Impressionist Landscape Composition - Balance - Achieve a Dynamic Equilibrium | Rachael Broadwell | Skillshare

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Impressionist Landscape Composition - Balance - Achieve a Dynamic Equilibrium

teacher avatar Rachael Broadwell, Fine Arts Teacher

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. The Concept of Balance

    • 3. The Concept of Visual Weight

    • 4. How Monet Achieved Balance

    • 5. Finding Balance in Photo References

    • 6. Painting Demo - Sketching

    • 7. Painting Demo - Block-In

    • 8. Painting Demo - Refining

    • 9. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Balance is part of our everyday lives -- from physical balance to lifestyle balance, it's a concept we intuitively understand. But how exactly does it apply to visual composition? That's the question I sought to answer in the newest installment of my Impressionist Landscape Composition series. 

We commonly think of balance as being symmetrical -- equal weights on a scale. But it's so much more and there's a LOT to play with! In this course, we'll examine balance with a scientific perspective. We'll also look at the psychology of balance through visual weight. And to put these concepts into context, we'll analyze a few Claude Monet landscapes. Finally, I'll show you how I go about incorporating balance into my work.

This course is focused on the concept of balance, so it applies no matter what visual media you work in! If you're interested in my oil painting techniques, I have quite a few courses that go into detail on my approach.

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Rachael Broadwell

Fine Arts Teacher


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1. Introduction: Hello and welcome Teoh, my newest course in the Impressionist landscape composition miniseries here on skill share . My name is Rachel, and in this course we are going to take a look at the principle of balance as well as visual weights. Balance is a very broad concept, and it's something that we employ in our everyday lives on an intuitive level, without really thinking about it. But I think it's worth considering and analyzing how it fits into art and composition. As with any principle, as it relates to art in composition, we need to have a good understanding of the principle so that we can then make informed decisions and use it to our advantage. Therefore, the goal of this course is to really simplify this concept of balance and visual weights by looking at a couple of examples from both the scientific in the psychological viewpoints. And then we're going to look at one of the great Impressionist landscape masters, Claude Monet, and how he employed balance into his work. And finally I will walk you through my steps that I would go through to ensure that I am achieving a very balanced and yet dynamic composition. We often think of balance as being equal weights on two sides of a scale, for example. But it's actually so much more than that. And there's just so much room to play with balance within compositions. And I think that it's really important just to have a very solid understanding of that. I will be doing my demonstration with oil paints, but it's important to remember that these principles cross over into every medium, even photography. So if you want a better understanding of compositional principles, I hope that you will take this course. And I hope that you'll also check out my other courses in this Siris on landscape composition. I hope that you're ready to get painting because I know that I am, so let's get started. 2. The Concept of Balance: In its simplest terms, balance pertains to weights placed on a horizontal axis. And since we are artists here, I think it's important to visualize that. So here is our horizontal access, and I'm going to place two weights on either side of it. And what we need to find is the center of pressure or the center of gravity. In this case, because the weights on either side are approximately the same, we can place that center right in the middle of that horizontal axis, and we have a symmetrical balance. But this is not our only option. What if I place a very large, heavy weight on the other side of this horizontal axis? Can we balance this? Well, according to physics, we can we have to just move that center of gravity. So we need to move that way over onto the other side, and this helps us achieve a dynamic balance. And I would argue a more interesting balance. I found this really awesome tool online. It's met for kids, but it works for artists as well, and we can see that if we place this five kilogram objects on either side of this balance, we achieve that symmetrical balance. But if I move one of those objects a little bit closer to the fulcrum or the center of gravity, you can see how much it shifts the balance. So now we have imbalance. Now here is a 10 kilogram object. I placed it on one side of this balance, and you can see it quickly went down. Placing a five kilogram objects on the other side didn't do much to help. But what if I move that larger, object a little closer to the center and start credit inching this lighter object over to the center and look at that. We can achieve balance, but we can see that the center is much closer to that larger, heavier objects. In this example, we have more weights to play with, so you can see if I place this 1.5. I'm sorry, 15 kilogram stack of bricks on either side of the balance. We get that symmetrical balance. Of course, as we would expect. Let's put those back and let's see here. Let's take the 20 kilograms stack of bricks, slammed those down on one side and let's see if we can get this 15 kilograms stack of bricks to balance. I'm going to start just inching that larger stack of bricks a little closer to the center of gravity. And you concede, just by moving it a little closer to the center, we were able to balance that one. So now I have just 10 kilograms to counterbalance the 20 kilogram stack. You can see if I move that heavier stack a little closer to the center. It still works. So now we've got 20 kilograms on one side and just five kilograms on the other side. So I'm gonna start inching it a little bit closer to the center, and we can see we've achieved balance. But we have that larger stack much closer to the center of gravity, and that five kilogram works way out on the edge of that lever. So now you can see there's a lot of ways to play around with balance. But let's take a look at some of the old masters and how they achieved it 3. The Concept of Visual Weight: Oh, but before we look at the masters and how they used balance in their works, let's talk about another concept called visual weights. Now, while balance has its foundations in physical science, visual weight is more of a psychological concept. So here you can see it's pretty easy when we're talking, especially about landscapes, to find that horizontal access, and we can very easily achieve a symmetrical balance by putting something right in the middle of that access from a human perspective, we tend Teoh give greater visual weight toe objects that are large, dark or very bright. Or maybe all of those features they tend Teoh hold much more weight in our perception. So placing a large, dark objects on one edge of the picture plane can make the picture feel maybe a little bit out of balance. But if we add an even larger feature, maybe not quite as dark over on the other side of the picture plane that tends to make this composition feel just a little bit more balanced. But psychology also plays a very important role in visual waits. As humans, we tend to focus a lot on any object that appears to be man made or is actually a human form. So one way to really so one way to really shift visual weight is to add in some man made object, even if it's small, even if it's not dark. Even if it's not bright because it's man made, it grabs our attention as humans. So let's play with that idea a little bit more. I'm going to start kind of just sketching in a nice tropical beach scene. But I'm gonna put a lot of visual weight over on the left side of the picture plane, and we're going to see how we might find a way to balance that out. So I've got some palm trees, a nice shoreline. Let's see, maybe some distant hills that are kind of a medium value. We have a lot of visual Wait over here on the left, maybe some waves rolling into the shore. And really, the open expanse over on the right side kind of creates a counterbalance in its own way, and we could put some nice, bright, bold colors over there. But let's see what happens if I add just a little bit of a vague human element over onto the right side. Maybe someone in a boat, We're going to give him a little or he's rowing away from the shores. And then we have a little bit of movement, which is a whole other thing that we'll talk about a little bit later in my composition. Siri's. But you can see how this small human element, while not dominant in any obvious way, he's not particularly large or dark or, at this point, even bright. But it really balances out this composition. Now let's tie this concept of visual weight back into the concept of balance. You can see that I've got my horizontal access. I've placed a large dark object on one side of the access and a much smaller, lighter objects on the other side. And when I find my center of gravity, it's of course, very close to that large, dark object that how might this actually fit into a picture plane? We can play with it a lot of ways, but I think that one way that I commonly see this balance is where that large, dark object is not fully included in the picture planes, so you can see when I get this erased over here that we have an image that feels a little bit more balanced, even though we didn't have to include the entire large object that has much more visual weights now I think we're ready to go ahead and look at how the Masters achieved balance in their work. 4. How Monet Achieved Balance : So let's look at a few works by one of the great Impressionist masters, Claude Monet, and we're going to look at a few of his composition specifically just to find how he achieved balance in his work. I thought this was one of the most simple compositions, not in terms of a simplistic execution, but in terms of the balance achieved. We can easily find that horizontal axis, and then we see that we have this large dark mass over here on the right side of the composition, and it's already counterbalanced quite a lot. There's a dark, small mass over on the center left, but then, if we look closely, we actually see a couple of man made objects, a sailboat and then a distant house, and as humans that carries a lot of visual wait for us. So rather than the center of mass being really close to that large mass, I'd actually put it a little bit slightly over to the left of that. Now here is another composition. The horizontal axis is not quite as easy to find, but it is there, and then we have this large dark shape over on the left side. of the composition. And if we look closely, we can see a couple of human elements an actual human figure, which carries a lot of visual, wait for us and even more distant set of figures and then an actual castle or mansion over on the left. So we've got a lot of visual way over on the left, but it's very well counterbalanced by those human elements here. We don't have such an obvious human element, so it's gonna be a little bit trickier. We have this large dark mass over here, this tree on the right hand side. This is the darkest element in this composition, and then we have some somewhat larger masses that are still pretty dark, but not nearly as dark as that tree. But then we can see that we've got a lot of implied lines leading our I to one focal point , and that's actually where I would find the center of balance, the center of gravity in the image. Here again, we have our horizontal access. We have a lot of dark values, counterbalanced with light values in this composition, but I'm going to first map out the darkest values that I see in you can see that we already have a really good balance here, but then and I don't want to forget these shadows over here on the left. But then we're going to look at this even larger mass. It's still quite dark, but not nearly as dark as those other masses. But again, we have some implied lines and a bit of a human element here as well, with this road leading us to the focal point, which is also our center of gravity for this composition. And I think that this is a really effective way to analyze different compositional principles by looking back to the masters that you respect. Most try to apply these principles to their compositions to see how they intuitively achieved these principles of composition. 5. Finding Balance in Photo References: Now let's take a look at some of the photo references that I'm considering using for the demonstration. For this course this first photo, I'm not actually sure if I took this photo or if this is from picks obey dot com. But regardless, um, it is already cropped into a square format, and it already obviously has a very symmetrical balance to it, which I don't really find too interesting. This photo is also from picks obey dot com, and it's a little bit more dynamic. You can see we have a setting sun and the silhouetted beach over on the right side counterbalanced by this vast ocean. But here we see, we've got a couple of distant human figures as well as that bright sun and a splash of color. And so that's where I would find the center of gravity. In this photo reference, you might recognize this image from one of my earlier compositional courses here on skill share, and I really like these kinds of images in the balance that they brings. You can see that we have some really nice calm but very colorful water that's very vast over on the right side of the composition and then on the upper left side. We have a lot of contrast with the rocks, and then we also have a lot of human elements. So even though that's a smaller part of the composition, it really it brings a lot of balance. Here's a photograph that I took, and I think that this is also a really good example of balance. Now, of course, a lot of these images are already cropped in a way that they are decent compositions. But you can see here we have this large dark mass on the right hand side, counterbalanced by a lot of bright colors and a little bit of darks over on the left. And then we have some middle values throughout that just kind of bring a nice balance to this overall composition. Here's another one from picks Obey of a Beach. This one, I think, is a little bit of a simple composition, but I kind of like that. So we have these dark masses of plants that air sort of becoming counterbalances to each other. But then we have kind of this implied line created by the path that we can just imagine. Humans using to get down to the beach, so this is already a nice balance. But then, let's not forget about this vast light, beautiful sky with the setting sun and just a splash of color to really balance that out. Here's another photo that I took that I probably want to manipulate to get a little bit better balance so we can achieve balance by using bright colors, not just dark, large objects. So this front, the barn that's being like, really has a lot of visual. Wait. And I might want Teoh help balance that out by exaggerating the size of the trees on the right and then diminishing the size of the trees over on the left so that I can find a little bit more balance that isn't so heavy over on the left hand side of this composition . And so I would put my center of gravity just about here, which to me it seems like a very nice balance 6. Painting Demo - Sketching: All right. So here is the photo reference. I decided Teoh do my painting demonstration on. However, I think that I'm going to play with the colors a little bit. This is almost just like yellows and greens in this photograph. And I think I wanna have just a little bit more fun with the color. But I'm going to start out with a really simple, monochromatic sketch. And I'm just using a Sharpie just to kind of mark off the dominance values in the large shapes. And primarily I just want to make sure that my composition is balanced. And for this composition and photo reference, I actually did change the format just a little bit. It was more of a square before I decided I wanted it to be a little bit more vertical. So it's in a vertical or portrait orientation for this painting. And I'm just using very simple strokes or scribbles in my sketch just to map out the dominant feature. So I'm kind of mapping out the most visually heavy features right now, things that are a little bit darker, things that are larger, and I'm going to start thinking about how I'm going to balance that out. One of the main reasons I do sketches before I start painting in most cases is because it helps me to start thinking through any issues that I might anticipate wall in painting and so I can start kind of thinking about how I'm going to address those for this composition. What I'm anticipating is that the's large masses that are very dark kind of caused a little bit of imbalance to the overall composition. So I'm already thinking about how I will try to address that. And I think one thing is that I'm going to be using that bright light in the bold colors, and I'm going to incorporate not only where they are in the photo, but I'm going to have those bright colors peeking through the branches and leaves of the tree even more than they already are. And I think that that's really going to help bring a sense of balance. So I'm going to have a lot of dark over on the right hand side of the composition, a lot of light on the left side of the competent composition. But then I'm going to have some of the light trickling through over on the right hand side as well 7. Painting Demo - Block-In: this painting demonstration is going to be sped up for the purposes of this course, since we're really just focusing on balance, I do have full length demonstrations of my painting process in my other skill share courses , those who I encourage you to check that out. And I'm just going to kind of adhere to some basic principles and methods that I typically employ it while painting, which is to paint from my darkest values up to my lightest values. That's probably the biggest one and then saving all of my boldest, brightest colors for last. So for this demonstration, and mainly going to be talking about how I am addressing that principle of balance as I work on this painting, you can see I've already got my dark large masses blocked in, and I'm starting to come in with some really light, vibrant colors and these air what I'm going to really rely on to balance out this composition. And you can see that for my photo reference. I'm using kind of the structure and most basic composition as kind of just a jumping off point. And then I'm just gonna have a little bit of fun with my colors, and I really encourage you to do that. I just wanted to use a lot more color than what is readily apparent in my photo reference, kind of creating a little bit more of a vibrant, colorful sunset and then letting the large dark forms be silhouetted. And just as I said in my sketch, what I'm doing to really achieve balance in this composition is to allow a lot of that sky to be peeking through the branches and leaves of this tree to kind of break up that huge, dark shape. This portion of the painting is what I refer to as the color block in. So all I'm really trying to do right now is sort of just map out the largest, boldest and most basic colors and values in this composition. And then I'll refine it from there. And I really encourage you to go ahead and start out your paintings, just being really maybe Messi or Carefree. Don't worry about anything. Let the structure come a little bit later. Right now, I'm really not thinking about this is a tree and these air branches. I'm really just thinking about what I want to achieve with this composition. And so obviously I want to achieve a really nice sense of balance that just isn't completely symmetrical. That's a little bit more dynamic. And I also want Teoh achieve a sense of light, especially light peeking through the branches Andrew and leaves of the tree because I find that just really beautiful. It always catches my eye when I'm out walking around or out painting. So that's what I want to capture. And now that I have everything blocked in and mapped out, I'm ready to start doing a little refining and defining the structures in this painting. 8. Painting Demo - Refining: so far. I have a pretty good sense of balance going on in this composition. And so my task now is going to be to do some refinements on the overall colors and structure of this composition while not disrupting this bit of balance that I've been able to achieve so far. Part of me really likes this almost abstract form that I have in here. It's very brushy, it's very loose, and I somewhat have to fight the natural inclination. Teoh go in and start rendering things too much. So I also really want to maintain the loose, brushy strokes. I want it to remain just a little bit abstract. I'm not trying Teoh get every detail in from my photo reference. But at the same time, I do want just a little bit more structure, especially where the light is shining through the branches and leaves. Those forms are breaking up that large, dark mass, but I want to actually further break up those little spots of color coming through with just some little indications, maybe of branches and a tip for when you are painting trees, because I think that they are one of the more tricky things to paint. Even though you know we're so familiar with them, we see them all the time. Should be easy. Right? Um, my trick here is not to be overly concerned or even not to be concerned at all with whether or not your little branches make sense. So you can see that I have a lot of branches that are kind of disconnected. They don't form a solid, continuous line all the way from the tip of the branch or twig all the way back to the trunk of the tree. And to me, that helps give that sense of white just kind of shining through and defusing those lines, kind of obscuring those lines. So be really losing carefree with your branches. Don't worry about getting every branch in there that you see in your photo reference just kind of give some very light indications of those. And now I'm going back and you can see I'm obscuring a little bit more of the light training through the branches and leaves. I think that that really helps to give a natural appeal Teoh composition. And it also is going Teoh help with our balance because the light training through the branches and leaves that carries a lot of visual way in itself. We really noticed those because there's just so much contrast right there, and so it's going to be helpful to kind of balance that out as well. The trick, of course, as with anything, is not to overdo it and to know when to stop. I'm also using a bit of spot color. Teoh give a little bit more balance to this composition as well. So if you look in the lower left hand corner, I've added just a few little tiny strokes of orangish red paints on the tops of those grasses. And I feel like that alone gives a really nice counterbalance to all the greens and dark colors over on the right hand side, and this is looking like a pretty good place to stop. I know that I can easily overdo it and end up with a chaotic mess. Here's how the final piece turned out, and I think that, you know, I really achieved a good sense of balance. And as with any compositional principle, it really just takes a little bit of consideration and problem solving, and you can easily apply this to any composition 9. Final Thoughts: all right, so let's take a look at the final painting here. It's still nice. And what? So I'm trying to get paint on my hands, but I do like how this turned out, and I do think that it has a nice balance to it. We have this large mass over here with the tree and if that's very heavy, but we have counterbalanced it with all of these light, bright colors and allowed the light to even trickle through the leaves and branches of the tree and added just a little splash of color down here as well. Balance is just one of those things where we intuitively understand it, even if it's not the first word that we would use to describe most of the art that we enjoy looking at. But it's certainly a topic and a principle that is worth considering and taking the time to understand, so you can make informed decisions and employ it in your own art. I really hope that you enjoyed this course in my Impressionist landscapes composition, Siri's. I have lots of other courses here on skill share, including several courses that go into a lot of detail about my techniques for Impressionist paintings and I have lots more in the works. So I hope that you will follow me here on skill share and stay tuned for more courses again . I really hope that you enjoyed this course and I hope that you will post your paintings in the project, Have a great day and happy painting.