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When exploring nature, it’s helpful to take a map

Updated: Feb 1

Painting requires us to embrace thinking & problem solving. Landscape painting outside while immersed in nature intensifies this challenge exponentially.

Landscape painting requires thinking in ways that both are rooted within and transcend the physical world we see in front of us. Therefore it can be good to have a map aimed at aiding our efforts.

This photo features tiny thumbnail sketches of twelve different compositional formats featured in the book.

One of the first problems we encounter is deciding what to paint.

Edgar Payne's classic 1941 book "Composition of Outdoor Painting" offers a framework for how to think about this problem in ways that increase our chances of achieving better design results with our paintings.

The book also explains landscape painting techniques, color, repetition, rhythm, and value. The seventh edition printing of the work was completed in 2005. This edition offers interesting information about Payne's painting process, his relationship with his family and additional biographical insights through the eyes of his daughter Evelyn.

This book introduces the concept of Composition Types (some refer to them as design stems). While there are many other helpful concepts addressed in the book, the concept of Composition Types, helps painters set the foundation for a good painting design.

In an effort to support the importance of design -- the use of thought and imagination in design-- here is a related quote from another great teacher, painter and author, John Carlson.

-- John F. Carlson

Each time I review this book I learn something new. Most of the best ideas available in the book have helped me understand how to think about painting.

Payne's ideas help address topics like, what to leave out of a painting, how to approach other editing decisions including how to move an object around in a painting to help the design, the importance of balance -- both in design but also your own personal development as a painter, the utility of making preliminary thumbnail sketches, and much, more.

-Edgar Alwin Payne

If you are interested, in learning more about this book, you can view my 10 minute book summary on YouTube and you can access full one page book outlines on my Patreon page

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