• Carolyn Land

Starting a Painting Part 2

“The word composition moved me spiritually, and I later made it my aim in life to paint a ‘composition’ . It affected me like a prayer and filled me with awe”                                           Wassily Kandinsky

I received two question from the last blog on “Starting a Painting”.  I want to address the first today, because it is a continuation of what I was stating, and the second next time.  The first was…So now what?

It’s easy to visualize a good picture in your mind, the tricky bit is painting it.  That is one reason I said it is not a good idea to have a mental picture of what you think you are going to do.  It very seldom turns out like you imagine.

Recapping part 1 of “Starting a Painting”, you should have an idea of what you want to paint: subject, feeling, mood. It is then good to lay in the underlying shapes, making sure you have a nice variety in sizes.  Next, it is helpful to know where your center of interest is going to be.  If you are painting realistically, either out of doors or if you have a photo reference, this is relatively easy.  If you are  abstracting something or plan on doing something nonobjective, you may be moving the center of interest around a bit, as the painting develops.

What comes next is…picking a palette.  I was always taught a limited palette is best and it has served me well.  What is a limited palette? It means limiting the amount of colors you use in the painting to the essentials.  Most great color palettes start with three colors, and a dark and a light.  The reason for this is color harmony. With fewer colors to mix together there is an added harmony between the colors. Alternatively, with a wide array of colors on your palette, this harmony may be stretched out.

A painting should have:

  1. A dominant color or value: Used for about 60 percent of the composition

  2. A secondary color or value: Used for about 30 percent of the composition

  3. An accent color or value: Used for about 10 percent of the composition

Dreams of Surf”                                 Watercolor


Every master of any craft seems to tout the importance of simplicity. With fewer colors in the mix, you will find it easier to progress through your painting with clarity.  Generally, a limited palette works best when a version of each primary color is used, plus white and a dark. Learning to mix primary colors to achieve a large range of  colors leads to cohesiveness. Mixing opposites gives you  various intensities of one color which adds interest and dimension to your work. A limited palette also helps you set a mood, lends itself to greater balance, and you think more about value.

Something I did not cover last week and probably should have mentioned first is…before you start, get your supplies together.  There is nothing more frustration than to be in the middle of the creative process and find you don’t have something you need.  Take a quick inventory before you start to paint, so you have what you will need. Then, Happy Painting!

And after drawing comes composition.  A well composed painting is half done.”       Pierre Bonnard

So, set in those underlying shapes before you start and give some thought to the composition that will lend itself best to what you want to say.

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