The Big Dipper, 18 x 54 inches, oil on linen
(Click on image to see it larger)
Here's a painting that I've been working on for a while. I thought it was finished months ago, but something was bugging me and I couldn't figure out why at the time so I just set it aside till the answer came to me.
Last week I realized what the problem was; it was too pretty. Too much color for my taste. So I knocked it back with a dark glaze, and repainted most of it – more tonally this time. I like it a lot better. It's moodier, but it's not dark overall, and the saturated color is limited to yellow. There are reds and greens working here too, but they've been pushed toward yellow.
Now about how I arrived at this composition. In the last few years, I did a number of paintings on this theme. I was trying to update my website one day, and I had to find an image for a banner at the top of a page, see. The dimensions of this banner box were fixed, and I dragged different images (none of which were the same long skinny format) into it to see how they looked. When I pulled one of my roller coaster paintings (which was a 12 x 24 or something like that) into this box, I had this composition.
I find compositions and new variations on a theme this way quite often. Many a time I get excited when an unexpected composition presents itself, just begging to be made into a painting. The problem is that while the new composition may be pictorially interesting, even superior, sometimes it loses the original intent of the image. To me, a composition is all about arranging and orchestrating visual elements in order to effectively communicate an idea. Without an idea to communicate, a composition is not a composition. It would be like talking without saying anything. Just pointless chatter.
A found composition will sometimes tell a different story that I hadn't noticed in the original picture. Sometimes I'll go with it and develop it further, but other times, I know in my heart that I'm just rationalizing an accidental find. When it comes to painting, I like everything I do to be intentional. I do occasionally have "happy accidents" in my studies and I use them as learning tools, but when I'm composing and building an image, there's no room for accidents.
This roller coaster painting, incidentally, did not lose any of the original idea. It works for me because it effectively communicates my original idea, just in a different format.