2-Establish a Design & Create a Notan
Notan is a Japanese word for the balance of Light and Dark.
First establishing a design, this is your composition and this is one very big subject and lots of ideas to cover which I will tackle with more posts in bites size units.
In this painting though I wanted to have a central circular/oval focus in the upper half of the scene. This is a pretty simple composition which helps to keep the viewers eye within the picture plane.
The concept I chose for my first en plein air painting this year was based on mood, atmosphere and a dramatic sky counterbalanced by calm waters. I titled the concept "A Storm Brewing". It's a good idea to title your painting from the very start. This will help you keep your concept for the painting clear in your mind while you paint. On a day like the one I was tackling here the moods and values were changing from moment to moment. By being as clear about my primary concept and what I wanted to capture early on helped me keep to the plan.
A three word title is ideal, a longer title will not help focus you and will water down your visual concept. This will also keep you focused on a main dominant concept. Since I was interested in other ideas and elements of the scene, I wanted to keep one dominant. Here the dramatic sky against calm waters would best suit the view I was first taken with. It's okay to have a secondary focal area and more concepts but one should stay dominant. I loved the patterns of the cloud shadows across the mountains but the storm brewing was to be dominant for this particular painting so these patterns became secondary focal areas to the cloud action and only add some other visual interest until that rainbow presented itself.
Design dominance into your compositions. Three ways to accomplish this is through size of value and/or temperature, dominance by repetition of shape and/or colour, and dominance of temperature.
When the rainbow did presented itself it was hard for me to keep it secondary to my original focal concept. I felt I was too far along with the painting to change at that stage but I was able to give this new concept of weather effects, with the rainbow arching across much of the sky a more supporting role by shrinking it and having it cut across the left corner of my picture, helping to keep the viewer's eye within the central picture plane as originally planned. There is nothing wrong with making last minute changes as this would have still been possible to add as the main focal area but I had to make decision. I'm not sure I made the right one in the end but I'm glad I put it in. Like sunsets it was fleeting and I just had enough time to paint it before it disappeared on me.
Note that a concept is not things. For example it's not a 'big mountain' or a 'beautiful tree' or a 'stunning rainbow'. A good painter begins with a strong concept to base a painting on. The visual concept is usually suggested by your subject. This will then help to formulate your composition and notan.
My notan here had a dominant grey value and worked best in three values. Notans can be two values or three values but keep it simple.
See my next post on how I developed the notan for this scene, stay tuned.
1-Picking a Concept
A good painter begins with a strong concept.
As you look around, what grabs your attention, find something that excites you. Why did it grab your attention? What about this view has attracted you. The answer will be a concept usually suggested by the subject itself. Move on if nothing has caught your eye.
Visual Concepts by Robert Bissett
Morning or Evening Light
Horizontal Movement, Vertical Counter-Movement
Light Shape suspended amid darks
Light Shapes moving against Dark Shapes