Get into the O-zone – How to make compelling pictures

I’ve recently written a series of articles for the Leisure Painter magazine in the UK on the subject of composition, and these have really got me thinking much more about the way we design our pictures.

I’ve come to realise that composition is king when it comes to holding a viewers attention. Yes, value and colour are all important, but the structure of a painting – what holds it together and keeps the viewer engaged – is the compositional element. Often it is not seen, just like the skeleton that gives us form and structure, but without this we would just be a blob. Likewise, without the backbone of a good composition, our paintings can become mere blobs.

The power of the O-zone

Take a look at these masterful and beautiful paintings by Frank Gascoigne Heath (1873-1936) . What makes them so good? You will have guessed by now. The composition.

Both paintings use the idea of a circle – the O. And the artist leads you around the picture and around the picture and around the picture. You stay within the painting, hooked and finding more and more to look at. And while you are there you are not looking at someone else’s painting. That’s very cunning. Let me show you how he does it.

A Summer Afternoon by Frank G Heath

Here’s a delightful painting called “A Summer Afternoon” painted around 1925. Can you see the O-zone here that gives it it’s structure? One of the first things you see is the face of the standing girl on the left, whose hat just touches the skyline. (This change in colour which forms the skyline stops the viewer crossing the sea and just keeping on going, so exiting the paint at the top. Imagine the painting without it and you will see what I mean. It’s a simple device, but it works so well as a “stop”).

Our eye then travels down the girls body from her head to her feet and then we naturally cross over to look at the seated girl. From there we are lead by the pathway and the dark edge of the cliff to the upstanding rocks at the end of the headland. Heath has then added in some tiny boats in the sea. Can you see why he has done this? They lead us in a curve back towards the head of the first girl, and so we close the circle.

Even the dark shape in the bottom right corner forms a part of the circle, and the rather strange foliage around the standing girl’s legs is there for a reason as this also softens the O shape. Finally the rock in the sea to her left is also there for a reason – put your thumb over it and see what a difference it makes to the whole composition. Everything in this painting is there for a specific reason. None of this painting has been left to chance, everything has been carefully planned.

Another example

To see that this wasn’t just a one-off by this artist, let’s look at another of his works that has a similar structure. This one is called “Farmyard Talk”. Can you see the O that keeps us in the picture?

Farmyard Talk by Frank G Heath

So why not use this powerful compositional device in your next painting? Feel free to make changes to the shapes, colours, tonal values, the foliage, people etc.., even adding boats or chickens or anything else you might want to form your O-zone. The aim is to keep the viewer in the picture, fascinated and delighted and finding new things all the time.

I hope you have found this helpful. Please give this post a thumbs up if you liked it!

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Thank you.


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