I'm starting to work on a mini-video on Composition. For the video, I've pulled out some of my favorite books that deal with composition. These are:
- Edgar Payne - Composition of Outdoor Painting
- Arthur Wesley Dow - Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color
- Andrew Loomis - Creative Illustration
Below are the covers plus a page from each. (I don't have a copy of Dow's book with me, so his page is from another but similar text on composition he wrote.)
Payne is pretty much a traditionalist, going with the old ideas of "templates" for designing your field compositions. "Templates" is my word for it, for lack of a better. You've probably heard of the "balance beam" design, or of designs based on letters of the alphabet such as S or U.
Dow, although he died in 1922, a good 25 years before Payne, was a true modern. He looked at Japanese design influences and latched upon the idea of notan, or a play of light and dark shapes. He stated that composition can't be taught; it must be learned by looking at good paintings. (It's hard for this painting instructor to tell that to his students!)
Loomis is a different cat altogether. A master illustrator, he used some of the ideas Payne wrote about, but he also dove deep into what he called "informal subdivision," in which he concocted a system for dividing a plane into a framework upon which design elements might be hung. He probably comes closest to using the Golden Mean than any of these. (By the way, you can get the Loomis book as a free download here.)
When you're out in the field, it's good to think a bit about design. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in trying to capture the magic that we forget about something so fundamental.