How Artists Can Use Simple Masses to Make Great Compositions

KISS -- keep it simple stupid -- is something I learned when I was in junior high. I can't recall the circumstances, or even the teacher or coach that said it, but it stuck with me most of my life. While simple isn't always the best or only way to go, I have found that it does play a role in some art compositions. Especially when dealing with large masses.

From the outset, I wanted to make this painting nearly abstract, an expressionistic landscape.

The above 12x12 inch pastel on gessoed paper is a simple construction: one large mass, one small mass, the sky and light source and a smaller mass in the foreground. It's pretty simple. There are few elements and compositionally I believe it is interesting. The danger was to not center the the points of interests, so here I made sure they fell in the left third of the space. A centered point of interest can work, but if I had centered the light and what I will call grass area; then the shapes on the right and left would have been nearly the same since there are no other elements other than trees, grass, light and sky.

The gessoed paper was gray. So my first step was to simplify the masses into shapes. I was careful to make sure each area was a different shape. The great composition guru Edgar Payne identified the large mass as one of many composition designs that help create successful compositions.

After roughing in the color, I used a closed foam I had from an old hard pastel box. It is the gray foam used to separate the pretty sticks of color when a new box arrives. I just tore off a piece, wadded it up and rubbed in the pastel base colors. Over this I would layer colors allowing a bit of the base colors rubbed in to peak through as needed.

I kept this very loose during the end process. So loose that the strokes only suggest edges of the trees and lighted area.

What I learned:

* I used the sides of the pastel until near the very end, that kept the shapes from becoming too detailed too soon

* Breaking the space down into different shapes, one being a large mass, works well for simple subjects

* I need to contrast dark against light but balance the saturation of color. The less saturated color will go back and the more saturated color will come forward.

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