Friday, September 11, 2015

Comp Hunting: How I Learned to Stop Multitasking... and Have More Fun (Zion Prep Update 4.0)

thumbnail comp on grid paper, Bloc Rhodia No. 13

Multitasking is an all-to-common component in the modern workplace (even though studies have shown that it is not an effective time-saver and frequently results in errors.) Unfortunately, multitasking is the way we often approach art-making too -- trying to resolve the problems of composition, pictorial space, tonality, color, and even trying to capture our own emotional reaction to our subject all at the same time. And this, in turn can lead to frustration, misperception, misrepresentation, and even imagery that falls far short of our desired goals.

I personally do not enjoy racing the clock; I find it stressful and even disruptive to the creative process. But our revolving planet stands still for no man and even the most sublime lighting effect is fleeting. So, before a new adventure gets underway, I train hard to work quickly, and search for creative options that enable me to see more clearly, work boldly, and avoid time-consuming errors (both perceptual and technical.)

identifying shapes and tones, Bloc Rhodia No. 13

There are a number of ways of avoiding the stress and inefficiency of multitasking but I have found one that works pretty well for me (and has worked well for other artists too.) I simply break the complex, multifaceted process of creating an image into component parts -- resolving one "visual problem" (or small group of problems) before moving on to the other problem(s) involved in the art making process.

The first "visual problems" I focus on when painting plein air is deciding on a composition, identifying major shapes and spacial plains (background, middle ground, and foreground), and establishing the shadow/highlight patterns that give the subject the appearance of form and record the specific time of day. (At this stage I deliberately ignore color and atmospheric perspective.)

emphasizing plains, Bloc Rhodia No. 12

I begin by viewing the subject through my View Catcher composing tool -- moving the tool side to side, up and down, and forward and backward until I find the composition I'm happiest with. Then I use a graphite pencil (easy to correct and ideal for recording tone through simple changes in pressure) on Rhodia gridded paper to capture the composition while exploring the primary shapes, spacial plains, and patterns of sunlight and shadows of my subject.

To further sharpen this skill I sometimes go out "comp hunting" -- taking with me nothing more than a sketch bag filled with Rhodia grid pads, pencils, eraser, and View Catcher and, in the course of just an hour or two, record several strong compositional studies.  

the light blue grid is both easy to read and readily distinguishable 
from the thumbnail comp, Bloc Rhodia No. 13

In this way I develop an accurate understanding of the non-color aspects of my subject before I pick up my paint brushes. I build self-confidence through successful firsthand experience, and learn to see more clearly -- emphasizing the essential and eliminating the superfluous.

Then, when I am ready to begin applying paint to panel, I am free to focus on the next set of issues -- including the expressive use color and the creation of atmospheric perspective. (And, best of all, I find that I work faster, make fewer mistakes, and have more fun.)

If you think this method might be useful for you, why not give it a try? (And be sure to let me know if you have more fun too.)



  1. Good ideas, and Hi! We were in contact a couple of years ago .... :)

  2. Good discipline. Keeps us at the ready. Thanks

  3. I will add this to my list of things to experiment with. Thanks!