Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Composition ala Ian Roberts


4/26/22 Northgate neighborhood

In addition to experimenting with color temperature, I’m also thinking hard about composition lately. It’s all Ian Roberts’ fault – viewing his videos has really blasted my head open! Although he presents some ideas in ways that seem new, most of what he is saying is not revolutionary; his concepts are based on long-established principles of representational art. I’ve heard most of what he is saying before, but like a dried-up sponge with some water sprinkled on, it is as if my brain has finally become absorbent enough to take more water in. It is finally beginning to make sense.

Above is a typical street scene of the kind that I enjoy sketching – cars, houses, trees and their shadows (oh yes, and a trash can, which I’m sure Ian would tell me to remove as a distraction, but he’s not an urban sketcher 😉). I started out in my usual not-much-thinking way, but then I heard Ian’s voice in my head urging me to consider the composition – especially the direction in which the eye is led into the drawing and the path it takes around it. (Please take a look at it and think about where your eye goes, then read on for my intention.)

The large tree and house near the center of the composition are in the area where I’d like the viewer’s eye to be attracted. The foreground street shadows are intended to lead the eye to that point by way of the trash can and pickup truck (low contrast for a minor-interest stop). After the large tree and house, the reddish bush should bring your eye back down toward the pavement shadows, which would lead you back around again. And according to his No. 1 composition rule that must never be broken, the eye should find enough of interest in those stops along the path that it doesn’t drift out and away from the picture.

I didn’t add to or move anything I saw (you know me – I’m still “truthful to the scenes I witness,” according to the Urban Sketchers manifesto), but I tried to use contrasts and color intensity to take your eye in the direction I wanted it to go. Was I successful?

One thing I noticed about his landscapes is that the horizon line is often high in the composition – lots of ground and very little sky. I like putting a lot of sky in the composition because I want to fill it with wires. But as a test, I cropped the sky as Ian probably would (below). Hmmm. I admit, it’s a better composition. Fortunately for me, I still have room for power lines.

(No, I wasn’t consciously thinking about color temperature in this sketch. My pea brain can manage only one concept at a time.)


  1. Very interesting (and a most attractive sketch). My eye followed the diagonal wires from the top of the image, paused on the central trees and the house peeking out from the foliage, and continued for two more descending diagonals, finally coming to rest on … the trash can in that lovely cool patch of shade. I am by nature quiet and reflective, and my heart is content to look upon the world with the peaceful trash can for company.

    1. Thank you, David, for letting me know the path of your eye! I'm glad you see the trash can as peaceful! ;-) - Tina (wish I didn't have to be anonymous on my own blog, but Google won't let me comment as my account. :-( )

  2. I stopped at the sentence where you said to look at the picture. My eye immediately went to that dark house in the center, and kept coming back to that. The trees leaned to the right, but the dark trunks kept me coming to the center. At first, the car on the right was so light I thought it was a street, until the trees at top terminated it. And the shadows lead me left, then up, back to the house in the center. When I read the rest of your post I felt like a star pupil for getting it right! ;-)
    And what' with Blogger!? I was so geeked when I could comment as HwH (finally!), then I couldn't get in except as anonymous. So, at least I know it is not just me. Anne (HemmedWithHamsters)

    1. Yay for getting it right! :-) I'm back to being able to comment, but only because I cleared my cookies and then allowed some cookies (before, my Chrome settings were set to ban all cookies, I guess).

  3. Nice success in making my eyes travel around the painting and not drift out! I love when the composition works to make me go round and around. I do agree that the composition with less sky works better.


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