Category Archives: composition

part three: expanse project three: composition

exercise one: developing your studies

Of my project two sketches this appealed most for its atmosphere. Is this someone venturing out or peering out? Are the gates safety or restriction?

The view: There is a very clear foreground of gates and sharp shadows. The background is the almost silhouetted mountain; blue grey, some areas deeper in colour, some areas bare where rock is exposed.

There are two parts to the middle ground: deciduous trees in last pinky leaf at the foot of the mountain and slightly nearer a geometric slab of hedge in dense dark cypress and a large conifer. Covering the ground between this and the foreground is scrubby grass, thinning out to a sandy track just outside the gates.

I think the challenges will be getting the sense of the trees and the large area of scrubby grass coming forward to the gates.

exercise two: foreground, middle ground, background


Size A3 using charcoal, watercolour, white acrylic

I’m not having a good time with this exercise so far. The guidelines propose graphite and water-soluble colour pencils. Which I don’t have.

Instead I used a watercolour wash for the mountains and the normal colour pencils I do have for the middle ground trees.

Aware that I veer towards blue and black, I chose reds for the middle ground. I spent quite some time on this middle ground, with pencils that just seemed to slide about, not seeming to deposit any colour.

I had a new block of heavyweight multi-media paper which I wasn’t able to feel in the shop – turns out it has very apparent ridges running across it, making anything other than watercolour plain difficult to use.

After a few hours work I stood back to see some kind of demented disneyland with pink trees and princess gates.


unfinished demented disneyland

I took a big fat brush and some white acrylic to it fast.

In frustration I blacked out the areas of shadow with a block of charcoal – with the deep ridges in the paper it looked even worse – so I rubbed it out, which gave it a kind of greasy, streaky quality I almost liked. I then worked back in with rubber and charcoal pencil to get to where I am above.

The big problem of course is that I’ve lost a sense of depth outside the gates. This is a weird no-man’s land, there is a distance-distorting fog from the gate to the conifer.

Somehow seeing  the image on my laptop screen helps me see that if I could get some more detail in the near grass it might help?


Size A3 using soft pastels

This has been driving me slightly crazy. I like the composition. I just don’t seem to be able to treat it right. A second go in pastels. Which has made me realise that I don’t like pastels. I like the physical aspect of using them, but I don’t like the result (coming back to this on a new  day I think it’s the colours I object to – they feel a bit sickly)

I feel I want to do this in charcoal or pencil, but that’s my safe place. So maybe ink?

Been staring at this for a while and starting to notice things that weren’t intentional, but perhaps they go towards making it a composition that appeals to me:

  • the repeated point – the gate post, top of gate, the gate’s shadow – and to a lesser extent the highest point of the mountain
  • the very dark formal cypress hedge and conifer are a bit hard to read – I think you have to know what they are to understand them. As it is, they look a bit like a ship steaming across the landscape…almost moving.
  • the contrast of light out there and dark in here – the ambiguity of that. Are those no-nonsense metal gates to keep the zombies out or in? We’re brought up to believe light = safe and dark = danger, but that landscape looks ominous to me.
  • The mountain is crowding in and the way the tree is silhouetted makes me feel it’s hiding something. Go in to the light and you’ll be in the spotlight – and is that where you want to be?

That said, I’m not happy with this piece, but I’m also not ready to let go of this composition yet.


Size A3 using black ink, charcoal, white acrylic, pencil

I think I have to let go of this now. It’s my third version, I’ve reverted to black and white and rather than feeling an urge to experiment further, I feel I am retreating. If I have another go it’ll be pencil all the way.

It’s still troubling me, this piece, and I wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong with the composition. I know that in a landscape things tend to get paler the further away. But here the mountain is quite close, and with the low winter sun it often stays in deep shade while the sun skims the top of it to light up the valley below. It is a dark brooding hulk. It may be that I need more texture in the foreground. The actual drawing has more visible marks (they haven’t shown up in this photograph) on the sunlit area, but this possibly isn’t enough.

Looking at it again, I’m wondering if it was a mistake to stop the image where I did on the left. I feel I can reach out to open the right hand gate, but I can’t get hold of the left hand gate – I can’t shut it. Is it this that makes me uncomfortable? I can stay inside or go outside, but I can’t shut the gate – so I remain vulnerable. I think this may be the problem with the composition?! 

There are some parts I do like though:

the shadow under the right hand gate – the sense this gives that the gate is not right to the ground, there’s a gap. And gaps are interesting.

the tree! And hedge – though I was seduced by the accidental blurring of the hedge to the right and left it – it may have been better to let the hedge continue its blocky slice across the image.

the foreground grass in the field – I let the ink do its thing, then took a pencil to exaggerate its ‘grassiness’