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 PENCIL TECHNIQUES    -   Composition & Content


Much of this section relates to composition and Content in any media.  

It has, though, been written with particular reference to Coloured Pencil Landscapes.


The section headings are :    

Surveying the Scene                  Selection of your subject          Getting down the image  

Distinguishing Distance              Counterchange                       Roads                          

Using Colour to provide a focus        Picture Shape                    Reflections                  

Shadows and Silhouettes                  Snow                               Observation         


SURVEYING THE SCENE

Because your eyes can take in so much more of the landscape than you can possibly include in a picture, the first essential is some system for reducing the amount of information we are looking at.  This can be done with a camera (using the viewfinder and zoom facility to concentrate the mind on a particular part of the scene, and actually taking a digital photograph to use later), ,  or the whole photo can be used simply with a pair of L frames which will isolate a part of the scene we are looking at. We can look at the scene through the aperture in a cardboard viewfinder or - possibly the simplest system,  is to use your two hands to form a viewing box by observing through the square formed by the thumb and forefinger of each hand.


SELECTION OF THE SUBJECT

Coloured pencil is a medium which is at its best portraying linear content.  By this I mean that the line drawn by the pencil has great advantages in portraying fur and feather and small linear detail in trees and buildings.  The pencil line has some difficulty in portraying the smooth sweep of skies and sea scenes for which brush based media have advantages.  This is not to say we can’t paint skies and sea scenes… They just bring particular problems to solve.

If you are a beginner, look for subjects with picture content which includes line and detail.


GETTING DOWN THE IMAGE

Pen and wash style sketches work well in CP, particularly when used with a limited colour range on suitable W/C paper and softened with a damp brush.  It is possible to do a number of quick sketches in a short time and these can form the basis for later more detailed works aided with a photograph.   Working from a photo, we have a number of options, and bearing in mind the timescale for completing works in CP, this is probably the best route.


There are a range of ways of scaling up an image on to the working surface (usually paper) and the system using a grid is probably the most foolproof. This involves placing a grid over the photo with sections at a half, quarter and possibly eighth of each side marked off.  Some artists swear by portioning the picture as with a union jack, but I believe this can have problems the traditional grid system doesn’t.


The working surface is also marked off with a series of similar sections and this gives a series of boxes within which an outline can be copied.  Use a medium grade graphite pencil (HB) which can be readily erased for both the grid and the outlines, or alternatively use a light grey or suitably coloured pencil of the type being used for the picture so that the line can either be erased or will eventually merge into the completed work.


If you are intending to use the underpainting method for your picture with either watercolour or watercolour pencil washes, any graphite line can be totally erased once the wash has thoroughly dried, and the dry pencil colour can be applied as required following the general shapes of the underpainting


If you are going to transfer the image using transfer paper or a tracing method, the image can be photocopied into the size required for transfer to the working surface or a digital image printed off to size.  


COMPOSITION
Always bear in mind that the majority of  (but not all) pictures benefit from the point of highest contrast (where the lightest light meets the darkest dark) being in the general area of one of the four golden section points.  These are approximately two thirds in from any two adjacent sides.

This ensures that the focus of interest does not fall in the dead centre of the picture.  The viewer is more comfortable with a well shaped picture where the eye can travel on a grand tour and stay within the picture.

Most viewers will look at a picture and home in on that point of maximum contrast first, so make sure you have one.  A bland image with no strong tones will not be satisfying to look at.  This is where your black and white photocopy may well have helped you.  If you have a computer and can adjust your photo there, convert a copy of your original to black and white and see if it still looks as good to you.


From the point of maximum contrast the eye will take a walk.  Give it somewhere to go and plan where you want the viewer to look.  It helps if you can map out the route and ensure that the eye does not drift out of the right hand side of the frame and on to the next picture on the gallery wall.  Your aim should be for the eye of the viewer to want to stay and look for more areas of interest.


DISTINGUISHING DISTANCE

A major feature in Landscape is to give a clear impression of distance.  Aerial perspective is the way of describing how features get paler and more blue as they fade into the distance.  This is due to the minute particles which are constantly afloat in the air and progressively block the view to distant hills and reduce the depth of colour.  The rule is to have your strongest colours (reds, yellows etc) to the front and the palest and more blue colours to the back of the scene.  This still applies where the scene is only very shallow (as in still life pictures).  The greatest contrasts should be reserved for the foreground even if the actual scene may not feature such marked tonal and colour balances.


COUNTERCHANGE

In planning your picture, the final image can benefit a great deal from the interaction of shapes and tones within it.  For example, areas of light flowers highlighted against dark backgrounds gives a zing to a picture which may not have been apparent from the original photo.

Remember that the viewer of your picture has not the photo you are working from.  You have a fully paid up and valid artists licence to move and remove parts of your scene if it makes a better picture.

Even a very familiar scene can have parts ‘adjusted’ without a viewer who may know the scene well, realising what has been done.  Counterchange is the play of light against dark, and one shape or colour ( possibly a complementary colour ) against another.


ROADS

A road, lane or path leads the eye in a planned direction.  A road should have a pleasing shape to it – curves are always preferred to a straight line.   Anything crossing the route should be welcoming the viewer onwards if you can manage it.  Gates should be open (as should be doors).

A curved path which loops around the bottom right hand corner of a picture and takes the eye back into the composition is a benefit.  Bridges take the eye on a similar path, but can be a feature of themselves.  The arch under a bridge can add an extra element of contrasting darkness and mystery.  A bridge will link two parts of a landscape  and can provide the focus you are looking for in your composition.



USING COLOUR TO PROVIDE A FOCUS  

Colour mixing and complementary colours are covered on page 199 in Art Points

I have said earlier that a focus point can be provided by using an area of high contrast of tone with light against dark.  Similarly you can use an area of high colour in contrast.  This colour can be emphasized even more by positioning your strong focal colour against it’s complementary.

Remember that every colour has a complementary colour, the one that is opposite (usually) on the colour wheel.  

For green you have the complementary of red.  This is why an colour of a bright red poppy is so striking as it is often seen against the dark green background of the leaves.  Green is composed of blue and yellow primaries, the two primary colours apart from red.   Your red poppy is often an orange red ( one with an element of yellow in the red pigment ). The exact complementary of this red is the dark blue green of the poppy foliage.

Where you have a ‘busy’ background in a localised scene of a garden, a focus can be provided by large foreground shapes in a stronger and more contrasting complementary colour.  Note that It can be of advantage, when showing a garden with lots of different flowers and colours, to modify some of the busy colours to give the eye a chance to focus and not be dazzled.

In this case, we could tone down the bright colours of flowers in the middle distance to allow foreground flowers to stand out from the crowd.

Make sure that in any landscape with distant elements, that you keep all your sharp detail and high colour to the foreground and allow ‘aerial perspective’ to work for you in the distant parts of the picture with less defined detail and paler and bluer colours.  Remember those distant mountains you saw on holiday with those closely matched shades of pale blue and purple disappearing into grey.


PICTURE SHAPE

Most pictures follow a standard proportion as to shape, with the longest sides around a quarter longer than the shortest.  Photographs usually comply with this arrangement with most images being able to be printed out at around 7ins x 10ins.    Landscapes can also be worked up to a more panoramic shape, and this can add interest.  There is no rule that an image must be shown in a standard rectangular mount.  The working of an image for an oval shape can have benefits if it cuts out an area of no interest and can provide the eye with a pleasing design.  If you wish to slightly modify the shape but keep to a standard frame, bear in mind that you can ‘frame’ your picture within the mount by adding silhouetted darker areas of trees and  suitable features which ‘frame’ the area of main interest.  Remember you can change what you see in the reference.  If you merely repeat the photograph in full glorious detail, you might just as well print out the photo and frame it.  You need to bring part of your own personality to your work of art.

Unless you are working a commission, your buyer will not be too critical of parts of the scene being re-arranged and re-composed.   If you are taking on a commission, and get the chance to discuss the scene with the client, check that any particular areas of concern have to be included.

I can recall a friend losing a lot of sleep over whether to include or omit a red telephone kiosk outside the house he was portraying.  He left it out and crossed his fingers that the client wouldn’t mind.  He was right - the client hated the telephone box, but it could have gone the other way !.


REFLECTIONS  ( But see HERE for more information on this aspect )

A great way of attracting interest in an image you paint, is to include some water with a reflection.  This gives you a double strike at the picture.

Always carefully draw your image and its reflection, as nothing is worse than a mirror image which isn’t.  Remember that if you are at a higher point than the surface of the water and looking at a reflection above a river or lake bank opposite, you will not see all of the mirrored image immediately above the reflection of the bank  some will be hidden.  Check it carefully.

A mirror reflection in still water will usually be a tone darker than the actual scene above it.

If you include puddles of water in a road or lane, the reflected area of sky could well be the lightest part of your picture


SHADOWS AND SILHOUETTES

When you start to paint you tend to think of shadows as being the colour of the observed surface but darker ……and you add grey or even black.  A red wall becomes a dirty red.

As you gain experience, you see more and more that shadows tend to include more of the blue end of the spectrum.  This is where the infamous Paynes Grey came from. It was an attempt to simulate a dark colour which included blue and could be used to produce dark shadows.

You now paint your shadowed brickwork with the addition of a little purple or violet to your red mix.

Shadow tells the eye that we have light, and strong shadow tells us that we have strong light.

In Coloured Pencil we can use complementary colours to darken, with layers of the complementary underneath the main colour, keeping the overall colour ‘clean’ and without black.  I tend to use black pencil only in the darkest areas and then as a top layer at the end, to intensify shadows and build contrast.

When we are underpainting, we can plan for deep shadows and apply the complementary colour in the appropriate density.

In painting a picture on a white surface we cannot get any more light into the picture than the original white of the canvas or paper.  There is no way we can simulate the bright sunlight that you can see on a television screen.  We have to give the eye clues so that it knows we are looking at a sunlit scene.  It’s the shadows which will do this.  The darker the shadows or silhouettes, the more the light will flow in the brighter parts of the picture.


SNOW

A quick reminder here that snow is full of colours.  Shadows are blue, but the surface of the snow in sunlight can be anything from pure white to gold.  Look at it when you next get the opportunity and look at pictures painted by renowned artists in galleries and see how they simulate the cold but crisp surface of frost and snow.  It’s a real challenge, but worth taking. ( see below  - a small acrylic of a snow scene in Holland, taken from an original oil that I once saw in a Dutch House )  The dark stormy sky emphasizes the white of the snow.


OBSERVATION

One of the major benefits I have found from painting ( in all media ) is that you become much more observant about the world about you.  You see a sky at dusk and, instead of ‘just’ a sunset, you see all the purples and golds included in the orange colour range.

You look at a lake and you actually ‘read’ the reflections in the water rather than note them.

You see how the ripples affect the reflections.  You notice far more of the shape and colour of things and how they interact.  You look at trees and look at the shape the branches take and how the darker shadows fall  rather than look at a mass of green leaves.   Painting opens your eyes to nature


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COMPOSITION POINTS

GENERAL COLOURED PENCIL TECHNIQUES