Our vacation to the Northwoods of Wisconsin at the end of the summer gave me a lot of reference photos and a few surprises. One of the surprises came on our first day out, this beautiful white deer. She sat there as if she was used to paparazzi snapping photos of her all day long. She was so unafraid I probably could have set up my paints and painted her on the spot.
Reference photos come in handy for the details needed in my paintings. Usually my eye for composition in the photos isn't very good. The best ones have a focal point and connect me to the environment right away, but I usually end up cropping and rearranging the scenes back in the studio.
Falls of Kaaterskill by Thomas Cole
I have been thinking lately a lot about what makes a good a focal point. What actually makes it work and how did the master landscape artists handle the surrounding area? Thomas Cole was one of those master artists I enjoy.
In this detail, I think the surrounding composition near the focal point still makes an interesting painting all by itself. So I started another Northwoods painting with that idea in my head.Here's the beginning of the under painting for the entire composition. The water leads your eye slowly to the focal point, the sunlit bunch of swamp grass just under the dark shadows of the distant trees.
So here is my idea:
The focal point and surrounding area should stand alone as a painting within the painting. I should use this method from now on in my mental checklist when building a composition. I don't know if this helps any of you or is such a simple idea that everybody thinks of this all the time. But I believe, that for people like me who need help building good compositions, using this idea might be an indicator of when we are on the right track.