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Creating a composition: the inside story

Rebecca Vincent art sketchbook designs for compositions

Many of you have asked me about my inspiration, how I get started with a new composition and how I've developed my distinctive landscape style. I know that the leap from what you see out in the world to what actually appears on the paper can seem a bit mysterious. To be honest, I've put off writing about it as I'm not sure I understand it myself!

Anyway, here goes for a brief insight into how I create my compositions - the thinking behind them rather than the technical methods.

A creative partnership

In a great piece of representational art, two elements must come together harmoniously: the subject and the interpretation.

As I've explained in A Passion for Print, the types of mark, texture and colour that I can use in etching and monotype are central to what I do. It's the excitement of experimenting and finding new ways to interpret the subject through these media that drives my creative process. I get a creative buzz when I see the possibilities of one colour against another, the positive shape counter-balanced with the negative, an area of intense colour and texture contrasting with a pure open space...

Allowing failure

In this experimentation, one must allow failure; it's the only way to innovate and find new ways of working. It's in these mistakes that one sees the way forward: a better way to interpret a subject is made clear by seeing what's wrong with previous attempts.

Build experience

Day after day, year after year I'm adding to my experience and building a range of approaches that are unique to me and are ready to be deployed when the composition requires them. There's no substitute for experience, no shortcut. You must develop your skills and hone your craft with faithful perseverance, finding your own way, your own unique style.

Love of the Landscape Now for the subject matter: landscapes and seascapes have been my main subject for many years now. I used to take a lot of photos and draw in the countryside but I've pretty much given that up through the pressures of time and family but also because I've found it doesn't help me in my creative process. It can lead to an adherence to realism and single point perspective which is not what my work is about.

Rebecca Vincent artist printmaker, woodland northumberland country living

By keeping my eyes on the world around me rather than on the drawing pad or camera screen I aim to capture in my mind's eye what's important to me about a place. It's these memories and impressions that I draw upon to create a composition. I can always look online if I want to check a detail like the shape of a plant or the way light reflects off a lake. I've not traveled extensively as some artists have but I find all I need every time I step outside my door. During family holidays and days out in Northumberland, Cumbria and Yorkshire I find a wealth of inspiration!

The Ideal Form

I might consider a lot of different views and interpretations of a subject before creating my own which simplifies it to what is essential and pure in shape. I'm aiming however imperfectly at an "ideal" form. My philosophically inclined husband says it's a bit like Plato's theory of forms!

There is almost always an "Ah-ha" moment when I suddenly see, albeit partially, how a landscape subject can be interpreted using the range of printmaking methods I've developed. My compositions are usually very simple - a sky area, a land area, a focal point. A tiny thumbnail sketch is all that's needed to fix the idea for future reference. (see photo at the top)

Space for expression

I usually have a lot more ideas than I have time to make into complete pictures. For the monotypes, I select the best of these and draw them out at actual size in pen on paper. This will help me when registering all the layers using a light box. I keep these drawings as simple as possible so that there's room to be expressive as I work. You can see the before and after in after in this video:

As each layer is printed, I make more decisions about the direction the piece will go. The composition usually departs from the reality of the scene as other artistic choices take precedence. These are concepts like balance, harmony and rhythm: things an abstract painter will consider. It can feel as though the picture has a will of it's own and I'm negotiating with it!

The Rhythms of Nature

Where do I get my sense of these things? It's not easy to say... years of looking at art, making art, studying the tools of composition, the patterns of nature. One of the earliest things I learnt at art school was "The Golden Section" - a way of dividing a rectangle so that the focus of a picture is placed off-centre in a pleasing way. And why is it pleasing? I don't really know but I think it has something to do with the natural rhythms and patterns of the world around us - nature has a style that appears harmonious to us, as in shells, plants and animals, even the human form.

Colour is another extremely important factor in how I create my work. The layers of colour create space and intensity within the composition - I could write a whole blog post on that...

Over to you

It's fascinating to hear how people appreciate my work - colour, balance, rhythm and harmony are definitely communicating to them in profound ways. You are often better at expressing it than I am!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these things - you can comment below.

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