How to be inspired by other artists without copying them 5: composition

How to be inspired by other artists without copying them - part five of a five part series where we look at ways to approach and develop our own work without getting caught up in the work of other artists we love.

This is the fifth and final post in the series, focused on helping you become ever clearer about what’s unique to you, even while being inspired by other artists.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Each week we’ll look at a single aspect of painting and how you might tease out the nugget of what’s inspiring you so you can be sure you’re making your own work and not a heavily influenced hybrid or attempted copy of someone else’s.

I have no doubt there are infinite ways to do this, and in part it will just happen the more you paint, but the ways I find most helpful include a bit of left brain analysis and a breaking down into parts. The right brain can then rebuild into new things with the new ideas.

5. Play with their compositions

Composition is a huge topic, and I go into it in more detail in Abstractify, but let’s take a quick look at some examples of compositions artists use and how we can be inspired by them.

Rule of Thirds

Divide the canvas into a grid of nine sections using two horizontal and two vertical lines, and place focal points anywhere the lines cross. In this still life, Richard Diebenkorn has placed the focal point where the top left lines would cross.

Richard Diebenkorn

Cruciform

Essentially a T or cross shape to create a stable, anchored composition. Here it is used in a still life by Shirley Trevena, and a figurative piece by Cathy Hegman. It’s fun to explore the different ways compositions can be used across subjects.

Shirley Trevena                                                                              Cathy Hegman

Grid

As neat or as rough and ready as you like, it creates a patchwork effect, often evocative of fields, buildings, or something more abstract. Notice in these paintings by Archibald Dunbar McIntosh and Anne Davies how the grids aren’t uniform – there’s plenty to keep the eye entertained in the variations.

Archibald Dunbar McIntosh                                                   Anne Davies

Strata

Layers or stripes – great for landscape or abstract. This painting by Barbara Rae is a great example of strata – notice the variation not just in colours but in line widths and lengths throughout.

Barbara Rae

S or Z shape

Using a curving line that leads the eye into the ‘distance’. In this painting Chris Gwaltney has used the S shape with the figure in a way that suggests walking a path, expressed almost abstractly. The shape starts at bottom right and leads the eye up through the painting to the suggested skyline top right.

Chris Gwaltney

Composition is a very flexible thing, although it can seem quite daunting when you’re just getting to grips with it. It’s not about memorising all the types and trying to remember them while you paint, or choosing one before you begin and trying to force the painting to fit into it. In my experience, the more you paint, the more it comes naturally anyway, and often more than one compositional style can be found in a single painting.

For me it’s very much a felt experience, although I have also studied composition and it’s seeped in over the years. Although it can feel quite academic to break it down as I have above – and this is only a selection of possible options – I find it does help to have an understanding as a starting point.

It’s another tool for your artist’s toolbox and the more you experiment the more confident you become, just like with anything.

A suggestion to make it yours:

Artists will often use variations of the same composition over and over – it’s part of what makes their work recognisable and is a great way to explore an idea within a container. Take a look at the work of a favourite artist and see if you can discern what their most favoured composition is.

One way to explore composition for yourself is to use a limited palette {say three colours}, and make a small series of simultaneously created paintings of the same subject using different compositions.

 

I hope this little series has given you some ideas and things to try as you explore what paint can do. If you’d like to play further with other artists’ work in a way that can teach you about your own, then you might like Artist Inspired. There are eight email lessons, with a lovely 30 page ebook containing the complete course at the end. It’s packed with videos, prompts, ideas, resources and of course plenty of images to make art inspired by those who have gone before us. There’s an optional invitation to join my private Facebook group, and best of all it’s Pay What You Like! Click the image or link above to find out more and start making more art today. :)

 

 

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