Art Practice: Composition - The Cornerstone of All Good Paintings

Always strictly following the rules can lead to dead and rote-like work. I have found that when the work gets stale, letting go of those rules can be very liberating. At times there can be a thought lurking at the back of my mind that tells me there is a special secret to creating great art, and I just haven't discovered it yet. This can be very dis empowering, and once I recognize it I tell it to take a hike! We only have to look at some of history's great artists to see what happens when the rule book - as it was known up until that point - is thrown away.

Like so many things in life there are ‘rules’ for composition. However sometimes relaxing on the rules or even tossing them out the window, can be an option.



However often the most compelling paintings can appear from a place which is beyond my rational mind. Finding unique works from within, requires me to trust myself. To trust that what is appearing on the canvas, is just what is meant to be happening at that moment. This may mean that the painting I’m currently working on doesn’t have a centre of interest, or the horizon is right in the middle of the painting. At this point it doesn't matter- the key is to keep going.

I must remain open to the art of possibility. All paintings involve a thousand decisions. If I allow the rational mind to get in on the act, I can be pulled here and there and end up very confused.


This is where intuition comes in. I compose my works mainly through intuition. What feels right? Does it feel right for the picture even though it might not be following the rules. Of course I need to know what the rules are before I can operate from this positioN. Often I may compose a work in Photoshop using several different images. I know when it's not working, that I haven't reached the sweet spot yet. So I may try many different things on for size at this point, until it all settles into place. Sometimes this is a gradual thing and at others it loudly 'clicks' into place.


I think one could safely say that no great leaps within the art world in terms of technique and concepts, were ever achieved through doing what had always been done. In fact that can be applied to pretty much all areas of life.

It helps to know what the general composition rules are, such as the golden mean, where to put your centre of interest, what colours come forward and which ones recede and how to use your values to best effect in determining perspective, drama or mood. With this broad understanding of what does work, you can gauge how much you can deviate from that standard and still achieve a striking effect.

For example if you are trying to achieve dissonance in the painting, you might want to throw the rules completely out of the studio and do the opposite.

However at the end of it all, you still need to learn to rely on your intuition as to what is the right thing for any particular work.


Next week: Adventures in the studio in August.

© 2018 Kadira Jennings​