I don't know about you, but we're well into springtime here in Tennessee. As a matter of fact, we've spent the last several weeks painting outdoors. If you watch the news, you may think all we get is tornadoes but there have been a lot of stellar painting days in between! (Actually I have in fact painted tornadoes -- twice! Now that takes some quick painting)
Anyway, there is a beautiful botanic garden near here named Cheekwood. I painted there last week, and got a picture of a pretty terrace garden accented by a clump of cedar and holly. White dogwoods lent their ethereal sprays of blooms to the lovely scene. Here is what I painted:
Okay. So... pretty picture, strong focal point, but....BORING. How can I liven this up? Standing in my studio, I cast my mind back to that day while I was at Cheekwood. Part of the experience was the pleasant weather and the view. But there was another aspect to the day. Behind me several mothers and children were playing on the lawn. Thier voices and laughter added to the experience.
What if I put a child in the scene? I toyed with ideas of pretty little girls posing on benches, of cotton-dress-clad mothers carrying babies, and all those ideas seemed ... well, boring.
How about a little boy? How about a little boy just about to get into some trouble? This begins to sound like fun. So I got out my Sharpie marker and some printer paper, and started scribbling ideas. The way to do this is to do several little scribbles, starting with the gesture. The gesture is a line which gives the general idea of how the figure will be posed. As I scribbled several gestures, trying to get the feel of a calamity about to happen, I gradually developed an image in my mind of a little boy climbing up onto the wall and reaching for one of the trellises.
Now that the idea is firmly established in my mind, and I don't have any conflicting images to confuse me, I can establish the lights and darks on my sketch and then on the painting. To transfer the sketch to the painting, I started by putting in the boy's shadow on the ledge, then I put the darks onto the boy. Next step was to add the lights on the boy. Last, I put in the reflected light into the dark areas. Here is the result:
The little boy does not immediately draw our eye away from the focal point; the first thing we see continues to be the contrast between the large upright tree mass and the white horizontal dogwood mass. But as we look at the picture, we notice a story about to develop over on the side. This is called a "secondary center of interest" and it can add a lot to a painting. The picture at this point may be described as about "a little boy about to pull over a trellis" but the primary focal point is still the trees near the center of the composition.