If you haven't already explored the Painting Outdoors - Composing Your Subject Matter, you should take a few minutes to read it now. It will give you information to help you begin your composition. Here's the link: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art58056.asp
This article will apply equally well to painting from a photo or painting outdoors. Learning to leave out the things that may only add clutter to your composition is a skill you will want to work on.
For the remainder of this article, I wll only refer to using your framing square. Just apply the same principles to your photos for a cleaner composition.
A common error new painters make is in trying to include too much in the composition. Your focal point must easily visible and easily discernable to actually BE the focal point. First thing, you need to decide what your focal point will be.
To make it easy for now, choose an interesting building, tree or grouping of flowers. Let's assume the subject will be a tree and that you will be painting on a canvas. Use your framing square to decide just how to position the tree on your canvas and make a loose sketch of it.
Next, make a soft line across your canvas to indicate the top of the background that appears behind your tree. Perhaps there is a line of trees in the distance. Your first line will go at the top of the trees. Next, sketch in the actual groundline - the line that is at the bottom of the distant tree line.
Is there a road, path or stream that goes through the composition area? This would be a good element to use to help guide the viewer's eye into the foreground and to your tree. Don't let this get too complicated or important in the composition. Remember that each painting must have only one main focal point.
Now we need some middle ground. An intermediate stand of trees or bushes and/or a little shed is a good addition here. Again, don't put too much detail into them. Detail pulls items into the foreground and we want these trees or bushes to stay in the middle area. You need enough detail to define what is there but not so much it jumps to the front.
Add some of the detail you see around your tree: is there an old fence post, perhaps a bit of leftover wire or a broken fence board or two? Maybe there are a few wildflowers there .. or just add some with your "artistic license". It allows you to do such things! A little color will add interest and help to bring your viewer's eye right to your tree.
Voila! We have a nice composition that features your tree all ready to paint! Be sure to come back soon and explore adding the color to this exciting new composition you have just sketched!
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