Creating Compositions: Organizing Principles of Design

I sometimes get questions about how I come up with my compositions for my watercolor paintings, many times I think because people see progress pictures and they assume (rightly) that I don’t have everything all drawn out before I start putting the brush to the paper. But, it should be said, that I do have a general picture (usually) in my head before I begin, and I try to apply a variety of design principles to each painting as I add layer upon layer. I learned a lot about this subject from a book that was required reading for my art history curriculum in college: The Art of Seeing.

In this post, I’m going to explore some of the elements of design that I frequently manipulate in my work. I’ll create another post about composition later for further exploration.

Repetition. I repeat a single design element: line, shape, form, value, color–any will work! In my deer painting above, the same heart shape of the ginger leaf is painted over and over again, in a variety of different positions and values, and this holds the overall composition together, unifying fore-, middle-, and background.

In the evergreen forest scenes, I repeat triangular shapes in different colors and values, with the relatively horizontal layering of those shapes contributing the feel of tranquility; if there was a diagonal positioning of shapes, the composition would suggest movement and dynamism. Lots of times, the repetition in my paintings builds up to the point of pattern, and shapes are more orderly than not, and these patterns of elements can create a rhythm, like in music, satisfying our desire for harmony and structure.

Contrast. In hues and colors, values, implied lines (like to figures pulling away from one another and creating mirror arcs with their bodies–opposing gestures)…any abrupt change. This contributes to variety. In the snail painting, I go from green to red hues, and this switch between complimentary colors enhances our appreciation of each. The same happens in the sleeping princess painting: the purplish pinks alternates with golds and yellows, and the complimentary quality of opposites creates unity.

In most of my paintings, I try to make sure that there is a high contrast in values somewhere in the composition. In the Seven Sisters/cave horse painting, the minimalist/gestural figures are painted all black, with many of the stars painted all white. These extreme contrasts are found only a few places in the composition, to provide variety and draw the eye. (The three black figures are also arranged in triangular formation, a very visually pleasing and stable shape–more on that later!)

Balance. Distributing visual weights so that they offset one another. I mostly apply formal or symmetrical balance in my paintings, as in the sailboat scene where the vertical composition is divided into three horizontal parts (on odd, and therefore dynamic number) and there is a central point of focus. In the unicorn painting, the unicorn is the central focus and also holds the lightest value; all other elements in the painting contrast and compliment this central figure.

A painting can also be asymmetrical and exhibit an informal balance (for instance, a large light-colored shape can be offset by a small, dark-colored shape, with the focal point somewhat off center).

Genius–Guiding Spirit

IMG_3576

Finished a painting I started a while ago! This color palette was one of my favorites when I first began the piece. Using middle-grade cold-pressed watercolor paper, and I can definitely tell the difference between this and my normal Arches (the best!). But it still works pretty well with the tube watercolor pigments.

I notice that when I’m working with the mid-grade paper and Dr. Ph Martin’s liquid watercolors that the paint tends to bleed a lot more into the individual fibers of the paper. I’m working on a bigger painting where I only used the liquid watercolors and will post about that later–how the qualities of those differ from tube watercolor pigments.

I decided to name this one “Genius,” and the animal is supposed to be that–a guiding spirit. Potentially part of my oracle deck…still a long way to go with that project! And I still have a whole backlog of paintings I have to finish and a picture book I’d like to complete. Just need to take it day by day…

Working on Something New

IMG_3209

I’ve gotten back into the swing of things with pencil and paper! Pencil is much easier to work with than paint when you’ve got two young kids and are constantly needed for something or other…you can just put it down right then and there and come back to it when you’re able. And I can add ideas that come a little later, after I’ve started a drawing– just a little erasing here and there. AND I can probably get in up to 4 drawings a week, which is what I’m aiming for.

I have a good idea for a project that I believe I can actually finish!

I do miss painting with watercolors for hours and hours at a time, but I just can’t spare that big of a stretch right now. Maybe in a year or two. Even so, I’m definitely going to keep painting when I can; I don’t think I could ever stop completely, even if it is difficult to find the time presently…

I am also changing my 15 Paintings project to 15 Drawings–this is a much more attainable goal! And instead of completing them in 3 months, it will be closer to 3-4 weeks.

Hope to be posting more regularly, so stay tuned!

Finished March Moon

img_2755

Finally done! Will be up in my shop shortly as a 5 x 7 print for $10. This was a good one for me because even though I put it aside a few times for a week or so, I came back to it. I need to start doing that again. I was fine at finishing started pieces up until a few months ago. I have no idea what happened. I guess I just stopped making it a habit.

1 painting down, 14 to go!

Next, I’ll be working on a square piece, probably chicken subject matter. Because I’m getting chickens soon! Yesterday was my birthday, and I found out my birthday present was chickens…how great is that?!

Quiet but Busy

Hello! I haven’t updated my blog as often as I would like, but that’s because I’m having a bit trouble staying focused on one particular project. I tend to get bored easily and switch my attention on a whim, but this time, I would like to concentrate and follow through with a project.

img_2434

I am now working on a deck of oracle cards, this being my first image. When I complete 5-7 cards, I will explain meanings and the method behind the deck. I want to focus solely on this project and dedicate myself to watercolors, with a few commissions thrown into the mix.

I am also working on opening up a Patreon account, which is very exciting for me!

Home Sweet Home

Finally finished a commission! It’s been tough finding the time to work on this one; Anthony has been working like crazy and traveling everywhere, Mena has not been consistent in her naps, and we just had a giant ant infestation. I kind of feel back about that last one: it was total genocide in our house this past weekend.

img_2374

img_2382

img_2386

Going to send this one off in the mail soon!

Now I am ready to start a special project I’ve been pretty stoked about…I’ve done a lot of research for it already and will post the first paintings for it soon.

Finishing Touches

Finished the 5″ x  7″ unicorn painting. I took a few progress pics to show those who are interested my process. Most of the time, I just make things up as I go, stopping periodically to look at the composition and deciding how to continue, which shapes to integrate, coloring and tone, etc.

img_2295

I thought I was going to take a more asymmetrical approach with this one, but then I decided to add similar gingko shapes to the other side in order to create an arch.

img_2298

After I finished up the background, I needed to distinguish the unicorn a bit more, make it pop. So, I added some black foliage in order to really contrast with the white. I think I’m going to make this a limited edition of 25, hand-embellished with metallic bronze paint, matted to 8″ x 10″. I’m really excited to be painting again!!

img_2302

img_2300

Pumpkins in the garden are getting orange!!

More Unicorns and the Fairy Room

img_2246

Working on a unicorn painting to get back in the swing of things, do a bit of practice. I haven’t painted in a while, probably because I don’t like looking at the ever-expanding zone of chaos my little art corner has become.

Luckily, my studio is almost finished!! Then, I’ll be able to move all of my art supplies to a special, designated place, which makes me feel a lot more productive.

I’m going to finish this one tonight or tomorrow and then start on a commissioned piece. Hopefully, my fingers and right brain will have been sufficiently reawakened by then.

img_2248

And I got some prints for my little girl’s room…they arrived today and look so magical 🙂 I also have a poster of “Midsummer Eve” by Edward Robert Hughes. The two above are by John Bauer and John Atkinson Grimshaw.