Personal Art Blog

Sharing the lessons I teach at the Artist Guild and the personal discoveries in my art.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Solving Design Issues - Barn

Mesilla Valley Barn
6x8in oil on canvas panel $135.
Purchase HERE

Artist Note.
Painting on location is 
valuable as a way to 
record the colors and shapes,
but rarely do you get a really
good composition in your sight-line. 
Taking photos with the 
zoom can help, but even then I find I may 
like part of the pic, but not all 
of it. Here is a 
simple but excellent
way to help focus on getting 
an improved design.

First, divide your surface
(any shape) in half 
horizontally and vertically.
You now have four quarters.

The idea is not to have any of the 
quarters match,  meaning - 
too similar in value
 or color pattern

Below are the four quarters
from my landscape above. 
You can see when split 
this way they are all 
completely different. 
Or in Julie parlance...
No matchy matchy!

This is top left...

Top right

this is lower left

lower right.

The painting below by a fellow 
guild member is a good example 
of a plein air painting which
has captured the place really well
-it looked exactly like this -
but, look at the horizontal
bands of similar
shapes and colors. 
an uninteresting rectangle
exists right in the center.
Lets see if the design 
can be improved.

I took a piece of glass and 
placed it over the painting.
I did a quick line down 
and across the center.


I didn't touch the sky or mountains
but started the changes 
just below them.
Notice how I broke up the 
three similar bush shapes, 
top left, by placing a lighter 
 ground color 
weaving in and out across 
the horizon
Next I  lowered the bottom 
of the green bushes 
near mid center, 
bringing them closer.
Then I placed a stronger value 
of  the front weeds to continue
the strong angle. 

Remember the whole 
purpose is to make 
each quarter a different
pattern of light and dark, or color
than each of the others.

after changes

piece of glass showing 
each quarter with the different

I was taught this at Art School 
in England as part of a course
on Alternation,
but I have not seen or read about
it being used anywhere else. 
I do not know why. 
It is simple and effective
Easy to try this method with an older 
painting you have not been quite 
satisfied with.
Do I use it all the time?
But it sure comes in handy when
trying to figure out a way to improve
a painting.
Hope you try it.


  1. I would never pass up a free Julie tip! This is excellent and makes total sense. And, it is very simple. So, I am going to give this a try for my next piece (for which I have my drawing already done). we will see if I can improve things a bit:)

    Excellent results on both of your efforts above. I like the zig zaginess of the top piece plus I enjoy seeing where you live:)

    1. Thanks for the supportive words, Libby.
      I think your eye for design is well tuned already so I would be interested in knowing it this post helps...or not.

  2. Oh boy! Grabbing a bunch of paintings and testing your "words to paint by". Thank you Julie for these insights to improving my work. You are indeed a treasure.

    1. Good to hear from you Blanche - especially with such nice words.
      Hope your husband is doing better.

  3. Picasso said that art, to tell the truth, needs some lies.
    This post truly captures the essence of the problem .... not always the landscape is posing as painter would like, however beautiful ....
    Your division into quarters with glass to immediately check goodness of interpretative idea is practical and effective.
    I love your art and your way to teach art ...few brushstrokes, into Guild's painter
    landscape, changed everything!
    Your way to represent your enchanting environnement is always stunning, dear Julie.

    1. Thats a marvelous Picasso quote - thanks. I had not heard it before.
      I love your new painting which you painted kneeling on the floor. I admire your attitude so much, Rita. Here you are going through all that worry and stress and you turn to your art in a new and free way. bravo!

  4. Brilliant Julie and thanks for sharing a simple technique to assure our plein air paintings are as interesting to look at as they are to paint!

    1. Extra nice to hear from you Anne. Thanks and hope you are painting even though you are not posting. Miss seeing your work.

  5. I found this very interesting Julie . I am hoping to try my hand at landscapes though I am nervous of failure, which is bound to happen especially at the beginning x

    1. I understand only too well, Margaret. Still life and figurative have always been my favs so I admit to landscapes not being my first love in painting, but I do react with great pleasure to being in and around the beauty of it. Very rarely is there a landscape which is a perfect fit on the canvas. Hope you try it and remember - it is all just shapes and colors.!

  6. Julie - this is a super lesson...certainly one I had never encountered. Going to reread this post because this is a lesson I want to give a try. You are so generous in sharing friend. Thank you...PS I love this painting. Have a beautiful week.

    1. Hi Debbie - I do hope you do get something helpful out of it. How is Wendy's book?
      Lucky you winning it.

  7. Such a valuable tip Julie, I do boring landscapes so will endeavour to think about this when I try again

    1. Hi Lorraine.
      There is nothing boring about the neat pattern work you did on your watercolors when you decided to 'push it" - try doing the patterns on an old landscape then they will not be boring.

  8. Not quite understanding the Alternation idea but I will, mark my words! The painting is beautiful!

    1. Hi Sherry - thanks for the visit. I am enjoying the new colors for your blog.

  9. A great tip Julie. I am familiar with dividing a painting into 3rds vertically and horizonally, but not quarters. Will be looking at my work in a new way! Thank you.

    1. The thirds are more for the focal area - right. That still counts. This is making it more interesting with the patterns of values and color.
      I really enjoyed seeing your series of yellow paintings.

  10. Wow, Julie Ford Oliver, great post. Thanks for sharing, this certainly gets my thought gears turning wildly!

    1. And I thank you for the nice comment.
      I had a happy smile seeing your new work and I really enjoyed reading about your art influences.

  11. I love how you show us how you do your paintings, Julie... and the results are always so beautiful.!!!

    1. Hi Hilda, talking about beautiful. Your new boat painting is simply exquisite.
      Thanks for always being so supportive.

  12. Thanks for the lesson, Julie. I've never heard of doing that, but it makes sense. Lovely!

    1. Hi Joan. it helps when you want something better than you may have.
      I really liked the colors in your sunflower painting.

  13. Thank you for the composition lesson! It helps having a way to understand what is and isn't working!

    1. Exactly! It does help.
      I really liked your Blossom and the Bee painting. It has a wonderful design - every quarter is different.

  14. Replies
    1. You are welcome.
      Lucky you being in such a fabulous place.

  15. Hi Julie - I have lots of glass laying around ... I have always heard that people would use acetate film to paint on to see what changes can be/should be made on a painting. I didn't have any of that, so duh, what a good idea! Thanks for a very helpful post!

    1. Hi Teri - The acetate drove me crazy. The glass is perfect and cleans up so well.
      I have different sizes to accommodate the varied canvases. I use it with watercolor too. Invaluable.
      I enjoyed my visit to your blog.

  16. Extremely helpful, thank you Julie!! Your landscape painting is beautiful!

    1. Thanks Celia. Good reminder about using good quality paint on your post. The difference was so clear. Your painting is quite lovely.

  17. Wow! excellent advice...and no, I've not heard that taught anywhere 'over here' either! As I'm looking across the room in my studio...I can see that the successful paintings fall into that advice...and the ones I'm not happy with- could really be helped by that! ah-ha! and such an easy way to describe it! (and some it would take so little to change it up & improve!). It really does make the question of "why is this painting successful, and this other one not" easy to answer and do something about!

    1. Happy you found it interesting. it can be a real a help - for sure.
      I found the post of how you handle your commissions very interesting and enjoyed seeing the painting in the room it was painted for. Wonderful colors.

  18. huh never tried that before, good tip :) not that I paint that often outside, too windy here but if do start to I will have to try this :)

    1. I think you plan your work out pretty well so no need for this. It can be helpful as a way to analyze a piece that is not working though - no matter the subject or media.
      Your horse is looking pretty spectacular.

  19. Wow Julie,
    Great tip. I will try to pay attention to that next time I plein air. At my stage there's a lot to think about so I don't know how successful I'll be. But something to think about next time I'm in the studio.


    1. Thanks Jill. Good luck with the challenge. Glad you have got a head start.

  20. Thank you. Wonderful information.

  21. You have great creative problem solving skills. You must be a ab/fab (absolutely/fabulous) like you guys say in the UK, instructor. I always try to make my canvas divisions unequal and always divide my canvas into four quarters, but this method really takes it one step further when dividing the shapes doesn't it? I love it.

    1. Good to hear from you Bruce. Getting ready for the art paint-out. How i wish I could be there. Looking forward to reading about it.
      Have fun and paint some masterpieces.

  22. Once again, a great lesson and methodology. This is such a clear way to 'see' the results in this much more dynamic painting. I have to post this now so I can go re-read this post!

    1. Thanks mary - generous with your encouragement as always.
      Love your fly fisherman. great one!

  23. And that's the reason I always open your blog posts. I always learn something. I've used your glass method to make other changes but have not this way. Excellent.

    1. Nice of you - thanks Sharon.
      I enjoyed seeing your student having fun with painting a watering can - on canvas and not on the can!

  24. Thank you for this tip, would love to try it out! Each quarter looks complete by themselves and that is just awesome!

    1. it is a handy way to have a reminder for a better design.
      The painting of the Citadel columns is to be treasured for posterity.

  25. Brilliant landscape painting with so nice colours and great details, I love it !!!
    Have a nice day Julie and all the best !!!

    1. Thank you so much and I hope you enjoy a lovely day too.
      The light in your new painting is simply perfect.


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