Plein & Simple with John Burton, Part 8: Design & Composition



welcome to schools of interviews miniseries with your hosts Bobby Chu John Burton as an award-winning plein air painter and fine artist he's a signature member of the plein air painters of America a popular speaker at events such as the planar convention in San Diego the plein air Expo and convention of modern California the laguna plein air painters reception in laguna beach california among many others he has been featured in publications such as fine art connoisseur outdoor painter magazine art of the west magazine and more were lucky and excited to have him as an instructor for environment and light with john burton on schools and calm today John joins Bobby for this mini-series on his philosophies techniques and of course art and life as an artist we hope you enjoy it hey John so in your class on school ISM environment and light with John Burton you talk about a lot of very valuable things a lot of things that we've talked about in many of the little miniseries that we've been putting out here in lesson 7 composition I want to talk to you about your thoughts on composition and first why is contrast the key contrast to me is the key because its value structure so you can't show the different design in different shapes if you don't have value range if you don't have a difference between your darks and your lights now composition is tricky so composition is something in this that I really had to think out how to share the ideas because composition can enslave you or cage you if you think ok well I always need to put my design in the Third's I always have to follow the golden section these are the rules of design and then I follow all those and and that's all I ever make is this one repetitive design so but I can't leave design out because design is important because my foundation of design is built on something so I go through in the course about talking about different design ideas as just kind of building blocks kind of like okay here's I'm gonna put wings on you and I'm gonna put you on the edge of the cliff but in the end you have to fly and you have to make your compositions and you have to make your designs and and make them for the truth of who you are you know the feelings of this is how I want a design because like one thing never put anything in the middle and then you also make a design in the middle and that one's like did you see that genius design Bobby just did he put the thing in the middle everyone else doing the thirds and so you can all the rules are there to be broken so breaking it down to just saying besides the things I share in the lesson but saying value to me has been the most important and the reasons the most important is because then once I have controlling my values and that value contrast and the value grouping then I can place the shapes and the places I want to make the most most interesting design until I do that it gets piecemeal they might make my shapes too small it might be too too much to see I don't group large middle small shapes but as soon as I get that contrast I'm in control so do you do your drawing separate from your your value design you know like when you're just because some people they're they're just drawing and then they're trying to make a good composition within their drawing and then they think about their value structure as this completely separate thought and okay now I gotta take this drawing in this you know the composition that's done in lines and try to also make a great composition with my values or do you kind of put it all together in one kind of move yeah and so drawing so interesting because drawing is such an incredibly abstract idea because the world doesn't exist in line the world exists in value and shape and so every time we're drawing we're actually abstracting the idea as if we're abstracting over the letters like the letters are we put letters together to make words because we've all agreed on that but it's a very abstract concept of these were this these letters together see 80 represent Cat Cat conjures up an image of a cat in my head drawing is the same thing because I draw a tree and it will look like a tree to the viewers that see it but it really is not as close to a tree as value and painting are because it's all made out of line and trees not made out of line so in the steps that you are talking about in the learning process I need to draw and then they need to do value studies and then they need to paint but eventually I still do all of those but eventually I start I try it by by by training I try to see the world as those values shapes but as I group these values then once I'm I'm putting that into the painting I can even start with that like I can be doing a color painting and each shape of my original design is all in a dark value which will create a nice value grouping of all my darks I could not even start up painting not many people do but you just started with all my lights have all my whites and lights and that will create this value contrast and help you build my design so in the very beginning you might have really just kind of concentrated on making good drawings and then making good value decisions but now because I guess you've been doing this for a good you know a good long minute here very comfortable with kind of combining the two I am but I don't recommend that at the beginning and that's what I kind of spell out in the lessons is start with drawing and then get into value and then into color and then at but but here's the interesting one is composition in design you're working all the time and I do think that's important from the very beginning don't start saying well I'll work on that one later always design always put your shapes in it what you believe to be an interesting placement you might find later that the conclusions that you came to maybe aren't as exciting as they would be later but I do think that we need to start from the beginning beginning and always do design but yeah drawing then do the value color and all that time doing design and when I when I look at your paintings very closely like if you just crop a little of your paintings you can actually see in your brushstrokes they also look like nice little compositions nice little designed brushstrokes so I want to ask you about that as well is there kind of like the same kind of thinking when you are actually putting down your brushstrokes and thinking about your brushstrokes in design and composition as well yes I do yeah and they try to get very lyrical very poetic brushwork and I think a big part of that is first you have to bake the cake right and then you can put the icing on so in the in the lessons that I have in first getting like quick studies getting the understanding of getting the big relationships together first we get those relationships and once we get those relationships then we can worry more about brushwork but until we can get the actual there's a funny thing with that bobby is that the brushwork you people would be surprised it's way easier it's the thing that you get you know people will compliment or notice like how that's nice brushwork but it is a lot of times a flick of a brush compared to the hours of getting the relationships and the study and learning of how to get relationships so yes I think of back to the question is getting all the big shapes and and then the middle the medium-sized shapes and then these small miracle shapes will build off that but and and that's one thing I I was taught in art school is you always use a brush that is uncomfortably large and I like that wording so when you're painting quite often when someone's starting is like okay they're painting this you know 12 16 16 20 painting and they're using a number one brush and what does that do in the end it creates very boring brushwork it because you're telling the viewer wherever there's going to be this lyrical type brushwork is going to grab attention and you're telling the viewer hey it's all important and it can't all be important so you know another way of saying is I I say it is you're working for the CEO and CEO does not have time for a 40 page report CEO has a one-page synopsis that tells them everything that's going on and if you're using this one little brush stroke stroke stroke he's getting the 40 page synopsis and he doesn't know by the end he doesn't have time for that you give him the one page report which is these big shapes but this is what you need to focus on this is our star and this is where I want you to look now if you want the 40 page synopsis and this these all these little gems are not good enough for you well you're in luck because John has an amazing course on schools I'm calm and it's called environment and light with John Burton he goes over composition he goes over drawing goes over values he goes over all this stuff however if you're just practicing on your own I think the real key to what John is saying is make sure that you're thinking about composition and design all the time all the time not only with your drawings with your value structure with your colors brushstrokes everything and when you subscribe to this class on school ism not only are you subscribing to his class but with one school ism subscription you get over 25 different art courses created by many of the best artists in the industry you get the full courses and lessons as well as downloadable assignments now if you want to turn it up another notch take John's premium version of his class with the video feedback because with this version of the class you do the assignments you watch the lessons you hand it in and John will get it on the other side and he will send back a video of him painting over top of your stuff customizing his specific teaching to your strengths and weaknesses to allow you to jump over many hurdles and totally take the fast track an amazing artist that school is imagines class environments and light with John Burton

3 Replies to “Plein & Simple with John Burton, Part 8: Design & Composition”

  1. Thank you Bobby for these mini lessons and insights form other great artists.

    It was great listening to John Burton, especially like the part with symbols and representations. Also the report analogy.

    Contrast is a great tool for many parts of designs. It creates interest and different energy balancing.

    The way I approach composition is from the idea of what information I need to deliver and how I want the audience to feel and perceive the scene. And yes it is good to know the ‘rules’ because it gives you the insight with which you can use and bend them as you need to reach your goal.

  2. Composition has always been a struggle for me so it was very nice for a great painter to explain his concept of it!!😊

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