Once again, by popular request, here is a Post about composition and in particular, flower studies. I don’t profess to be an expert, but there should be something here to think about.
Because of copyright, I am mainly using my own paintings & photos here to illustrate. although Tony has lent one of his.
It’s a strange thing, but most artists when they begin painting flowers, never consider leaving out the vase. Also, they almost always paint the vase first and then put the flowers in later. Of course, this is our logical brain at work because in real life, this is what we do isn’t it? We get a vase out of the cupboard, put water in it and then arrange the flowers.
OK so that’s fine in real life, but if you are going to PAINT flowers, they aren’t going to need water OR a vase are they? So that’s the first thing to realise – we don’t need to put the vase in. After all, if you were painting flowers in the wild or in a garden, you wouldn’t be painting them in a vase, would you?
Now with that out of the way, lets have a look at composition…and we must bear in mind that we all have different preferences in what pleases our eye. Giving thought to various options will help you discover what it is that YOU like! After all, art is a journey of self discovery and appreciation of everything around us at a deeper level.
(Note: Text generally relates to the picture below it)
Now first of all, unless you really want to go for symmetry for some reason…
Having a focal point arranged evenly and in the centre doesn’t leave anywhere for the eye to explore or imagine because everything is fully explained. Our eyes seek VARIETY in shape – not only the shapes of the objects, but of the spaces as well.
Now lets look at some Gerbras in a vase below. The vase colour relates well with the flowers, which is something else to consider in planning overall compositional effects.
We can add some foliage to link up the flowers, add variety to the shapes and group the flowers in a more interesting way by linking some together and overlapping some flowerheads. Also we can get rid of that hard line suggested as a table edge and soften it into what could be a drape - that will make it unimportant and take away an obstruction as the eye flows up the sides of the vase. The soft shadow of the vase and flowers indicates that the vase is close to a backdrop of wall or similar. So that has been some improvement, don’t you think?
Still the vase is very much in the centre. Would it be better set to one side a bit?
Let’s try adding a bit more space on one side and playing the shadow out to the side instead of onto the back wall. Have a look at the picture below. Do you think it is more interesting this way?
Hmmm. I think there is too much space in relation to objects now and as a result, I feel I want to be more intimate with the flower shapes and enjoy them more closely.
I find I can now enjoy the shapes of the flowers and the negative space shapes too – but maybe you like the earlier compositions better(?)
POSITIVE & NEGATIVE SHAPES
OK now I hear some of you say “What does she mean by POSITIVE & NEGATIVE SHAPES”?
Well here is a simple example below…
Now to relate this to a flower study, the areas BETWEEN the flower and vase shapes shown in white in the example below are what we call NEGATIVE SHAPES. The shapes formed by the flowers, vase and shadow are the POSITIVE SHAPES.
SO – ONE OF THE SECRETS OF A GOOD COMPOSITION IS TO HAVE THE NEGATIVE (AS WELL AS THE POSITIVE) SHAPES VARIED AND INTERESTING EH? Well why haven’t we taken more notice of these negative shapes before?
Because the logical part of our brain cannot name the negative shapes, it gives them little or no importance in our thinking. When you start observing them through an artist’s eyes, you will see them everywhere and enhance your enjoyment of everything around you!
Why should you bother? Because these negative spaces often take up MORE SPACE on the flat surface of your painting than the so called OBJECTS! Therefore they must be of the UTMOST IMPORTANCE when we compose a picture!
TIP: Don’t be afraid to let your “objects” touch the sides of the area you are painting in, because that creates really interesting negative shapes, and include the borders of your paper or board (which of course can be any shape you choose: rectangle, square, oval, circle)
Another thing our logical brain doesn’t recognise very much is SHADOWS, which play a very big part in the overall arrangement of light and dark areas. These need to be included VERY MUCH in your analysis of shapes. In fact, in the picture below the shadows of the green and white flowers & leaves are stronger and darker than the objects that are casting them! Often however they are softer when the objects are not in a strong light – but they are still VERY important!
Here are some pictures I just took in my studio of SHADOWS ONLY, caste onto a white board. They make very beautiful flat pattern designs, don’t they? Can you see that the shapes of the shadows (dark) are forming positive shapes, leaving the areas between them (white) as negative shapes? When you look at those negative shapes, they are all different to one another – giving our eyes much to play with!
Actually, its good to view your composition reference through a little window cut out of cardboard – or use your camera rectangle to help zero in on the best angle and composition. Make sure your rectangle is the same ratio you plan to paint on, or be prepared to crop it.
Below is a photo of some lovely Western Australian wildflowers my daughter gave me recently. If I were to paint them, how would I improve on this composition? I’ll just share my thought process with you in case it is helpful.
Well I would start by moving that vase a bit to one side and eliminating anything detracting – like the place mats and bits and pieces. Lets do that below…
Hmm. but there is not enough contrast to show the flowers up is thre?
Because these are STRONG bold flower shapes and not delicate, I would consider painting them with a darker background and elinating the vase altogether, like this…
Below are some paintings I did of Proteas previously, choosing to zero in on just the flowers…this next one was done with soft pastels on black paper. (The black areas are the negative shapes. Are they varied and intersting?)
Here is the same subject again, with a white background, painted in acrylics. (This time the white areas are the negative shapes.)
We have so many options don’t we? Its all about choices!
THINK BEFORE YOU START! PLAN A LITTLE!
Let the flowers speak to you by imagining them drawn or painted in different ways before you begin - maybe do some little thumbnail sized studies first.
In this next study, I created a circular ‘sunburst’ design. I don’t think I needed to have suggested the vase really – after all I could have been looking straight down on the bunch! There’s that logical interference at work – “What is holdig them up?” my silly brain said…and so I put in the vase! Still, it is soft enough not to destroy the sunburst effect. A circle or an oval are terrific ways to contain and hold the eye. If your paintings aren’t working in their rectangular shape, just try an oval/round mount on them … you’ll be surprised!
I’ll stretch this picture above into an oval, just to see how it looks…
Here is another option – painting the proteas loosely and freely…
or how about a stylised version – going for more a flat patterning of design…
and yet another version, using light outlines for a ‘neon’ look…
However, if your flowers are delicate with petals that show the light through them, you may choose to paint them in something like watercolour, allowing the white of the paper to glow through the washes… below are some old fashioned dog roses from my neighbour’s fence. I got carried away with softly suggested leaf shadows to add variety and a little mystery…
Speaking of roses, here is a tip I was once given for an approach to multi petalled open blooms…
Next I tried painting some white poppies! White flowers are a real challenge! When you study and paint them, you realise that there are hardly any true whites anywhere! Instead, there are many subtle shadows on the petals. I remember an early study in my college years was to paint an all white study – a white jug, cup and saucer on a white cloth! I learned so much from that exercise about tone and form.
With these white poppies (painted in acrylics) I decided to allow the background colour to come into the shadows on the petals as a means of unifying the painting. Not wanting to bring in an new alien colour for the vase, I just utilised the greens already present in the leaves. The secret here in keeping the composition interesting was to choose 3 or 4 blooms for the main focal point and play down all the rest. If they were all of equal importance, then the painting would be boring and there would be nothing left suggested.
Below is a bunch of colourful poppies dancing across the page – this time treated with transparent watercolour (Note: no vase!) Don’t worry about finishing the stems – just let them fade away or disappear into the cluster.
Here is another of Poppies in watercolour – Tony and I both had a go at painting them one afternoon recently… here is Tony’s finished work:
Now here is my effort. I used masking fluid on the stems and white parts, rubbing it off after the painting was day. Tony avoide his white areas carefully while painting and didn’t use any mask. You can see more about these 2 paintings on Post No. 36 (watercolours).
There can be 2 light sources with something translucent like flower petals – one shining on the form and another from behind it. A sunny walk in a garden will soon point up the difference. If the light is shining THROUGH the petals, you will need to paint it thinly whereas light falling ON the petals can be painted more opaquely.
Sometimes it is nice to experiment with strong design and play with shapes, as I did with these pointsettias below. This is an area the fabric designers explore fully, playing freely with the shapes and not worrying about photographic realism. I am actually fairly new to this and Tony has awakened me to a new level of awareness in this area. Thanks Tony! Lots more to explore in this way of seeing!
In the painting below (acrylics) I decided to barely suggest the vase. It is a study of Singapore Orchids, brought to me fresh from Singapore by Adrian one Christmas! I tried to create a feeling of life and movement with a suggested “cartwheel” within the shapes. Did it work?
At other times, its nice to experiment with different materials. Here I have used gold paint patterning on the vase and table and strong design in the treatment of these mermaid roses below…
Because the flowers were all clustered at the top, I balanced the light shapes by adding a few fallen petals on the table – so there’s another trick you can use! Either petals, or a bloom laying on the table would work and relax a study that may be too ‘tight’.
BE THE BOSS! EXPERIMENT!
The biggest thing to remember is “YOU ARE THE ARTIST – THEREFORE YOU ARE THE BOSS! YOU CAN MAKE CHOICES AND NOT JUST BE A SLAVE TO THE REFERENCE YOU ARE WORKING FROM, BE IT PHOTOGRAPHIC OR REAL.” SO – “TAKE CHARGE, FORGET THE EGO, EXPERIMENT AND ENJOY!”
OH YES – & ONE LAST THING – ALWAYS PAINT WITH LOVE & FEELING FOR YOUR SUBJECT MATTER AND LOVE EVERY BIT OF YOUR PAINTING - IT WILL SHOW! (Unfortunaely, it will also show if you do not!)