Landscape painting: building a composition.

So my most recent small paintings began to sprout and join up, and before I knew it they'd turned into a study for a larger work.

Three 10" x 12"s laid out in a row became the centre of a larger planned painting. I took this photograph of the three together and used it as the basis for further studies with GIMP.

On the one hand, GIMP is a great way to quickly get a notion of what a planned painting could look like. On the other, there are drawbacks: one is that you can choke on choice.

The problem is the ease with which GIMP enables you to try out different compositions: you can be seduced into spending all your time and energy discovering different solutions instead of sticking with one. Too much choice can be disabling.

But that's just me chickening out of the process of coming up with a pictorial solution. Composing a picture needs a toolkit I was fortunate enough to pick up in school art class, thanks to a great teacher. A small painting is pretty easy to compose. Things begin to get out of hand when you're dealing with a larger work which has several parts, which is where you can learn from the lessons of the past. In a previous post, I mentioned drawing a copy of Constable's 'Flatford Mill', and discovering how every component played a role in the composition, guiding the eye around the picture.

So what are some rules of composition?

- Look for big shapes. You should be able to read your painting from across a room.

- Frame studies with two right angled L shapes to help you find the right size and shape rectangle for your support.

- Echo shapes in different places. That bouncy treeline? Turn it upside down and use it in the clouds, or in the foreground.

- Contrast significant elements. Bush with leaves turning orange? Put against blue sky for maximum impact. Foliage mass in full light? Place against darkest shadows.

- Design matters more than reportage. Make each element work as part of the painting, rather than slaving to make it look 'real'.