Thursday, September 13, 2012

Composed Concept and Design


Let’s be honest: It is very rare for an artist to create a valuable work of art without planning or forethought. Plein Air myths not withstanding, that’s not how art is made. Art is a cerebral activity at its core. A lot of thought goes into a well made work of art. What do I mean by that?

Whether you are painting plein air, a still life or a figure or portrait, you have to start with three critical elements:

  • Choosing your elements
  • Designing your work
  • Composing your painting

Many excellent artists spend most of their time working on these three elements. Reams of paper, charcoal, pencils etc. are spent testing, scrapping, reworking until a clear picture of composed concept and design is put together. The rest is the easy part really.

I know that if I setup a workshop on Concept Design and Composition and told people that they will be spending three days NOT painting but thinking and planning, no one would show up. But honestly, a workshop like that would help so many artists today because I see so many who have good skills in everything else but these three key elements.

I have to blame it in large part on plein air. Something I enjoy a lot, but have come to recognize as an excuse for bad art. It is as if the fact that you hiked half a day in the snow or waded through alligator infested waters to paint a badly designed work makes it valuable. It should be valuable for you as a study, but a badly designed work is not really art. It is a sketch that needs more thought on its way to become an artwork.

OK I hope I haven’t pissed off anyone with this post. I am as guilty of all the faults stated above as anyone. I just hope to get us all thinking creatively. What do you think?


  1. I think you should go ahead and advertise the idea of a class in design. You might be surprised by the interest. The reality is that plein-air workshops conducted at the local winery have little to do with learning to paint well. It is some type of instant gratification social event where everything looks alike.
    Remember the Slow Art manifesto?
    If not find it online it is a great little read.

  2. Hi Jim,

    I might just do that, but I will need to build the framework fast.


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