Exploring composition

As a way into this final assignment for part 1, I want to experiment with beginning with the written word rather than sketching (following research into the way Prunella Clough works). I took my sketch book/ diary with me into the garden on a very cold afternoon and began writing my impressions…

“The cold is damp and grey. You can feel the damp all around, really thick and penetrating. Every colour seems impregnated with grey and I take a moment to appreciate the light. Everything is bare! There’s a great stillness in the air – nothing is moving and the only sounds which are breaking the stillness are the faint birdsong and the distant sounds of machinery from a nearby building site. Even the sounds seem grey!…”

Back in the studio, I began working on atmosphere thinking particularly about the space in the composition. The space has to be active and alive. Using different materials I did a few studies to experiment with colours and feelings. I then decided to take the ideas from project 3 which focused on changing the scale to build up my composition on the subject of ‘A cold winter’s day’. During the walk in the garden I had collected some cuttings from the hydrangea plant where the flowers had begun to take on a skeletal appearance and also some dead grasses.


These formed the basis of my first study on composition. I drew loosely some of the flower formations in black ink and then added water. The dead grasses were wonderful to draw with their elongated jagged shapes. I was drawing these late in the day under electric light and I noticed that they formed a lovely shadow across the page so I quickly copied these with the pan pastel drawing tool.


Just to be sure that I was creating the right atmosphere with watercolour in the preparation of the space, I did another study using acrylics but I found that there was too much movement – I wanted to keep the stillness which I’d experienced on the walk.


Finally I spent a little time getting to know the wonderful shapes of the skeletal flower heads before beginning the composition.


Final assignment piece.

Image 1. By this stage I had a good idea of where I wanted the composition to go as a landscape composition. The first wash went down using Paynes Grey and Magenta.


I then began to draw the skeletal flower heads and stems. Adding water with a spray gave a misty slightly skeletal effect and so I experimented with this. These images were forming the tree in the composition. Because I didn’t want the images to be predictable I kept turning the paper around and upside down to see what emerged.


I then began to work with the small pieces a dead grass which I’d collected. All the time I was thinking about leading the viewer into the image and I was using the splash of magenta to guide this. I built up the areas of grasses on the left, all the time going back and forth from right to left building up the balance and connection between the images. There was a lot of time spent just looking at the composition to try to understand it and develop it and this I think has resulted in an image which is rather flat and overly considered. It is probably a pleasant picture to look at but I don’t feel it is “an intriguing and engaging composition.”


Image 2. I felt dissatisfied with this previous drawing and didn’t feel it represented what I had learnt in this module. So I went back to the objects that I’d collected on my walk but this time I simply took them in a bunch and let them arrange themselves on the paper.


Using the frame I tried out various arrangements to see where I could take it. At this stage I had little idea of where I was going with the composition but I preferred that state than the previous over considered approach. Once again I started with a watercolour wash recalling the feeling of the cold walk in the winter light which I had recorded.


I then began to draw with pencil, pen and ink and water similar to the previous painting. This time however I felt more responsive to the memory of the walk rather than giving too much thought to the elements of composition. I worked quickly and intuitively. The final image is very different to the previous painting and it could possibly be improved by greater attention to the details of the drawing. But as an image I feel it has more life and energy and completely illustrates the image in my mind of the winter light during my walk.


Image 3. This image reached out and took hold of me – I didn’t find it! A friend had given me a small bowl of tulip bulbs at Christmas which had been a delight but after Christmas these began to lose all shape and die as only tulips can do. Each time I passed them, they just asked to be painted.


So I began with a watercolour wash over the paper surface and then drew in the large floppy petals which seemed to be expanding as I drew.


I quickly responded to the different colours and shapes but didn’t attempt detail. By this stage composition ideas were taking over and I was thinking about balance and shapes. One section wasn’t working for me as it seemed to have too much detail and so I ripped up a piece of red tissue paper and just obliterated the area by pasting over the tissue paper.


I was developing the idea of a flower landscape now and wanted to see where this went. So I used the oil pastels to begin to build up the shapes. I took a few hours out at this stage to develop the landscape idea based on the flower shapes, taking the small section in the centre of the original and scaling it up. But I found that taking a section of the original and recreating it lost much of the build up of the original idea. I hadn’t realised how much a painting is actually the build up of layer upon layer of ideas and you can’t actually reproduce that.


Going back to my original painting I continued to work with the composition and  I feel very pleased with the final composition. It is a very responsive piece and I was able to work in the way which I enjoy. The composition for me works well and I find that my eyes keep returning to it. It is on the wall with the other drawings and I find that I don’t keep looking at the others.







About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
This entry was posted in ASSIGNMENT 1, ASSIGNMENTS. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s