Some plein air tips for finding compositions in chaos

  • Copied from the Wilson Street Studio blog www.wilsonstreetstudios.com 
    After working with new plein air painters over the past couple of years I've found the following tips to be helpful.
    Bringing order out of chaos
    Painting out of doors can be overwhelming. There is just too much "stuff" in front of you to make a good painting. Your first job is to simplify by eliminating all extraneous details and items.
    • Determine what your focal point (centre of interest) will be. (You determine this, not the scene. It's your painting!)
    • Using a cropping tool (or your hands) to tightly focus in on your focal point.
    • Gradually move your cropping tool back to take in more of the scene until you find the best crop. Keep in mind to position your focal point in one of four sweet spots.
    • Now it's time to make a value sketch in a small sketch book. Limit yourself to 3 or 4 values. Block in the major shapes. Don't bother with details. Concentrate on the major shapes. (Do a small, quick sketch, around 2" x 3", don't waste time on anything bigger.)
    • Analyze your sketch. Do you have a good composition? Do your lines and shapes lead your eye to the focal point? Are there any "problems" that should be fixed?
    • If you find problems, figure out how to fix them. Can they be fixed, or should you move on to a different scene? Your value sketch is the place to find and fix your scene. If the sketch is not right, you can't "fix it in the painting".
    • Transfer your sketch to your painting surface. As you do this, look at your sketch, not the scene. If you start looking at the scene instead of your sketch, you're in danger of getting sucked into the details.
    Now you're ready to begin filling in your large shapes with your underpainting.
     
    The following are shots from a painting I did in Arizona, showing the same sequence I described above.
     

    Picture

    This is a shot of a typical scene. There was too much in it for my taste, so I used my cropping tool to make the scene more powerful.

    Picture

    This is a crop of the same scene focusing on a focal point. The building is much more significant here, which is what I wanted.

    Picture

    Here is a thumbnail value sketch of the scene. I decided I wanted the mountain to show up in the scene so I moved it from the left into my frame. I also wanted more of the tower to show, so I shortened it.

    Picture

    This is my final painting of the scene.

    It doesn't matter if you paint loosely or much more realistically, using this sequence will help you find order and power in the chaos of real life scenery.

    Cheers,

    Keith