Thursday, January 29, 2015

Don't Get Stuck in the Middle

Around and Up, oil, 8x10

This past week I held a one-day Composition Boot Camp workshop at my studio. The subject of my demo above had several elements that could easily get stuck in the middle. I teach a method for planning out your composition that addresses this, among many other objectives.

In "Around and Up," I wanted a variety of shapes going across the top of the painting, but I didn't want the shape between the two trees to end up dead center. I also didn't want the edge of the left tree to stop at the center. You can see in my sketch below that I placed those shapes in relation to the center and then followed this little "map" when blocking in my painting.

But even after addressing the placement of the major shapes of the composition in the thumbnail sketch, and then in the block-in, the challenge is then to keep it all in place as the painting progresses. If you've been an artist for awhile, you know all too well how things "creep" into the middle of your composition if you don't carefully keep them in their proper place. It's when your thought process shifts from placing the elements to further defining them, that those elements start moving themselves around from their original spot. In my demo above, I kept a close eye on those positive and negative spaces at the top to keep things in place.

Unless your painting relies on a strong statement in which center placement is part of the message being conveyed, you normally want to avoid it. Of course, something in your composition will need to fall across the center areas of the painting. I normally try to be sure no element of the painting is emphasized along the center (i.e., hard edges, sharp contrast, saturated color), and if it is, I'll subdue that area.

Below are a couple of other recent demos from a workshop I taught in Chattanooga, TN last week:

View from Highway 24, oil, 14x11
Evening Glow on Wyanett Creek, oil, 14x11

Upcoming Workshops:

The following three out of my next seven workshops still have room:

OIL Workshop - Dallas, GA - 1-day 
January 31, 2015 (Sat.)
Paulding Fine Arts Association
11 Courthouse Sq., 2nd Floor
Dallas, GA
$125 PFAA members; $150 nonmembers
Contact Peggy Cline at 770-445-4572 or 
Visit for more details.

PASTEL Workshop - Stevensville, MD - 3-day 
Workshop - February 6, 7 & 8, 2015 (Fri/Sat/Sun)
Demo-only option: - Fri., Feb. 6, 9 am - noon(ish), $45 (prepay), $55 at door
Chesapeake Fine Art Studio 
609 Thompson Creek Rd.
Stevensville, MD 21666
(about 40 minutes from downtown Baltimore)

OIL/PASTEL Workshop - Dahlonega, GA - 2-day 
March 19 & 20, 2015 (Thurs/Fri)
The Art Loft
Dahlonega, GA 
To register, visit


  1. Hi Barbara: I love these paintings! Can you please explain your process of painting "View from Highway 24" - was your pink underpainting dry when you put on the blue sky? You have managend to keep the edges of the blue soft where they meet the folliage, very tricky if the underpainting is wet. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Thanks, Sharon! The pinkish color (actually more of a flesh color) is the toned surface that I prepared beforehand, so, yes, it was dry when I painted the blue of the sky on top of it. It makes it much easier, and creates a nicer effect I think, by allowing parts the warm toned surface showing through.

  2. Hi Barbara , thanks for your inspiring and informative blog . Im an aspiring oil painter living in South Africa , do you have any online or downloadable tutorials about your method for planning out your composition ? Composition is a huge weakness of mine , much appreciated , kind regards Karin

    1. Hi Karin. Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, no, I don't have any online resources, only my blog. Maybe someday I'll create a video. :-)