Compostion and how to fail miserably

Has anyone ever written a tutorial about how not to paint? How to completely fail a painting?

Well, why not?

I always rough out what I am going to paint first. I draw it out. Imagine the shapes, the colors, the overall composition. I try to step back from it with a critical eye. Whatever else, I was taught in school that a good composition – that is how you put together and present a piece of art – must have “balance, rhythm and emphasis”.

Easy – peazy! Yet I find it is easy to get lost before you even start. Here is such a tale.

The beach is where I go to get inspiration and just space from time to time. There’s a wonderful place called Honeymoon Island near me and round sunset, the beach can be quite deserted… Heaven.

I was out there looking at rocks and seafoam, as you do, when I snapped a photo of this. Just the foam around a rock. I loved how the foam curled around and down and well, I had my next painting.

Rock on beach

I picked out a shell I had found and drew out the feel I was getting from this on notebook paper. This is how I usually do my overall plan. Note I even have an arrow on there denoting the light source. Frequently, I will also write out the colors I want to use.

It’s a crappy seafoam photo as I printed it off from the digital image and my printer bled a little and some of the foam detail on here is lost.

Shell on paper

I decided to change the shell a little and drew it out on the watercolor paper. I know, hard to see. Faint lines on white paper but I tried to get the curl of the foam around the shell, flowing in from the top and then pooling.

Preliminary drawing - pencil on paper

Now time to start in with the trusty Fineline Mask and get us some foam!

Masking fluid on paper

At this point it is just doodling the foam around the shell and filling in some of the small rocks so that I can get messy with the background.

Masking fluid on paper

Foam done and now to get some texture/sand in there with small dots of masking fluid.

Masking fluid on paper

Now to get the paper very wet and get that background in there. I am thinking that with an orange shell, having greens and violets in the sand should set off the shell nicely.

The sand here is white. Dead white. But it changes color all the time with shadows, sunsets and whatever is going on around it. This gives me the liberty to make the sand whatever color that I want.

I usually get the background very wet then float in color all around the masking letting it blend together. Sometimes a bit of salt on top adds texture.

Here it is all wet. Gorgeous colors!

Watercolor on paper

And here it is next morning all dry.

Watercolor on paper

I love those colors! Taking off the masking, I start painting in some of the surrounding rocks.

Watercolor on paper

Are you starting to get a sinking feeling of dread in your stomach? Yep. Gorgeous colors. Wonderful shell. Nice rocks.

But it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. What looked so nice on the beach in real life just lays there like a half-rotted fish. It doesn’t flow. There is no balance. I am not even sure what is quite so wrong with it but it is just wrong. You know it when you see it with fresh eyes.

I could whack away at it and try to bring it to life but sometimes you just have to move on. And maybe learn from it.

And that it where I left it.

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