Category Archives: Project 3: Composition Ex: 1 Developing your studies

Part 3: Project 3: Composition Ex: 1 Developing your studies

I started off with the best intentions on a fine sunny Saturday afternoon… little stool… sketch book… variety of pencils… sketch book… pastels… fixative…

And… a digital camera.

My original idea was to select one of my previous sketches. Find the spot, do four or five 15 minute sketches… overview… details… capture some clouds etc. Then scout about with the camera to capture some features or a passing cyclist that I could add in as a focus (maybe in the middle ground).

That would give me a set of resources to complete Ex. 2, to draw up the sketch on A3.


On the way I used the camera and found that it could frame in a way I found very difficult in a sketchbook. In a sketch book I had to stitch together different viewpoints (by turning and raising my head, and moving my eyes – as my field of vision only covers a tiny bit of the vista). In the camera I could zoom in or pull out and use it as framing device.

THEN… it started teaching me things. Which I’ll address below.

So, I spent two hours walking round my local environment taking pictures… thinking about the composition and taking some more… and also taking shots of objects/people I could put in as a focus. And trying to remember that if I added something it had to be lit from the same side as the rest of the drawing.

I had a ball and tried to be fully present as I walked around (so I could bring that to the drawing and it wouldn’t just be copying a photograph!) and let myself be absorbed into the sights and smells around me… into the countryside (though it can never be the same as sitting still and focused in the environment for several hours.).

Drawing outside is NOT the same as researching and sketching then drawing at home.

Anyway, I treated this as a composition exercise and had two hours on foot taking photographs and then two hours at home thinking about it.

This is a sort of diary of the process.

I’ll end with the landscape I chose.

My first photograph I took as I was walking to my spot, not expecting it to be any good. But just because I had the camera and had read that roads can work. It did and I noticed how I could compose with the camera… after that I got pulled right in!

(1) Roads or paths in the centre of your composition bring it to life and draw you into the picture:



But they they’re boring. So I tried putting the road at the side to see if this would jazz it up!


No… that didn’t work… though it’s more interesting with a tree in the distance. And the sky’s a big element so maybe I could get some skies and add the best?!

How about the ‘road’ going into the picture but at the side, and a great big tree in the mid distance?


Okay… that’s not there but it is beginning to work. Something’s missing. It doesn’t really have a far distance??? Maybe that’s what it is?

How about if I move the tree farther away… will that give it a sense of distance.


That’s got something but doesn’t really work.

How about I try putting my road across the picture and maybe add a bend? And some kind of feature where the tree is… person… tree… bus…

IMG_0561 2

Better… It’s not there but a bit closer (looks like it might be for the bus brochure though!)… but having something in the foreground, a focus in the middle and the far distance works better in terms of composition.

Maybe swap the bus out and put in a person?


I like that better – just having person in seems to do something to the composition… it connects me to it. I sort of attach myself to the cyclist. Also the element of words comes in on the sign! ‘RESPECT’ – that gets me thinking about the countryside… it’s usage… guided buses… transport… so it’s beginning to work psycologically as well as aesthetically.

Still looks like it’s from a ‘Leisure in Cambridge’ brochure but is beginning to be a bit more interesting.

I like the little white triangle too – maybe I could add some geometric elements?


I like the way the composition is split up and sectioned out by the fence and posts and the circles of the cycle wheels and signs. Not really a landscape as it doesn’t have any far distance (well a tiny bit in some far trees) but I could imagine this being drawn up. Change of sky though!

Could add this??? Nice sunny day…


Or add a bit of narrative… rain is coming!


(Not the best rain clouds… but it was a sunny day!)

I digress but I found some Turner sky directly overhead!!!!!


The sky changes depending whether it’s horizon, 45 degrees or directly above.

Back to the problem in hand!!!!

It’s not very ‘countryfied’ so how about I try to hide the guided busway? Make it look more like a country lane???


The small cyclist works… he’s a point of focus and I could paint out the tarmac and guided bus. But the ‘road’ is too small and has lost its effect of leading us into the picture. And the big black blob of a tree isn’t interesting.

I like the teasels though… I could feature them??


The teasel heads look great!  They’re abstract and the lemon green leaves catching the sun adds music. But I’m moving farther away from a ‘landscape’ and it’s no point of focus. It has elements but doesn’t work as a whole.

Just catch a teasel for a detail as I’m here.


Okay… let’s try something completely different… a gate… that would give us a foreground and would lead us into the field (we open the gate).

See what happens:


You can’t tell it’s a gate… the twigs and leaves on the left work as they’re a nearby tree. Interesting it’s in bands – maybe having foreground, mid distance and far distance as three strips might work?

A lot of abstracts compose with lines.

But for now I’m going to stick to the gate and make it more like a gate!!!!


Now… we’ve got a secret garden! The gate works and I like the writing ‘Conservation area’. The strips of grazed grass, reeds, water, and far distance bank give a sense of distance.

But something doesn’t work? Maybe the gate needs to be open? I can’t decide if I’m shut out or invited in?

So, let’s try bands without a gate!


This has potential (the sky could be more interesting) but I think it needs a feature. And the foliage blocks us just as effectively as a gate.


No gate and if I draw the barbed wire out we could be standing in the flowers looking at the water.

Flowers, light green reeds (and just the vaguest arrow towards us), silvery water and a distant bank are quite soothing. But it still needs a point of interest… a person watching the birds or a church nestling on the far bank.

I saw a David Hokney landscape where he used a road and a tunnel of trees. I wonder if I can find some trees to act as a bit of a tunnel?


Much better!!! Thank you David. An old farm glimpsed between trees gives it a bit of magic.

It’s got a distant tree… a feature (farmhouse) in the mid distance and flowers in the foreground. Nearly there… but the weeds, a beck and a barbed wire fence are still a barrier.


Much better in as far as I could walk straight into the picture… I could draw out the fence and put in my teasel in the foreground for a bit of interest, and move farm back… it’s too close which makes it look like an estate agents photograph.

In fact… what I would need to do is go back to the last photograph, but have the meadow go right up to the foreground.

Lets try something completely different…


Something about this works… but I can’t explain it. I like the shape of the bush on the right and the vertical of the tree on the left. The aerial perspective and criss crossing lines of bushes and trees are interesting… The fence, gate and car park gravel… maybe it’s the feeling I’ve just driven in and am about to start my adventure.

There’s also enough sky for it to become a character.

And yet it feels like it’s missing one element?????

I took features to add…

And some forground flowers…

And details of trees:


And made my final choice…


This has strong foreground, the platform as a mid focus… and distant trees and people. It has lots of geometric interest and patterns of shapes… a cycle path (and guided busway) to lead you into the picture. An open gate. A bit of narrative in the man waiting for a bus. Lots of sky… I even like the bit of sign breaking the picture edge.

I’d have liked it to have been more ‘landscapy’ than ‘urban’… but this is an RSPB nature reserve on a guided busway so the picture captures that.

Whether I can draw it is a totally different matter.

Next time I would like to compose with my eye and do sketches on site. But as a first go at composing this was great fun and has taught me a lot.

PS: The more I do this course the more photographs look dead! And I like working in a semi spontaneous way where I’m fully in the moment.

I think that would be my eventual aim drawing wise… to copy from life or create from imagination. But I think photographs can probably help me at this stage where I’m just beginning.