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The Artist's HandbookOf Materials And Techniques
by Ralph Mayer
Is a reference that I find to be indispensable. I keep mine on my bookshelf, and believe that every artist should have a copy handy.

The Elements of Color
Johannes Itten
An excellent analysis of the properties and psychology of color.

Perspective for Artists
Rex Vicat Cole
The Practice and Theory of Perspective As Applied to Pictures With a Section Dealing With Its Application to Architecture

Paintings by
Stanley Beck
Painting Tips from the Artist

Tips to help you with your paintings
Composition and Design
Sometimes we spend too much time worrying about paint, mediums, brushes and technique, but overlook one of the most important foundations of art - good composition. It's important that the painting is built on a good foundation, just as we would do if we were building our house.

The first thing to consider is what the subject will be, and what to say (visually) about it. If we choose to paint a still life, maybe a bowl of fruit, surely we want to say something more than what they look like. Perhaps there is an interesting relationship between colors, texture, form or light. This allows us to add drama to our paintings.

The placement of these objects is extremely important. Some of the best compositions are developed using the Golden Section, however it is sufficient to use a simplified little diagram (employed by photographers as well) to help develop the composition that works. Placement of our objects is one of the things that help force the viewer's attention to our subject.

First, we decide what is the most important subject in the composition. This we shall call our visual emphasis. We insure, throughout the entire painting process, that nothing is allowed to overpower this emphasis. Using our diagram, the best location for it will be at points A, B, C, or D. We do not want it to be at point X, because this would make the painting to appear as a "bull's-eye".

If we were painting a landscape, good location for the horizon might be the line through B & D, or through A & C. Surely, they can be adjusted up or down a bit, but a horizon through the middle of the canvas would be difficult to make work.

We might choose to place this emphasis in the general area of A-B. This, of course, makes the composition asymmetrical, and presently, off balance. We solve this by adding an object of secondary importance (a secondary emphasis) at another intersection, say, at D. It will be smaller, and maybe not quite as colorful, or bright as the main emphasis, however it creates a little tension that causes our eyes to move back and forth, from the one, to the other. Now, we have sort of an asymmetrical balance.

Two objects always seem visually unstable and competing, if you will. So, we can add a third element to the composition, inferior to the secondary emphasis. We can continue to develop sub compositions within our design, and sub compositions within those, and so on.

To test our design, sketch a small thumbnail drawing, in black and white, using a soft graphite or charcoal pencil. Don't get carried away with detail at this time, but deal only with the mass value of the objects. Remember, if it doesn't work in black & white, it probably won't work in color, either.

Additional Reading:

If you are interested in learning more about the Golden Section, a method of geometric proportioning that dates back to the ancient Greeks, has some books on the topic:

The Golden Section
Hans Walser, Peter Hilton
The English translation of the original German text discusses the Golden Section.

Geometry of Design:
Studies in Proportion and Composition

Hans Walser, Peter Hilton
The Golden Section is a mathemetical relationship of proportion that dates back to the ancient Greeks.

The Divine Proportion : A Study in Mathematical Beauty
H. E. Huntley
For the most part an excellent, easy to follow work

Golden Section
Runion, Garth E. Runion


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