Posts Tagged ‘artistic composition’

En Plein Air – Composition

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

I’ve been having some fun this past month playing with less common aspect ratios for my compositions.

As I considered this live-oak tree, for instance, with its resident bromeliad, fluffy tufts of air plants, moss, and multi-colored patches of lichen, I chose an elongated vertical composition (10” x 5”) to emphasize the height of the trunk, allowing the contrasting lines of the branches and the bromeliad blossoms to visually counter-balance the dominant vertical thrust, and the mass of the bromeliad to counter the lines and puff-points in the rest of the composition.

"Arboreal Tenants" by Charlotte Mertz (10"x5" watercolor, #180701w)

“Arboreal Tenants” by Charlotte Mertz
(10″ x 5″ watercolor, #180701w)

In order to feature the other plants that have nestled into the vertically textured bark, I took the artistic liberty of drastically minimizing–to a wash of merely suggested color–the densely wooded background and entirely eliminating the tree’s own foliage, both of which would have created visual confusion.

This process of visual simplification also narrowed my own focus down to the key elements, which can be very helpful when working en plein air, where it’s easy to become distracted by other, extraneous aspects of the environment.

On multiple facets of composition

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

One of the many projects I’ve undertaken this year is a book. At least I hope it will become an e-book in the not-too-distant future. Though limited in scope, the information it conveys is valuable, and I trust that it will prove useful to its readers.

At the beginning of this year I felt compelled to compile my thoughts about the elements of good composition as a kind of checklist and measuring rod for my own work. So I began to list the various components as they occurred to me.

A month later, I joined a photography group in our community and quickly saw that the other photographers were searching for answers to many of the same questions I had had when I was first learning to paint. It immediately became clear that the same information that I had already begun to compile would be just as helpful to them as to my painting students.

So, instead of preparing a series of quick lessons to insert into my blog or newsletter or to develop into a lecture series, I began to develop my topic points and found myself digging into a more involved writing project. The difficulty was not in the writing but in maintaining my focus and intention of purpose. I had to control my enthusiasm and establish a specific and limited focus for the work.

I knew my purpose was not to teach people how to take photographs or how to paint. Those topics are covered by a wide variety of other resources already, including the noteworthy Virtual Art Academy (, from whose curriculum I drew many of the points in regard to painting. But simply identifying these universally applicable elements of composition, and recognizing why they are important, appears to be a topic often brushed aside by most easily accessed sources. Some of the information is certainly available in piecemeal form or through more comprehensive educational sources than this book, but there seems to be a lack of information accessibility, for those who don’t have the time or financial resources to devote to a comprehensive art course, that simply points beginners toward the many pertinent elements of good composition.

Since most beginning artists and amateur photographers are largely self-taught, they often don’t realize what they have not yet learned regarding effective composition. This work will help them recognize some of those gaps in their knowledge to help them seek out appropriate answers to suit their own medium and artistic needs.

For more advanced artists and photographers, the work will provide a checklist against which they can compare their work to find where their work can be strengthened or improved.

I was undecided at first about how to approach the project or to what extent I should cover the topic, but I took a tip from Pablo Picasso, who said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” He was right. Little by little the manuscript has expanded. Rather than more words, it begs now for images to illustrate my thoughts. I look forward to working on those in the weeks ahead.

Little People Matter

Friday, March 15th, 2013

People matter. Not just in the world around us but in our paintings, as well.

Recently I did an acrylic painting of a rainy scene of Venice’s Piazza San Marco (#121201). The verticality of its iconic towers balanced the dark horizontal line of gondolas bobbing quietly at their moorings along the edge of the lagoon, and were reflected in the wet sheen on the paving stones, providing a strong rectilinear composition.


Due in part to the way I had matted the small piece, the negative spaces were not optimally proportioned in relation to one another. Also, although I had incorporated red and yellow amid the pervading blue of the composition, these supplementary hues proved too subtle for my purpose of enlivening the basically monochromatic scene. The painting definitely needed further work.

I increased saturation somewhat in the distant brickwork and considered how to more effectively reposition the 5”x7” mat. Along with several other minor changes, at the suggestion of an artist friend I also added some figures, which served not only to identify the foreground as a solid surface but also to provide a sense of proportion and to break up the seemingly empty spaces in the foreground.


Although the figures were tiny and only minimally rendered, they endowed the scene with a sense of life. The painting was no longer just an iconic image of a recognizable place. Suddenly it represented a moment with which viewers would be able to identify. By including people along with the icons, the scene immediately gained relevance. Whether viewers had ever been to Venice or not, like the “people” represented in the painting, now they could imagine that they had been there, too. Go figure.