“COMPO-zi-tion?" What is it?
May 2022 article by: Christine Lenoir-Godin
featured image: Ephemeral Art - Wreaths, Squash and Cherry Tomatoes, by Christine Lenoir-Godin
Without interrupting your artistic flow, composition is going to have an impact on the subject you will wish to paint. Without blocking the spontaneous impulse, your subject must be arranged to please your viewers. Here, I will show in simple pictures, different ways to arrange a layout so it has appeal.
Here are two items, side by side, with no visual interaction, no relation to one another, just put there. Now, unless you are printing an ad for two different apples, it isn’t a composition. Just imagine two people following each other on the street – nothing’s being said here.
Introducing a new-comer. There is a round shape, but it’s orange, which polarizes the "visual conversation" due to the yellow square which gathers and draws in your forms; but here they are more disposed in relation to each other.
Now imagine these are three people talking: red and orange are next to the yellow "carpet" square and the green shape is on it.
Don’t you think your viewer has now a feel of curiosity on the "conversation" between the three people/shapes/fruits?
The composition shown here is more complex – more difficult. But if you look closely at how they are grouped you’ll see they’re gathering up with a fourth shape, which is not quite round, but which gives your composition a tangible way of staying on top of the "compositional conversation". You also have here the visual interest in the effects of the colour temperatures of the items on each other. The clear red of the tomato, which is warm but light, stands over the top of the deep-dark red apple, which is "heavier" in colour. Then, you see the tempered orange round at the left; it is lighter and brighter. The coolest colour is your green object, which supports and dominates your whole composition.
The yellow square is "friendly" and even though the shape is different, its shared tones agree with your orange sphere. The yellow space serves to "contain" your little pyramid as a comprehensive composition and which also makes it more interesting to look at! Compare this with the composition in the first picture.
But that is not all there is to composition and "setting up". There are other ways to represent your still life:
4th picture: IN ABSTRACT!
The stronger light impacting on the Red transforms the clear red of this tomato to Purple! The smaller point of light on its left is an echo of that in mauve, which harmonizes the whole. The form’s contours are now fluid and hazy and the thin texture of the yellow square’s edge emphasizes the smooth texture of the tomato while the faint marks on the tomato’s skin relate to the texture on the yellow square.
Also note the pear shape of the tomato only touches the upper extremities of the yellow square, and so prevents a predictable, uninteresting enclosing of the subject on itself and which could ‘suffocate’ the lovely brightness of your red. At that point, your yellow background would be seen as too small and weak in colour to present the main, bright, shape - your focal point.
My interest in composition goes back to my childhood, when I watched how adults took pleasure in arranging fruit in a bowl, figurines, and objects, how they tied curtains, how Christmas decorations in our tree were hung and re-hung.
When my mother gave me lessons in drawing, she used shapes (circles, cylinders etc.) made of cut papers and which were placed on different areas of a coloured background to plan what would “set the story” of the picture before finishing, as she used to say.
Can you think of anything that may have caught your attention in a painting where you thought it was well composed, or set out, where the composition was what you liked about it?
Christine Lenoir-Godin has been an artist for 60 years and creates with graphite, charcoal, inks, watercolours, pastels, mixed media and acrylics. She also sculpts with clay and found objects.
Her artist mother was her first art teacher. Her artistic education spans several decades. Christine obtained her General Arts Certificate from the Ottawa School of Art (2014). She paints in the impressionist and abstract styles. As an artist, she shares her concerns on the unsolved problems of women in the world and the de-forestation of our planet.