Category Archives: Part 3: Project 3: Composition Ex: 2 Foreground, middle ground and background

Part 3: Project 3: Composition Ex: 2 Foreground, middle ground and background


Well that was a steep learning curve!!!

Just tried to draw my photograph and found it was nearly impossible… it works as a photograph (maybe the visual language of photographs is different to drawing… that would make sense as it’s a different medium). The photograph is detail based and a nightmare to draw. Even if I spent weeks on it it would be difficult to ‘read’ if you didn’t already know it was a guided busway, bike path and bus stop.

So, I had a radical rethink – ditched the idea – started again – and made a montage out of three photographs.


Ideally, I’d be able to draw the cows (or whatever the foreground focus was) in different positions and change the sky so I could compose drawings in my sketch book… rather than be restricted by a photograph(s)!!!

Then I could compose the picture by putting the cows in exactly the right pose… with the sunlight falling on them just so, add the perfect sky and a distant horizon.

I invented the bramble patch on the left and the long grass on the right.

Questions from ‘Tip’ to answer here:

How did you simplify and select? 

In the first exercise, I didn’t! I composed in camera but found this didn’t work for drawing as it didn’t simplify or select… it just composed by framing. Next time I’ll try to think what’s important… what am I trying to say (vegetarianism… aesthetic… whatever it may be). And what elements would help me then I’ll take the main ingredients (like making a cake) select and simplify with reference to a message or purpose.

In the second exercise – having completely recomposed my drawing!!!! – I simplified by looking tonally and selecting three basic tones… light grey to black. It’s a bit like seeing tonally instead of in colour and then simplifying all the tones to three basic ones. I covered these with: 2H; HB; 3B and 6B pencils. Interestingly (for me!!) I started thinking of the pencils almost as different colours the tones and effects were so different.

You’ve also got how hard you press and what part of the pencil lead you use… so very sensitive. I used a rubber to highlight with limited effect. My idea was that a highlight simplifies a drawing as it says so much. But the paper had a big bite and I had to work on shapes so found it hard to lift tone.

Compositionally, I simplified by deleting unecessary cows (so was beginning to think independantly – ie: not copying… but creating a picture that doesn’t exist in reality)… and that said what I wanted which was in essance that these cows were protecting their calf a bit like mums at a school gate with attitude!

I also changed the scrubby field and made it into an almost white cornfield. This was a simplification but also I like the idea of incorporating a structural element of horizontal strips in to a landscape! So it’s not only ‘nature’ but has an underlying visual structure like a skeleton with the flesh on top. And I deleted the bushes in the mid distance and added cows in instead.

In the brambles and long grass in the foreground I selected by looking. That is I looked at grass and brambles lots and instead of trying to draw them photorealistically tried ‘creating them’ by selecting tonal patterns and lines, and really simplifying the complexity to suggest the foliage.

Were you able to focus on simple shapes and patterns amid all the visual information available to you?

More as I went along.

It’s really hard to explain but the more I drew… clouds…. cows… grass… brambles… I found shapes and patterns within complex forms. Comlpexity seemed to start to simplyfiy so patterns distilled out of chaos and a few strokes would take the place of many and the drawing got easier and more effective.

And for instance it was really cool that the distant trees picked up the pattern of the clouds.

How did you create a sense of distance and form?

Form I created tonally. Mainly using reflected light and shadow.

For distance I used the cows getting smaller (placing a mid distance cows and others father away to ‘walk’ the viewer to the fence on the cornfield)… then the tree line and in the far distance some tiny trees on the very horizon; detail getting less, the tone going dark to light on the land and from light to dark in the sky.

Were you able to use light and shade successfully?

I think so?!

Shade on the grass put the cows in the meadow, anchored them to the grass. Shade also gave shape and mass to cows, trees and clouds.

Light worked alongside shade!!!

Always remembering that I had to keep the light source in the same position in the sky.

What additional preliminary study work would have been helpful towards the larger study?

I would have sketched lots of cows in my sketch book so I was familiar with their shape, how they moved, how light fell on a cow… found their personalities.

Also, I would have designed the bigger piece in my sketch book so I was moving away from ‘reality’… AND NOT USED A CAMERA INSTEAD OF SKETCHES. Though there is (I think) a place for photographs as a reference… as long as you’re not copying them.


This exercise really made me think about the sub structure (black and white) of a drawing… because nature is so many shades of grey if you don’t use colour you have to use tone.

It’s given me a new tool and a new way of seeing.

It also made me think about drawings in a much bigger way… whether they are still lifes or lanscapes… and I’ve begun to look and analyse drawings with an awareness of foreground, mid ground and background.

And (for some strange reason I can’t comprehend) started me thinking about the whole range of compositions and what you choose to put in a picture… and how you then draw what you put in!!!