Posted in Coursework, Notes, Part 3

Project 3: Composition

It took some re-reading and thinking to understand what this exercise was really asking for. I decided that this was one of the projects which is effectively a single piece of work. The first part is to play with ideas for a major composition. The second part is to create an A3 landscape drawing based on the selected composition.

Exercise 1 Developing your studies

Seaside sunset

Some initial thoughts in my sketchbook…


The 360 degree study with the pub (a local landmark called “The Neptune”) combined with the sunset scene and some more local features could make for a very interesting landscape study. The sunset scene was drawn from the pub as well, which is appropriate. In this case I’d be using a tad of artistic licence with the positioning of items.

Looking forward to the next exercise, the foreground here would be everything up to the Neptune, which includes the boats and groins. The Neptune would need to be the transition from foreground to mid, with the sea and sailing boat firmly in the mid-ground. Sheerness and the sky are then clearly background. The transition from fore- to mid-ground being the Neptune itself might be problematic, as it might be deemed the main element of the drawing.

From up the hill

Next I started to think how the “over the house tops” sketches might be developed into an interesting bigger piece:


Here the major elements might be the local block of flats, the church, the sea and sheerness with Ipswich beyond. The Ipswich section could add a little atmospheric perspective to the scene. Again, some creative positioning  and sizing of elements would help the interest levels. In this one the foreground would be the closest roof, with the church and block of flat through the sea being the mid-ground. The sea, sky and sheerness etc then stands in the background.

An interesting house

I like the idea of developing the house into a full drawing – possibly playing with perspective by emphasising some of the plants, and adding something tall like a monk’s hood:


Although it could (with a bit more development) make an interesting image, the exercise is really about landscape and fore/middle/background. It doesn’t really fit that part of the exercise, as their is no real mid-ground within the image. I also considered the school and anchor as having similar challenges and so decided not to consider that further.

Night storm at the festival

This would be very much a stretch target, as I would be working very much from memory/imagination.



The challenge would be to convey the atmosphere of the scene, and to work out a composition that could work. The foreground would be the tents and people, but as it is a night scene the level of detail may still be low. The mid-ground would be the background trees, and then background the storm clouds. Again, in many ways it would be an atypical composition, because the subject is (to a great extent) the storm clouds.

Soft pastel

A3 in pastels. Soft, conte and pencil…


What works? Difficult, as my first thought was negative. The clouds are growing on me , though clearly off. The basic composition I still like, but the rendition is too simplistic. It at least has some sense of depth – though a way to go.

What doesn’t? This is almost as hard strangely, and need thought. (Rather than just ‘its rubbish’). As mentioned above the rendition is too simplistic, and the sense of depth limited. The red path where the sun has descended is too unsubtle. The colour should blend more. The atmospheric perspective on Ipswich doesn’t work, and I should have placed something on the junction between sea and sky – a boat or the fronts.

What can I take forward? I need to practice colour with pastels, as this is part of what let it down. Placing the horizon first and working from there was useful.

What should I do differently next time? The middle ground between composition and detail needs work, as does the approach to building the scene. I planned out in pencil to a degree, but mainly the high level features. Possibly lay out with ink and line before adding colour? Maybe try with Watercolour or inks?

Happy accidents? Some of the colour blending that worked well wasn’t intentional. The slight pink tinge on the build was an accident but places well with the sky colour.

Ink and wash

A3 sketchbook. Fine liner and watercolour inks. Line drawing first and then washes of colour.


What works? Skipping the sunset bit has helped, though I suspect I will come back to that. I kept the wash fairly loose, which I like the look of, and the atmospheric perspective on Ipswich has worked better. I skipped the railings in this one, which I think helped. Overall I’m happier.

What doesn’t? The boat in the foreground comes over as a little stubby. The perspective on the Neptune is slightly off, but not disastrously. I’m not happy with the people in front of the Neptune.

What would I do differently next time? I need to practice the colouring approach, especially with respect to shadows and changing shades of colour. Possibly think through any detail some more at the pencil and line time. A bit more consideration on perspective.

What to take forwards? This pencil, ink and line approach is working for me. The approach to building the composition, and some preparatory pencil line work seems to help.

Happy accidents? Quite a few of the ways the inks have come together are more by luck than judgement.


The following were specific questions asked in the project:

How did you simplify and select?My approach to is, in many ways, derived from to sculpture. Pick the big things and gradually work my way down to detail. I work better with media that I’ve worked out how to support this in. Pencil, pen, ink and wash over the pastels – for example.

Were you able to focus on simple shapes and patterns amid all the visual information available to you?To a degree the reduction approach I seem to use from carving make this easier, as I’ve practised looking for the big forms first. I am still working on translating this into drawing though. The reproduction of the impression of many textures eludes me so far. See the pebbles on the beach in the pastel drawing as an example.

How did you create a sense of distance and form? Mostly the perspective in the sunset scene was ‘eyeballed’, which shows in places. For the ink and wash some of the major lines were drawn in using a ruler following linear perspective, others were ‘eyeballed’. That was a conscious decision, but has led to a number of perspective errors which reduce the sense of depth.

Were you able to use light and shade successfully? The line and wash image has some rendering of light and shade, but the tonal range was still quite limited in the image. this was, again, a conscious decision – but one which i may need to review in further work.

What additional preliminary work would have been helpful towards the larger study?I’m still producing insufficient preparatory work, and inventing on the final piece. Part of the improvement between the last two drawings came from the additional practice of starting again. I did do a preparatory sketch before starting the larger images, but a series of them might have been needed. Having said that, small preparatory images don’t always translate well to the final image and so maybe simply planning to complete multiple repetitions might be the key. I suspect the answer will come with practice.

img_6694How might I approach the additional preparatory work though? What’s the focus? How? The challenges that further preparatory drawings could help with include:

  • Media experimentation: The assignment indicates “You’ll need A3 cartridge paper … and a range of pencils, graphite pencils and water-soluble pencils.” This still leaves a lot of decisions on approach to experiment with.
  • How to get the effect/impact wanted? A sunset, glowing storm clouds etc.
  • Further refine the composition: How big should the subject be, compare to the rest of the scene, and what proportion of the image should different elements take up?
  • What tonal values should different parts of the image take up?

This all talks to my tutor’s comments about making LOADS of drawings as part of the process. There is a time element here that I’m struggling with though – each part of the course could take 6 months if I completed as much work as might be appropriate for it.

This need for a preparatory drawing approach is spoken to by the John Virtue article my tutor pointed me to at the WeAreOCA site. This includes a video which shows how he uses drawings from around London to inform his main pieces. This gives me more to think about for future preparatory work.

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