Drama In the Skies!

In a landscape painting, the sky affects the tone, mood, and atmosphere of the whole painting.  As painters, we strive for an interesting, perhaps a dramatic sky whether or not that is what we see in front of us.  Clear blue skies can appear bland and less than inspiring.  In a painting the artist hopes to design a sky that helps create the most effective mood for the subject.  Ask yourself, “What does this subject need to make it work well?”

If a landscape or seascape is busy, with lots of details or information, a simple sky treatment might be a good choice. 

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On the other hand, a moody, vibrant, or striking sky would complement a composition with a low horizon line, as in a stark, brooding moor or a bold sunset. 

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As another example, a roof in the rain could take on a gleam of silver as the sky reflects off it.

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It is essential to decide what sort of sky is involved in a landscape painting BEFORE starting the painting.  This statement is true even if a sky will not actually be seen in your picture, because the appearance of the light depends entirely on the sky.  A landscape can be creatively transformed by altering the light or weather conditions in a painting.  Light and shadow, color and mood should be consistent throughout your composition, so skies must be part of your initial planning.

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Wilfred Ball, in Weather in Watercolour (1986), describes the “creative transformation” of planning a composition by altering sky and weather details.  “Buildings, walls, gates, fields and mountains tend to be relatively formal features of the landscape, but the effect on them of such variables as the light, seasons and weather is capricious and magical” (p. 9).  And changes in the sky and weather are “merely an extension of the creative process that goes on whenever we paint.  Almost without thinking we strengthen this, weaken that, miss out a tree here, heighten the colour of an autumn tree to focus attention on it.  These devices are all ways of recomposing the subject to increase its impact.  Indeed it is this kind of alteration, that we make to the subject matter as we saw it, that is the creative process in what would otherwise be a straightforward copying procedure.  Using the weather creatively is one of the most effective of all the transformation devices a painter can use” (p. 11).

Thus, you should not be afraid to use a bit of imagination when creating a sky.  Think about the colors you will use in your painting, and have them mixed and ready to go.  Mix up large, juicy puddles of the sky colors you will use.  Mix lots more than you think you will need to insure that you won’t run out or have to skimp while painting!

Have your plan thought out before wetting your paper.  Skies are often painted wet-in-wet, though other techniques (wet on dry, for instance) can also be used.  To begin, wet the sky area with clean water.  As soon as the shine goes from the paper (and when it appears to have a more matte finish), DROP in your colors by floating the pigment across the paper.  Try NOT TO PUSH the colors around, instead letting the colors mix together on their own.  Do not overwork or touch the paint while it is drying.  During drying time, the sky continues to develop ON ITS OWN with a subtle blending of colors.  Timing is all-important.  Don’t paint back into your sky; be assured, and paint with confidence.

To increase the feeling of distance in your sky, lighten the sky toward the horizon.  Colors can be warmer and darker higher in the sky.  Don’t view the sky as separate from the rest of your painting.  Remember: it affects your entire landscape.  You can achieve the needed harmony by echoing the sky colors in the rest of the picture.  For example, include warm sunlight on the side of a building or reflections of a sunset on water or snow.

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What colors should you use?  Sometimes you may want to add yellow highlights to a blue sky.  Have you ever laid down a sky with blue and yellow and had it start to turn green where the two colors met?  The effect has something to do with color bias and color mixing.  Certain blues have a red bias (they contain some red pigment), while others lean toward green, and whichever blue you use will react with other colors according to its bias.  If you are unsure how your colors will interact, try several combinations of blue and yellow on test paper.  Alternatively, lay down your pale yellow wash, and let it dry before adding blue.  This way, you will have less chance of creating green, even though you will also lose some of the soft mingling of color that occurs with the wet-in-wet technique.

To avoid surprising or unpleasant color mixes when combining colors in the sky, try arranging your color sequence like a rainbow.  In a naturally occurring rainbow, the colors appear in a sequence similar to (but not precisely the same as) the following; so from the top of the sky to bottom (horizon), you could use:

*Ultramarine (which has a red bias)

*Cobalt (no real bias)

*Cerulean (yellow-green bias)

*Raw Sienna (red-orange bias)

*Permanent Alizarin Crimson (or Perylene Maroon or Permanent Rose) mixed with  Ultramarine Blue. (Be sure not to use too much red.)

Put your colors in bands in this order, just overlapping the edges so the colors soften.  Keep in mind that you needn’t use every one of the above colors in your sky, but use at least two.  Your choices of colors will affect how each color blends with its neighbor when they touch.  Test your colors and technique on a test sheet before applying paint to your picture.  Make sure you understand the affect of your color choices so you can avoid unpleasant surprises.

A sky affects the tone and mood of the whole painting.  Plan ahead for a dramatic, interesting sky that integrates well with the rest of your picture.  The sky will suggest proper placement for shadows and even some of the colors you should use throughout your painting.  For example, strong Mediterranean sunlight will create harder lines and sharper contrast than a misty morning in the Scottish Highlands.  Don’t be afraid to use your imagination when creating a sky.  Don’t paint back into your sky, don’t fiddle, and don’t be impatient.  Instead, try to apply your colors confidently, with a large brush, and let the colors mix together on their own.

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Realism: Better Than An Exact Copy!

Realistic painting often gets a bad rap nowadays.  The implication seems to be that abstract painting is creative, raw, cool, and trendy; that realistic painting is merely like a copy of a photograph.

Well, realistic painting (the seemingly straightforward representation of objects as they appear in the physical world) can be every bit as CREATIVE as making an abstract image.  Good realistic painting has a great deal in common with abstraction.  Paintings of each type may assume different positions on a continuum from more realistic to more abstract, but both need to use sound structural designs (that is, well-organized images) to be effective.  Good design directs the viewer’s eye through the picture by using shapes, line, color, edges, value, and manipulation of space.  Planning and structuring your painting do not stifle your creativity.

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Artist Georgia O’Keefe commented on the dispute over realism versus abstraction:  “It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract.  Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense.  A hill or a tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree.  It is lines and colors put together so that they say something.”  Even the ideal subject must be shaped and adapted to fit the idea and emotion the artist wants to express.  Copying an image exactly without determining a focal point or eliminating distracting details does not improve that image.  Painting does not involve simply copying what you see; slavishly reproducing an image is not the goal.  To create good realistic art, you need to make it PERSONAL.  Your art needs to reveal what you want to say and what the image/scene means to you.  The goal for most realistic painters should be to combine the realistic image with a distinctive INDIVIDUAL PERCEPTION and expression of the subject.  You must select and arrange colors, lines, shapes, and other design elements.  You can create an unusual color scheme; use a dramatic value contrast; emphasize texture, pattern, or line.  As an artist, you transform the subject by filtering it through unconscious thought processes so that it reflects your past experiences and personal beliefs.

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If something intrigues you, it is worthy of your interest and of your audience’s interest.  Explore any subject if you feel you have something to say about it.  You paint best what you know best.  One artist may seem successful at selecting unusual subject matter.  Another artist may be a people person and prefer portraits.  Yet another may enjoy the refreshing feeling of landscapes.

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In the classroom, students often copy the work of other artists.  Copying can be useful for practicing skills and techniques – that is, as a way of learning – but a number of pitfalls to copying can emerge.  It is difficult, for instance, to capture the emotion expressed by the artist who made the original.  You might also simply copy mistakes or poor techniques without being aware of those flaws.  Furthermore, copying prevents you from learning to organize a picture on your own; some people become dependent on copying.  Since the creative experience is missing when you copy, you need to move beyond copying to become a creative artist.

Much better sources for images to paint are your own photographs.  However, you need to adapt even your own photographs when you use them as source material; remember that even a well-composed photograph needs editing to become an effective, forceful painting.  Also try working from life to design your own picture.  Observe carefully.  Pick and choose, simplify and rearrange until you have transformed a literal image to fit your impression.  Leave out distracting or extraneous details.  Focus on essentials to turn nature into art.  Use your memories to visualize something that isn’t there now, and imagine or invent something if you think it would make a good picture.  In any case, strive to be selective and imaginative rather than literal.

In composing your picture, think about what you want to say.  You might make a list of descriptive words that characterize your subject; include details about its physical appearance and qualities that make it unique or interesting to you.  These could be related to mood or emotion.  Brainstorm as many ideas as possible; then narrow these down to one clear meaning – this is your concept, what you want to say.  Concentrate on this meaning; you can have only one focal point.  Start with the real, but enhance it!

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How Does A Painting Progress?

The first step in a watercolor painting is usually choosing an image to paint.  Sometimes I am excited about a subject or intrigued with the way light affects a scene.  That image can make me feel a certain mood or remember a wonderful feeling I’ve had before in a similar setting.  Often, the scene “picks me”: it touches me, and I want to paint it.

The painting “Mulpus” began in this way.  When I saw the photos that my son had taken of a brook that we both know, I felt the excitement of discovering a magic secret garden in my backyard.  The series of photos taken on a clear spring day showed a progression from the old stone bridge on the road up the sparkling brook edged with bright green moss and grass to the ruins of a towering stone wall dam that in the 1700’s had controlled water for a log-cutting mill.  The dam, though still impressive, was partially collapsed and the mill pond gone, but, oh, the water sparkled, and the green of the moss and grass was brilliant!  How refreshing!  In the midst of decay was renewal.  I could almost feel the warm sun, see the rosy buds about to open, smell crisp, clean air, and hear the soft whisper of the breeze!

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I settled on two reference photos to combine and sketched a template for transfer to watercolor paper.  When I had the image drawn, I used masking fluid to preserve the sparkles of white on the water, the bright green shore, and highlights of the rocks in the water.

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When the masking fluid was dry, I pre-wet the sky and tree line area with clear water.  As the sheen disappeared, I painted the sky with a very pale wash of a mixture of mostly cerulean and some Winsor (or phthalo) blue.  I tried to leave the center of the sky area paler than the surrounding sky because I chose to have the sunlight shining from the center of the picture toward the viewer.

Keeping in mind a clear spring day, I mixed colors for the far tree line.  Spring green was a possibility, but these trees were in the background, and I did not want them to stand out or compete with the bright green grass and moss which would be the focal point of the picture (in conjunction with the sparkling water).  Therefore, I toned the green down a bit to a slightly-grayed blue-green mix of ultramarine blue, DaVinci sap green, and a small touch of burnt umber.  And since I wanted the distant trees to appear soft and unfocused, I painted the tree underlayer onto damp paper.  (If you mix this tree color at the same time as your sky mix, you’ll be ready to paint your tree line as soon as you finish the sky.  However, if you find your paper has dried out since you painted your sky, it’s perfectly fine to rewet your sky and tree line with clear water, then paint your tree line when the sheen has gone.)  While the tree line is still damp, scrape in a few trunk-like lines with a palette knife or brush handle.  (Some pale gray trunks can be added here later and softened.)  Also, while the distant tree area is still damp, randomly drop several other colors into the tree area to add variety.  For me, these colors were a touch green gold and separately also burnt umber (mixed with a touch of burnt sienna).  Don’t get carried away here – less is more.  Every tree you paint should have a variety of colors in it.  As these color additions started to dry, I used a slightly stronger version of the underlayer green (ultramarine blue, DaVinci sap green, and a touch of burnt umber) to scumble in and start to suggest shadowing and shaping of the tree line.

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I began to work on the large stone wall by mixing three separate puddles of very, very pale color to apply as an underlayer.  I used permanent alizarin red (or quinacridone red), cobalt blue, and hansa yellow light (or cadmium lemon) to mix these three puddles.  These colors I randomly painted onto the stone wall; each color remained separate but just touched another of the three colors.

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While the stone wall dried, I began to put down the first layers on the middle distance tree trunks (which would eventually have more detail than the distant tree line).  I started with the trees to the far right to avoid spoiling the stone wall before it dried; then I gradually worked toward the left.  Since the type of tree, the age of the tree, and the smoothness of the bark cause variations in the tree trunk color, I used more than one paint color.  First, I laid down a pale greenish gray made with Davy’s gray.  Almost immediately, I began to add variation – some green gold and/or raw sienna on the sunny side of trunks, and darker brown-gray made of ultramarine blue with burnt umber on the shaded side.  I needed to remember the direction of LIGHT for shadows:  because I chose to have the light come toward the viewer from the middle of the picture, shadows on the trunks are on the right side of a trunk on the right of the picture, but shadows on the left side of the picture are on the left side of the trunks. I laid these colors in without mixing.

I painted one tree at a time so that the colors could soften into each other and create shape in the trunk before the applied paint had a chance to dry.  I let these underlayer colors in one trunk dry before proceeding to detail work on the trunk and moved instead to underlayer the next trunk.  When all the mid-distance trees were underlayered, I added details (crevices and knotholes) with a dark brown of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.  This same color I used to dry brush a bit of texture on the tree trunks, including grooves and shadows at the roots.

I then painted another layer of color, made from cerulean blue with a small touch of cadmium red to make a gray, over all of the large stone wall.  The color was not too dark, but pale enough to see hints of color through it.  When this was dry, I painted details in the wall – for example, crevices, shadows, texture – with a gray-black mixed from ultramarine blue and burnt umber.  I left light some highlights on the top of the wall, though I could also have lifted them later.

A light layer of burnt umber I laid over the earth area to the right and left of the stream.  I let this layer dry while I began to paint the water in the stream.

The water I painted wet-in-wet.  For this technique, it is best to have all the colors ready BEFORE starting to apply any paint.  To get ready, I mixed five separate puddles: cobalt blue; ultramarine blue; burnt sienna; ultramarine blue/DaVinci sap green/burnt umber; and ultramarine blue/burnt umber.  The first layer put down on the pre-wet paper was a layer of cobalt blue over all the water, avoiding the rocks.  Some of the green mix I dropped into the cobalt blue near the shore of the pool next to the ruined dam and close to both shores to suggest reflections from the distant tree line and the grass and moss along the shore.

Before the water dried, I added some burnt sienna in the water closest to the left front corner.  These transparent colors (cobalt blue and burnt sienna) made it seem that the viewer could see through the water to the sand on the streambed below.  Again, before the water dried, I darkened the edges of the water in particular with ultramarine blue.  Closest to the shore, where the bank overhangs a bit, I added some ultramarine blue/burnt umber mix (blue black) and made sure the color was softened as it met the rest of the water.

While the water was drying, I worked more on the forest floor.  With burnt umber and then with a dark brown/ burnt umber mix, I darkened the ground toward the far tree line on the right and up close to the large stone wall on the left, where the ground would be in shadow.  I added some texture and a few darker indentations in the fallen leaves with the dry brush technique.  I spattered the brown ground first with the dark brown mix, then with just burnt sienna. When the spatter had dried, I added a few strong tree shadows on the ground while keeping in mind the direction of the light.

The stones and rocks in the water received an underlayer of gray (cerulean blue and cadmium red).  When they were dry, I used the dry brush technique again to texture in the gray and dark gray I used previously, also adding dark shadows where the water meets the rocks.

When all the paint was dry, I removed the masking fluid.  Green gold was the color for the brilliant and sunlit moss and grass (though hansa yellow light mixed with ultramarine blue could also work).  The shadow color for painting depressions in the green ground came from adding more ultramarine blue to the above color.  In darker spots, I added burnt umber/ultramarine blue to increase depth.

Finally, to finish up, I added more tiny branches to the mid-distance trees.  I scraped (with an X-acto) some white water to make sure the stream looked natural.  I also lifted some rock highlights that seemed to have been lost.

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Adjust Your Color Thermostat!

As artists gain experience in watercolor painting, they become aware that different colors have more or less “warmth” or “coolness.”  Colors on the color wheel can be grouped into two families: warm (reds, oranges, yellows) and cool (violets, blues, greens).  Furthermore, each color has a warm or cool bias (whether it is cool or warm itself) depending on the amount of its neighboring color that it contains.  Adding red or yellow to an existing color will warm it up; adding blue will cool it.  When you are comparing two hues, the hue closer to yellow on the color wheel will be the warmer of the two (for instance, Cadmium Red is warmer than Permanent Alizarin Crimson).  The color closer to blue on the color wheel will be the cooler (for instance, Aureolin or Lemon Yellow is cooler than Cadmium Yellow).  When a cool color and a warm color are placed near or next to one another in a picture, they can also BIAS or INTENSIFY each other.  Thus, a cool blue feels even cooler next to a warm color, or a warm yellow feels even warmer near a cool color.  If you want a feature of your painting to stand out, paint cool colors surrounded by warm colors or warm colors in a cool area.

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This temperature relationship allows colors, including grays, to be PUSHED or PULLED to add visual interest or depth to a painting (Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie, p. 30).  “Pushed or pulled” refers to the use of RECEDING cool or ADVANCING warm colors.  Pushing color into a cooler version of itself causes it to recede while pulling a nearby color into a warmer color makes this nearby color advance.  Armed with this knowledge, painters can create distance in a painting: the receding color and advancing color can be made to appear on different planes.  For example, to describe distance in a landscape painting, artists can “push” the background back by using cooler tones as features of the landscape disappear over the horizon.  Thus, far hills often look more blue or purple instead of green.  Also, the foreground can be “pulled” forward with warmer colors.

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Difficulty can arise, however, if artists assume that all yellows, for instance, are warm or all blues are cool.  The temperature of a color is always relative, because it depends on nearby colors.  You must judge color temperature by surrounding colors.  Ultramarine Blue viewed next to Cadmium Red appears cool indeed, yet the same Ultramarine Blue next to Lemon Yellow or Permanent Rose will seem warm.

Another complication in using color well involves observing how light and atmosphere change local color (the actual, basic or local color of an object).  Artists should consider how conditions in the scene affect local color.  Snow shadows are not always blue and may even be golden or rosy at sunset.  A gray road drenched by rain may take on a purplish cast.  At sunrise a brown tree trunk may have a golden glow.  Try to use warm and cool colors to intensify the atmosphere in your picture.

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Artists often use shading or modeling layers of color to create the effect of three-dimensional shape on painted objects.  In deepening a shadow by adding darker layers, however, you may dull or deaden color; instead, use the warm-cool interaction to achieve similar results while keeping colors luminous.  With an understanding of the “push-pull” of warm and cool colors, you can begin to form volume through color alone, creating the illusion of three-dimensional space in a painting.

Paint your object the local color first.  Then find your light source to determine what is in shadow.  One side of your object will be away from the source of light and in shadow.  If the local color of your object is warm, you can use cool values like blue to shadow.  The object will seem to TURN AWAY from the light and have two sides.  If the local color of your object is cool, then use a warm color on the side way from the source of light.  (When glazing on the second [shadow] color, make sure the first color is dry before adding the second layer.)

To be effective with warm-cool interactions, artists must be aware of the light source and whether this light itself is warm or cool.  A warm light source affects a subject differently than a cool light source.  To create volume through color alone, you will need to handle each lighting condition somewhat differently.

On bright, sunny days, the sun bathes objects in warm light while casting cool shadows.  Paint a pine tree on a sunny day with predominantly warm colors such as Sap Green mixed with Cadmium Yellow, with a touch of Cadmium Red.  The cool, shadowed side of the tree could be Sap Green cooled with Ultramarine Blue or Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  On an overcast day, the light areas of the pine might be a cool mixture of Viridian and Permanent Rose plus Cobalt Blue.  The warm shadow could be mixtures of Sap Green plus Transparent Red Oxide with small amounts of Cadmium Red or even Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  Artificial indoor lighting is usually warmer than outdoor light which is often affected by cool reflections from the sky.

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When colors are in close proximity, they tend to exaggerate each other’s differences.  Complementary colors have contrasting temperatures.  Using the “push-pull” of warms and cools can help to create depth in a painting by moving objects forward or backward in space, as well as creating the illusion of three dimensions.

Designing A Strong Painting With Good Composition!

A good painting is a successful illusion in two dimensions that creates the impression of a reality in three dimensions. Artists can use shapes, values, edges, and color changes to arrange elements within a picture to produce an interesting and unified image. Seldom is a real life scene so perfect that it cannot be made more interesting by moving things around, changing sizes, tones, colors, and so on. As artists we strive to get our viewers to see what we want them to see. This involves establishing a focal point and center of interest. Artists strive to inject energy into their painting, while avoiding unnecessary and distracting details.

The job of the artist is to incorporate design elements for maximum visual effect into a pleasing and balanced design. Whatever your style as an artist, the arrangement of elements in your picture (COMPOSITION) should always appear to have purpose and be under control. Your composition is what captures the viewers’ attention.

What are these design elements that work together to make a strong picture? How are you supposed to put them together? There is no one way to compose a painting, yet some rules and guidelines can help you think about what makes a good composition. In time and with practice, you may become less reliant on these guidelines and learn to rely more on yourself and your own intuitive preferences.

For now, be aware that you have only so many tools to work with. These ‘tools’ are the ‘elements’ of design. They are VALUE, SHAPE, LINE, COLOR, and FORM. With these tools, painters can create certain effects; these effects are referred to as the ‘principles’ of design. More specifically, these principles include UNITY, BALANCE, VARIETY, RHYTHM, CONTRAST, MOOD, MOVEMENT, and PERSPECTIVE. These terms may seem confusing at this point, but think of the matter this way: You can use COLORS to create MOOD, aerial PERSPECTIVE, or VARIETY. Or you can use LINE to create a sense of linear PERSPECTIVE, MOVEMENT, or RHYTHM.

UNITY is the sense of wholeness or completeness in your picture and is one of the most important design principles. You can create UNITY by letting some element be dominant — that is, by emphasizing it in the picture (DOMINANCE).  Dominance needs to be tempered, however, in order to create BALANCE and VARIETY. Some of the opposite element needs to be included so the dominant element is not overwhelming. You may wish to compose a warm picture, so your palette of colors might contain a variety of warm pigments. If they are all warm, however, they lose their effectiveness. Smaller amounts of cooler, complementary colors should be scattered about the painting to mix with the warm colors and help balance the effect.

You can create RHYTHM by repeating a certain distinctive element in a painting, such as SHAPES, LINE, COLOR, or SPACES. For instance, specific shapes not only reveal the basic qualities of the subject matter but can be repeated to increase UNITY in a picture. Repeated tree trunks or an arrangement of rocks on a shoreline would be examples of SHAPES and LINE used to create RHYTHM.

The true purpose of unity and dominance is to make your painting more appealing by giving it an emotional punch and an intriguing ‘personality.’ Dominance and unity are easier to achieve if you choose only one or two of the elements to emphasize in a picture. You might choose one VALUE (light or dark) and one type of LINE (perhaps curved), while the remaining elements, COLOR or SHAPE, for instance, play supporting roles.

It is natural for people to react to certain visual stimuli, and an artist ought to know and use these stimuli to create more effective compositions. For instance, our eye automatically goes to anything out of place or different from its surroundings (CONTRAST). An artist can employ contrast of VALUES (light vs. dark, dark vs. medium, and so on) to improve a painting. We are naturally attracted to the lightest objects or areas that we can see. To surround a light area in a picture with dark values increases contrast and draws attention to that light area. We tend to skip over lesser degrees of contrast, although these play an important role in setting a mood in a composition  — for example, dark corners in a sunlit room.

CONTRAST in COLOR can be useful as well. Colors can contrast in HUE (the basic color, such as red or blue), VALUE (light or dark), INTENSITY (pure or dull), and TEMPERATURE (warm or cool). An artist will often employ color contrast using more than one of these kinds of contrast at a time, perhaps using pale, dulled blue (HUE, INTENSITY, TEMPERATURE) as well as darker, pure orange (HUE, VALUE, INTENSITY, TEMPERATURE) in a painting, for example.

CONTRAST in SHAPE and LINE (or edges) is a good way to get things of interest to stand out from their surroundings. We notice hard edges and shapes that are different from each other, whereas soft edges blend and can subtly avoid attention, as in camouflage.

How we see our physical surroundings affects our emotions. Think about how you feel as the sun breaks out after days of dreary, overcast skies. In a painting, though, the emotional environment involves more than just the weather or the sky. The MOOD (or atmosphere) is the whole pervasive setting for your painting subject. A specific atmosphere or mood (for instance, the gloom inspired by the shadowy edge of a dark forest) adds drama and appeal to your composition. (See another of my blogs entitled “Get In The Mood” dated September 4, 2018 for a more detailed discussion of mood and atmosphere.)

MOVEMENT is a way to add energy and excitement to your composition. Movement attracts our attention. You can create it in several ways – by IMPLYING movement, by POINTING the viewer’s eye to a specific target with shapes, or by providing a PATH for the viewer’s eye to follow.

Since anything that parallels the frame of your picture tends to be viewed as stable and balanced, an artist might try to place shapes and lines at an angle to the frame. Curving lines IMPLY more MOVEMENT, energy, and character than  do straight lines. Further, if a painting is too SYMMETRICAL, it will seem stiff and unexciting. A bit of ASYMMETRY (imbalance), by contrast, creates tension to move the viewer through the painting.

Many of the objects you put into a painting can have a POINTING quality that leads the viewers’ eye in a certain direction. This pointing can be useful in getting the viewers to see what you want them to see. By simply arranging objects in a painting in a certain way, you can suggest action and movement.

You gain control of what viewers look at when you can direct their eyes to follow a PATH in your picture. Try to arrange and position shapes to lead a viewer to look toward points of interest. Visual pathways create MOVEMENT and will lead the viewer in the direction you choose. Artists commonly use a road, path, or river as an invitation to viewers to move into a painting.

A PATH can also be a FORMAT (structure) for a painting. Different types of structures exist, including CLOSED (any path that comes back on itself and thus contains or surrounds the subject matter) and OPEN (a path that causes the eye to move back and forth, such as a zigzag or a spiral).

PERSPECTIVE is what gives the illusion of depth to your composition and makes it appear three dimensional. LINEAR PERSPECTIVE works by making objects seem further away because they appear smaller. As objects move back in the distance, they grow proportionally smaller and closer together. For example, in a sky with rows of clouds, the cloud formations become smaller and closer together (and may even appear to overlap) as they proceed toward the horizon. A series of overlapping shapes can increase the illusion of depth. Darkening a foreground or showing only a part of an object in the foreground can give the viewer a feeling of peering deep into a landscape. AERIAL or ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE creates a feeling of distance by observing the effect the atmosphere has on the landscape. Objects in the distance seem mistier, paler, and less distinct than in the foreground. Colors become lighter, cooler, and grayer when further away, while details are progressively reduced into the distance.

Skillful use of the principles of design improves any composition. A good composition depends on the artist’s knowledge of these rules, yet also is dependent on the use of intuition (or instinct). The intuitive aspect of composition is what makes each piece of art unique. Using your instincts adds flavor and creativity to your art. Move different parts of your painting around to emphasize or strengthen your composition until the painting feels right to you. The rules of composition are there to solve design problems, but rules can eliminate creativity if followed slavishly. Try to think of design elements as a foundation to base your composition on. Then trust your intuition!