The other day I posted a look into my composition sketchbook on instagram and received a flurry of questions on the process, materials and ideas behind keeping this collection. Rather than write out paragraphs to respond there, I thought I’d take some time to provide a more detailed look into these studies.
I’m a big fan of keeping multiple sketchbooks at one time - each with a very clear and defined purpose. Color tests, travel sketches, morning sketches, still life contours, and a composition book. Keeping things separated like this allows me to reference sketches and images faster and it just appeals to the side of my personality that likes to have a space for everything, and everything in it's space.
For the Composition book I use a large sketchbook from Canson. This book serves two methods of organizing compositions;
1.) Collecting sketches from other books/cut paintings with particular compositions that I feel could use more exploration and gluing them in.
2.) Creating purely compositional study sketches on the pages.
By adhering to these two tenants I end up with a book of painting ideas divorced from color (mostly) and subject - but focused on rhythm, movement and motion.
I use these pages to explore ideas for paintings in a pre-sketch phase. If I’ve got an idea that I want to work with, but it lacks form I open up this book and search through the studies until something clicks. If nothing does, I make however many more studies are necessary.
Often times at first glance the final painting doesn’t look very similar to the composition work. With so many layers and lines making up the final piece the initial blocking out can be hard to spot - but if you look close enough most of the time it becomes apparent. (I say most of the time, as there are definitely cases when the final work morphs into something totally diffferent!)
Looking back on years of composition studies has been pretty enlightening as to the evolution of my process. The forms I work with are so dependent on location and my surroundings that’s it’s pretty easy to pinpoint when I moved from Miami, when I spent time in Ireland, Thailand and Japan, when we were snowed in last year and couldn’t leave for 4 days… at this point it functions almost as a journal with no words.