The artist that has most influenced my art is Ian Roberts and his book “Mastering Composition”. Before I read his book, I did not know how to design a composition. Oh I knew about the 7 elements and the 8 principles, how to use a viewfinder, centres of interest, the golden rectangle, lead-ins, blocks and exits, tonal value and contrast, the oblique, and many many more LRPGI, laws, rules, principles, guidelines, ideas, but I realized that I lacked a design framework and a process to follow inside that framework to produce a painting.
I have worked on Internet projects from a time well before the World Wide Web became the Internet in most people’s mind, so quite naturally I start my search for this elusive framework there. Over the course of many months I found many quality references to the 7 elements and the 8 principles. The actual number elements and principles varies, depending on the reference source you choose, but a framework and a process for composition remained elusive. The few online references, to visual composition, that I located, consisted of examples of good or bad compositions and a dialogue to support the goodness or badness of that particular example.
Ian Roberts' “Mastering Composition” is the only book I've found that provided a clear and usable (for me) framework for visual composition. Before the first chapter of his book, he defines “What is Composition”. After reading those two pages, I knew I now had a framework for composition that I understood and could apply to my paintings. The proverbial light bulb was lit. This is where I first started to understand visual composition. Ian’s five bullet points, describing the 5 Picture Planes, presented a nearly complete, visual design framework.
- The Dynamics of the Picture Plane. Each proportion and scale of every painting - square, vertical or horizontal - has its own special dynamic that affects and is affected by every mark or shape you put on it. The edges of your picture plane are the four most important lines in your composition since they, in the most basic sense, define the foundation you are starting with.
- Armature: The fundamental lines of direction or flow that connect the main compositional movement to the picture plane.
- Abstract Shapes: The building blocks of the painting. Each shape is interacting with every other shape. Resolving this interplay is the main arena of painting. This really is where the success or failure of the painting lies.
- Subjects: Bottles, mountains, people, a river...
- Details: Highlights, wrought-iron street lamps and almost anything else painted with a little pointed brush.
It is my opinion that the 5 picture planes should have been the 5 chapters in Ian’s book. Somewhere along the line, he got sidetracked and wrote a book about painting landscapes including 30-40 page filler: “Gallery or Greats”. Personally, I also don’t like Ian’s style of painting. IMOSHO, neither of these negatives, detract from the importance of his description of the 5 picture planes.
Does this framework work for all genres of painting? No!
Is this framework complete? No!
Does this framework work for everyone? Again No!
...but it does work for me, so it is important to me, and I can honestly state, that Ian Roberts, through his book, is the artist that has had the most influence on my art.