Composition is like learning to ride a bike

12×12 pastel on etching paper, available

Composition Even in my Dreams!

I woke up this morning at 3 am thinking of design and composition. For so many of my artists friends, composition is intuitive. For me and many other artist friends, it is not intuitive but instead is a learned skill.

I remember my first bicycle. I was so excited. It was beat up rusty and one tire went flat overnight. As a rural farm kid, it didn’t matter, there was no one to impress, the nearest neighbor was a half mile away.

Those first rides would not have been possible without training wheels. Eventually I began to think about moving my weight back and forth to stay balanced and the wheels were raised but they were still there in case I didn’t shift my weight fast enough.

The abstract notan sketch I used for the abstract pastel. It was created while listening to alternative rock music. The painting was created using pop techno violin music.

Edgar Payne Composition Designs

Learning composition by breaking designs down into understandable forms with names is a lot like when I was conscious of my weight shifting back and forth on the bike. For many artists, naming them, using them — it all seems too artificial. True, it interferes with the joy that comes later when balance on my bike wasn’t something I had to think about and I could shout, yell at the dog and look ahead and enjoy the ride.

Some artists are lucky and that intuitive process where the design and composition isn’t something they have to think much about until they are headed strait for a tree and they have to change course  (the painting just isn’t working). That enjoyment of the ride and of the painting is only momentarily interrupted while they change course.

The wash to rough in the large mass and radiating lines composition was done using water soluble pastel, Neo-II

My ride from design to design is still me having my training wheels on and close to the ground. I know if I keep painting and I am mindful of keeping the balance in my works, the design will eventually become second nature, something I won’t have to think about until my painting is headed toward a tree or cliff. Some sports call this muscle memory.

What I learned — the design for this one

  • Let the notans go where they want, figure out later what design might be appearing
  • This one looked like the large mass design, but the radiating lines started appearing during the rough-in of color during the wash process
  • Don’t worry about other artist saying it’s artificial to break composition down into named designs
  • Be patient: I’ll learn to ride the bike and eventually it will all become intuitive for me too.

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