Archive for November, 2012

Re-composition from a Photo

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Photographs are a great help as reference material when you can’t take time to paint a scene on location. But even a good photograph doesn’t necessarily translate directly into a great painting. The composition of his photo, which I shot last year during a brief stop at a winery in the Provence region of France, was improved with a few simple tweeks. I’ll show you here how I handled it.


Some of the manifold problems I recognized in this photograph related to the fence, which formed a blocky, double horizontal line directly through the vertical center of the image. This created a barrier that effectively blocked a viewer from entering the upper half of the composition. Although there was actually an opening in the fence, it was virtually hidden behind the grape vat. I considered removing the fence entirely but decided that it could be used to better advantage.

Besides these problems, I wanted to feature the grape vat, but its dark bulk attracted less attention than the sunlit building in the distance. The vertical utility poles added nothing of value to the scene; nor did the bare branches of the olive tree on the left. And the vat positioned directly on the road edge created an unfortunate tangential point of contact with the grass verge.

120803 The Grape Vat

I began by changing the angle of the fence and then relocated the gate opening to permit visual entry into the field beyond. Lowering the top rail permitted me to extend the vat high enough to create a visual bridge from the grassy verge in the foreground to the field beyond the fence. The unnecessary utility poles were easy to omit.

The row of olive trees on the left formed a visual arrow, leading the eye toward the building, which, despite its isolation and contrasting color, was not my intended focal point. Rather than changing the shape, I incorporated it to help carry the viewer’s eye through the painting: I lowered the value of the field behind the upper left corner of the vat to carry the viewer’s eye from the vat into the olive row, pointing to the building, where the multiple roof lines draw the eye down to the yellowish pathway, which returns us to the gate, the fence and road, and ultimately back to the vat.

I reduced the intensity of the building’s colors to de-emphasize it, and increased both the value contrast and saturation of the vat and its rusted strapping to create a strong focal area in the foreground. Simply repositioning the vat farther down onto the grass verge eliminated the tangent problem.

The School of (H)oops

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

This past summer, as often happens after my spring classes have ended and my routine is disrupted by family visits and other travels, my painting output began to slack off. Instead of completing several pieces a week, I felt fortunate to have completed one every week or two. That was not good!

120801 Jacksonport Harbor

Early in August, I set myself a goal to paint five pieces every week. That would keep me working while allowing some leeway for schedule disruptions. The pieces didn’t have to be polished, and they didn’t have to be big. Even a little 5×7 study would count if it had a concept or purpose behind it. In fact, I decided to keep most of the pieces small and use them for learning opportunities.

I pulled out a stack of photographs that had some interesting subject matter but that also posed some composition –or other– problems. My first challenges would be to tackle some of those subjects to see if I could overcome the problems they posed. How better to improve my skills than by putting my theoretical understanding to the test?

So…is this still the “School of Oops”? Or have I finally graduated to jumping through the “School of Hoops”? Whatever you want to call it, I guess it’s just My Way of Doing It. Next time I’ll describe how I changed the composition of one photograph to create a better composed painting.