Technique vs. Composition

I was having a conversation with some ladies from word (we have an ATC group to exchange artwork). One of the pieces was a beautiful embossed foil piece with alcohol ink. It was stunning – but the artist was umcomfortable that the entire piece was just that. No border, nothing other than a single embellishment. She said she liked working on technique but doesn’t know how to put it together with something else.

And it struck me that that’s what I’ve been struggling with. I take classes that focus on technique – how to use this paint, what the tools are good for – but I don’t take classes on how to put it all together. That’s really what my work is lacking.

I look at all the pieces I’ve done and they tend to be either high contrast or monochromatic. I can do backgrounds and patterns forever – textures? You bet. Plaid, stripes, dots – I’m all over it. But to use those as the background to a focal point – I get stuck when I get to the question “what should I put there”.

I asked my good friend Google what to do and here’s some good resources he came up with:

Composition and Design: Elements, Principles, and Visual Effects

Studio Codex

Painting Composition | Creative Ways to Design Space

Top 14 Composition Techniques To Enhance Your Photos (yeah, I know, it’s for photography, but the examples are good ones)

I stayed away from any thing that mentioned “rules” and went more for guidelines and principles. I’m already a rule follower – I use my art to stay away from being restricted.

Google also found some good reads specifically for mixed media:

5 Ways to Strengthen your Mixed Media Art Compositions

Compendium of Mixed Media Tips & Techniques

After going through all that, here’s what resonated with me:

Composition is intuitive – that helps a lot…and not at all. I’m glad to hear the composition is something that comes from within, but that also means there’s no one answer – you just have to do it. And that’s probaby the answer for all of it.

Balance and unity seem to be difficult to achieve in mixed media. Probably the nature pulling seemingly random things together. Unity can be in texture or color. I have seen artists store their goodies by color, rather than medium. Maybe I’ll try that (to a certain degree).

Extremes and divergence can be good. I find there’s a lot of power in doing things to extreme. Julie Fei-Fan Balzer advocates “no mistakes” and keep going. If a piece is not going in a direction you want, it’s not wrong. You’re just not finished yet. Keep going. Similarly, if a technique is not going well, do it more. Add more paint, embossing powder, lace, whatever. Add a LOT more.

Walk away. That’s huge. I’ve done that before without knowing I was doing it. It happens at work all the time. A piece isn’t finished but you don’t know what it needs. Set it aside for a day, a week, a year or two. It’s not failure. It’s a work in progress. I might learn a new technique along the way that will eventually complete the piece. It was just waiting for me to learn. :-)

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