This week Greg LaRock is our Ask the Expert. Greg is a member of LPAPA, AIS, ASMA and an artist member of the California Art Club. He has participated in many plein air events such as Maui Plein Air Invitational, Florida’s Forgotten Coast, Door County Invitational and has won numerous awards including the Grand Prize at Plein Air Easton. He lives in Newport Beach, California and is one genuinely nice guy.
When I’m painting Plein Air, how do I edit everything I see in order to create a good composition?
Magic! … well not really. Most of it is hard observation over a long period of time and lots of thought before I commit to a scene.
When I arrive at a painting location, I don’t just jump at the first beautiful view that presents itself. I’ve learned long ago that taking my time will result in a better painting. I walk around with a viewfinder and look at the area from many angles and when I see something promising, I start the process which goes something like this:
First question I ask myself is “is the scene about the earth or the sky?” If it’s about the sky or items in the sky area (like trees, buildings, etc. or boats in dry dock as shown in my example) then I will place my horizon below center. If it’s about the earth, then a high horizon will be drawn. Dividing the canvas in two without putting the line dead center is thought one. Next, I will start to decide how the biggest shapes in the scene will divide the canvas. Since all paintings are really just an organization of shapes, how those elements are placed in an interesting, non-symmetrical way will be the key to a good foundation. These big shapes can be divided into four or five masses that I’ll play around with. These might consist of the four light planes (as described in John Carlson’s book “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting”): Sky, ground, slants (hills or distant mountains) and uprights (trees or structures). Thinking and seeing these items as individual units and figuring out how they will be placed on the canvas in a pleasing way. I also might change my viewpoint moving right or left, back or forth 10-20 feet to see if those masses make better patterns. When I’ve got an idea of which spot will be best, then I’ll set up.
Next, I will loosely draw in pencil those largest shapes first, being very careful as to how they divvy up the canvas. If it makes sense to extend the tree line, let’s say so that it doesn’t end in the middle of the canvas, then I’ll make it larger or shorter depending on how I see the composition. I don’t always depict nature exactly as I see it. I’ll enlarge, shrink, change, fudge or simply delete or move items if I think it’ll create a better painting.
The images included show a scene I painted out in Florida earlier this year. While the scene is very complex. I’ve shown an example of how I first see it in about 5 basic elements that make up the bones of the painting. The attraction to this scene was light and dark patterns as big shapes. Once I’ve got this idea down, the rest is just execution and good drawing. Keeping in mind that every time I break up a large shape into a smaller one, it’s attempted in an interesting way. Notice how the back tree line was painted lighter than it was to create contrast for the boat. And also how I kept some of those dark trees on the far right for the contrast on the lit back end of the boat. Also adding a few of those dark notes on the other boat at the far left adds balance with the dark tree at right.
This scene was painted over three days. The first day was only figuring out the composition and completing the drawing of the boat on my canvas — all in all about 3 hours. Days two and three were completing the painting.
To see more of Greg’s wonderful work, please visit his website.