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Theory of Relativity (In Painting Composition)

Notes on composition: Where should I put the first four lines in a painting?

Typically, we have no choice unless we are considering different canvas shapes and sizes. For the first four lines of a painting will always be the edges of the canvas. Therein lies the first example of relativity in painting. The canvas edge impacts that which rests beside it and then every decision right on down the line.

Key elements of composition are Lines, Shapes, Color, Value, Form/mass, Edges, Texture and Perspective (or depth and space). So those first four lines are important whether we realize it or not. Good news here is that the problem of composition arrangement has been practiced by people who have toiled through a lifetime of experience to master composition. They have done so to the point they have created a limited set of choices that will increase our chances of creating successful work. We can benefit from that to make faster, more informed choices.

There is no point reinventing the wheel here. There are some really good resources available and I’ve included links to some articles online below. Also, it is worth noting the composition is really about design so any books or reference material on design will help build insight and confidence in this aspect of painting.

No matter what level of knowledge and skill we achieve in our practice, it is important to realize and honor the nature of what we are doing. One key concept is the relationship our composition will have to the surface we are painting on. We won’t always make the right choices here but that’s alright. I suppose if we do this right, each painting will inform the next. We’ll just have to keep painting…


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