Today's post is designed for readers interested in my landscape painting process and in composition design in particular. The photos above show earlier stages of "Spring Breeze", with the final version at the top. The lower left photo is quite early, with some elements, like the sky and footbridge, more developed and others, like the wildflowers, just barely indicated. It was a real challenge to get the balance and focal point to work well on this piece. My painting mentor Linda Blondheim provided invaluable advice during a couple of months of using her e-critique services. With her guidance, I gradually added more curve to the path--even the second version of the path in the photo on the right changed further later on. The evolution of the path illustrates how landscape artists sometimes need to adjust features in the actual scene for a more pleasing composition. The first version reproduces the way the path actually looked in my reference photo, but adding curves and more variation provided a much more graceful lead into the scene. In a departure from my usual process, I painted the footbridge in a fairly detailed form early on because I was strongly drawn to the sharp shadows cast by the railing. Since that area was my intended focal point, I worked to render the bridge in correct perspective from the beginning.
I have no idea how often I painted out and revised the wildflowers on the left side. Although they are a major element, I wanted them to balance, but not compete with, the footbridge and its interesting shadow pattern. An important step in solving the overly even seesaw look of the foreground was to make the left side dune higher. At one point, I cut some scrap paper into a much higher dune shape, taped it (with masking tape) to the canvas, and emailed that image to Linda. She agreed that a higher dune made the composition more interesting than having so many elements on roughly the same level, but suggested going a bit lower than the line of my cut-out. However, I hesitated before revising the dune so radically because Jacksonville Beach dunes are not that steep. We landscape painters vary, I think, in the degree to which we are willing to change the actual scene when we work from nature or reference photos. For several days, this work-in-progress stood on the fireplace mantel for consideration while I worked on other paintings. The need for a greater variation in line won out over realism. Also, since steeper dunes grace some nearby beaches, the change was not completely out of line.
If some of you are interested, I will talk about the process of painting the sky and clouds in "Spring Breeze"in a future post. It can be difficult to achieve a semi-transparent, wispy effect with acrylic paints, so sharing our methods could be fun.
Question of the day: More of a reflection than a question this time: For me, achieving an interesting balance of compositional elements in a painting, with both dynamic tension and restful features, seems like a metaphor for a set of life skills we all need. What do you think?