Creating the Composition of a Wildlife Painting

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series How I Begin A Wildlife Painting

In the previous article of this series, I described how I go about creating the location for a new wildlife art painting. I told you how I used references from many different places to put together a scene that no one has ever seen before. In this article, I’ll show you how I take all those design elements and create the composition for the painting.

The composition of a painting is the way in which the artist takes all the elements of a painting and puts them in an order of placement that is both natural and pleasing to the viewer. There are many rules of composition that have been established over the centuries based on how people view an image.

One such rule is called the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds states that an image, whether it is a photograph or a painting, should have its main elements placed along lines that divide the image into one-third segments of that image.  If you take a photograph of a landscape scene, the sky should fill either one-third of the image or two-thirds. Splitting the image in half with the horizon is not aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

To help me create the composition I want for the painting, I create scaled down sketches of the painting using the Rule of Thirds as a guide. The smaller scale allows me to quickly decide on the location of each element. I will usually create five or six of these sketches to get the feel of the composition that I want.

I start by taking the main elements that I want to include in the painting and arrange them according to the generally accepted rules of composition. In my paintings, trees are the most important element, second only to the actual wildlife. Usually the shape of a tree will determine where it will be placed in the scene. A tree with the majority of its branches on the right side should naturally be placed on the left side of the image. Otherwise it tends to look incomplete or appears not to belong to the scene at all. The height of a tree will also help determine its location in the scene. When all the trees are placed in the sketch, I start working on the background.

The background of the image will either be ground cover or water, depending on whether I’m creating a waterfowl painting or a mammal painting. If water is to appear in the painting, I must decide if the entire surface of the painting will be covered by water or a mix of ground cover and water. Lakes usually dictate that the entire surface area be covered by water. Steams or rivers can be a combination of ground cover and water. I also decide whether I want still water with a glassy reflection or a rippled surface on the water with broken reflections.

I now decide how the sky will look. I decide if I want clear blue sky with large cumulus clouds, or a gray sky with wispy cirrus clouds. I determine the placement of any clouds that will appear in the scene so that they interact accurately with the trees and other elements in the scene. There’s no need to have beautiful clouds that are completely hidden by the foliage of large trees. If I have water in the picture, I decide how much of the sky will be reflected in the water.

The last part of the composition to be determined is the actual wildlife that will appear in the scene. I generally have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to use before I settle on a composition but sometimes it changes. In the next article, I’ll describe how I select the wildlife that will appear in the painting.

Until next time, keep your brushes clean, your colors pure, and as always, thanks for stopping by the North Forty.


Creating the Composition of a Wildlife Painting

Thank you.

Series NavigationCreating the Location for a Wildlife PaintingSelecting the Wildlife for a Wildlife Painting
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4 Responses to Creating the Composition of a Wildlife Painting

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  2. Hello there! I really enjoy reading your blog! Keep making great posts and I will come back every day to keep reading!

  3. Keep functioning ,terrific job!

  4. Howdy, I really like the way you treated the subject… maybe you could look at my internet page and give me a few tipps. 10x in advance :)

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