I just celebrated my ﬁrst 10 years as a full time artist. That’s about 30,000 hours of work. For most of my life (starting at about 9 years old) I saw myself as an architect, and had a very successful practice for over 30 years. At 52, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to pursue new career as an artist. Since then, I have never regretted that decision. So after ten years of intense work and study with my favorite artists like Ray Roberts, Lori Putnam, and John Asaro, I wanted to ﬁnd a way to create a leap in my abilities as an artist. I thought long and hard about how to do that, and decided to go back to basics.
Here are the basics that I believe that any artist needs to revisit and remember on a daily basis.
1. CHOOSE A STRONG COMPOSITION LAYOUT
A strong design and compositional structure does most of the work in a painting. Most of the time, color gets all of the credit. Edgar Payne is like the Shakespeare of painting. He found that most successful paintings follow only a few basic compositional layouts, just like most good movie plots follow one of about 8 basic story lines. When I am out plein air painting, I look for scenes that ﬁt one of these compositions.
2. DRAW A SIMPLE 2”X3” COMPOSITION DIAGRAM
Spend at least 30 minutes creating at least 4 potential diagram ideas for you painting. Explore “what if” ideas. What if you make a high horizon or a low horizon? What if you used a Steelyard composition or an S diagram? Do your thing in the beginning. It will pay off as you get into your painting.
3. USE 3 VALUES REINFORCE YOUR COMPOSITION
When drawing your diagrams, see if you can capture the scene in 3 values. Lori taught me to ﬁnd 2 values in the light and 1 in the dark OR 2 values in the dark and one in the light. Ray taught me to try to create a composition that is either 2/3 rds dark or 2/3rds light.
4. PAINT A QUICK 8X10 VALUE STUDY USING 3 VALUES OF BURNT UMBER
Spend another 30 minutes and paint a larger study in 3 values. Pre-mix those values on your palette before you start to paint, then focus on painting basic shapes in one of the three values. this will force you to combine shapes of the same value into one shape. you will see your scene as more of a simple design. Don’t get hung up in the details. If the shapes are working, the painting will work.
5. LOOK OUT FOR DESIGN PITFALLS
When you get this far along, it is easy to see problems with your design. It is also easy to ﬁx you mistakes. Here’s what to look for: a. Avoid repetitive shapes. b.Avoid tangencies. c. Avoid parallel lines. d. Avoid large object in the middle e. Avoid equal spacing between elements. f.Simplify shapes I have a list that I tape to my easel to help me look for these mistakes. I found that if I go back and work on my fundamentals, my work would be much stronger. The great athletes and musicians of the world work on basic fundamentals daily. That practice never changes. Artists should be no different.
My 9x12 plein air sketch
The ﬁnal painting 16x20
See more of Mark's paintings by visiting his website.