Selecting an interesting subject is only the beginning of designing a successful painting.
When I shot this photograph of Victoria Harbor, I was interested first in the colorful trim on the houseboat at the right. But I also wanted to capture the calm of the harbor and the variations in the houseboats in relation to the sailboat across from them. As I considered cropping the image to paint later, I took a more critical look at it.
Cropping to include both areas of interest presented a number of problems. The strong horizontal at the distant waterline was almost vertically centered. The red and yellow trim of the houseboat railing did not work well with the color harmony of the rest of the image. And the rebatement from both ends of the rectangular format fell within the uninteresting white mass in the center. So I decided to try a different crop, to feature either the railing or the sailboat, but not attempt to include them both, as they detracted from each other. So I experimented with two different crops.
The first, featuring the railing, contrasted the saturated colors against the muted colors of the other houseboats. The left edge of the railing also fell at the rebatement of the rectangle. But there still seemed to be a problem with shapes being too evenly spaced. And I felt that the image was no longer so compelling.
The other crop featured the sailboat. I liked the vertical line of the mast and bow (repeated in the piling and its reflection to the left as well as in the verticals of the houseboat reflections). Also the gently curving lines of the vessel contrasted with the very straight horizontal and oblique lines of the houseboats, their reflections, and the ship behind them. The waterline horizontal no longer cut the image in half, and the more saturated blue of the isolated sailboat contrasted well with the muted browns and grays elsewhere in the picture. I moved the bottom border to avoid ending the oblique of the pier directly in the corner of the image. The reflection of the horizontal bar from the piling also helped to keep the viewer’s eye from following the line downward and out of the image plane.