there might be very distant and very high clouds. I blended a little with my little finger, then put more strokes on top of the blended part. I very seldom blend with my finger, just sometimes in a sky.

I next added very pale blue/green, grayish green, grayish blue in those distant hills. This is over the top of the alcohol wash that had some teal / blue-greens.

I started with some dark greens (bluer on the left) in the trees on both sides, added some pine trees that have no foliage in the distance on the right/middle. Starting to add some slightly mossy greens to the right side foliage.

My intent is to make the background recede. I think I have been successful with those distant hillsides. As I progress, the trees will be modified to make sure the value of those middle distant hills stays where they belong and does not compete with the more intense foliage, rocks and water in the near ground.

The composition issue I am trying to use is for the abstract quality of shapes of the darks and lights. I keep telling my students to keep from having a "spotty" painting you need to keep to the rule of: In your dark areas, the lightest dark will still be darker than the darkest light in your light areas. Believe me, this is hard to say -- but easier to type! My students always say: "would you say that one more time?". So . . . I usually go for the opposite approach: In your light areas, the darkest light will still be lighter than the lightest dark in your dark areas. They just "love" me!

Do you guys see anything I have missed so far? You know how it goes -- you can't see the forest for the trees!

01-13-2006, 03:42 PM

I am really appreciating this demo and I can't wait for the next installment! I really value this as I don't get to watch too many demos and I learn something from each one. It looks like your underpainting is fairly analagous to the colors you intend to use, am I right? How do you decide whether to underpaint in analagous colors or complementary? Is drying time the only advantage to using alcohol instead of turps?

01-13-2006, 03:57 PM
Hi Shari,
Yes, the advantage to alcohol is the drying time. I paint plein air quite a lot, and time is of the essence when you are outdoors. So why not do the same thing in the studio?

The underpainting is analagous -- I have tried painting with the complement as the underpainting (when I do alcohol) and though it can be much fun, mostly I work the way you see. However, I do sometimes tone my wallis paper with a very red underpainting -- totally covering the whole paper. I paint many greens scenes in North Georgia, so I like the vibrancy this red underpainting gives me. When I paint on Canson, I even use the dark burgundy to paint 75% of my paintings because the complementary color to what my finished work mostly is -- green scenes!

How I decide what color to paint on -- if I want a hot painting - very warm -- I usually paint on one of the warm colors: red, orange, yellow. If it is a moody scene, I usually paint on lavender. I have tried to paint on green or blue, but do not really like it. Too much like the majority of what I paint. I tried painting once on a teal, thinking it would be nice for one of my Jamaica scenes -- but no -- it hindered me in judging my values, my temperatures, etc. So . . . if I tone the whole paper, then I usually go either with the complement or a moody color.

01-13-2006, 04:38 PM
These two images show the wash up close and my first strokes of darks to make the shapes of the rocks. You can see that I am using a dark blue (#305 Spruce Blue NuPastel - which I use for my darkest dark in the initial stages) and then a Terry Ludwig pastel that is somewhat dark red or rusty burgundy.

Here is the section a little to the left of the above and shows the other colors that I start using for the rocks and the reflections.

This close up shows more colors I am trying out on the rocks, and the twigs for the bushes. Again I used the NuPastel #305 for creating those twigs.

This shows the left side and the rocks I consider middle-distance rocks. You can see I am softening the colors in intensity and the value is somewhat lighter where I am delineating the shapes of those rocks.

Here is a shot of the distant pine trees that were ravaged by pine beetles -- but I thought they made an interesting addition to the background colors -- a little relief from the greens.

And below is the complete shot of where I am at the moment.


My next steps are going to be knocking down the lights in those rocks to keep them in the "dark" half of my value scale -- so that shape will stay that shape and not become too spotty -- hopefully.

Mikki Petersen
01-14-2006, 01:38 AM
Marsha, I love the palette you are using here and it is fascinating to read your thoughts and considerations as you move along into the painting. At this point, I'm concerned that the lower half of the painting will not have enough strength to support the middle and upper portions of the piece. Your bar of rocks, the focal point, is very centered on the page. You might want to consider a crop from the bottom of the page. Are there other solutions you can consider that I'm not experienced enough to employ?


Tom Behnke
01-14-2006, 03:08 AM
Hi Marsha:

Thank you for the demonstration. It is really informative, and I love watching as it evolved.

I have a question that might be a little off-topic, but I am very intrigued. Can you give more details about the 'alcohol wash'. I am new and I have never heard of that. How do you do it. and, besides what you said about the blending of colors, is the effect you are looking for when doing an alcohol wash. How does it effect drawing over when it is dry?

Sorry if that is too many questions.

I will be watching this thread to see where you go with it.