I have usually approached painting with the idea of using whatever I create in a future collage or paper quilt. I tend to develop design papers rather than paintings. Essentially, I create the “fabric” for my paper quilts. This attitude, or approach, has resulted in paying little conscious attention to composition while I am painting.
Typically, when I do get to the composition stage, where I put all my elements together for a quilt, I proceed intuitively. The work reveals itself to me as I go, step by step. I am governed largely by what “feels right” and “looks good.” Lately, however, I have had the urge to delve deeper into the whys of feeling right and looking good. How do other artists approach composition? What is their thinking process as they work through a piece of art? An artist that I was delighted to find addressing this topic is Katherine Tyrrell. She is marvellously prolific! One of her posts on composition and design states:
Why study composition and design? Well, although I studied art to advanced level at school, my studies seemed to neglect exploring this important topic area in depth. Similarly, I’ve tended to find that it’s common for many painting workshops and courses to err much more towards teaching techniques relating to particular media and to touch upon composition and design only in passing. When was the last time you saw a workshop which was focused wholly on designing your artwork?
I decided to subscribe to her blog and follow her exploration. I also took out a DVD by Ian Roberts from the local public library, and then purchased his book “Mastering Composition.” Roberts says that to master composition you have to learn to see abstractly, to concentrate on shapes and flow:
Seeing composition in terms of shapes and flow is not an intellectual idea you apply: it’s a perceptual shift . . . It is the foundation that all great representational painting rests on, and it will dramatically improve the way you paint.
He insists that it is important to have design-driven rather than subject-driven compositions:
Shapes make the painting. However, those shapes need to be arranged and adjusted to create a coherent flow. That flow is what I call the armature. It is the backbone of the painting.
Roberts asserts that using his approach to creating compositions will help your artwork to come together with “greater ease and clarity.”
This is my goal for my next works: to create a structure ahead of time, upon which I will then allow myself free intuitive reign. I want the best of both worlds! It is exciting to think about ways that I can create interesting maps for my work to follow.