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A 50/50 composition.

A 50/50 COMPOSITION

This is an exciting project because it enables students to combine a great amount of artistic freedom while adhering to, and learning, some basic guidelines for successful composition. It is a valid learning experience because it enables students to make the project very personal, requires careful planning and can combine several media.

The project involves creating a composition that combines the medium of the student's choice with photographs that have been cut or torn from magazines. Toward the end of each semester I gather various magazines from understanding friends, relatives and neighbors, and encourage students to bring in their own magazines. Sports, science and nature magazines are popular.

By bringing in their own magazines, students can create a picture more meaningful to them because they have control over the subject matter. If a student's favorite pastime is water skiing, he or she will enjoy creating a composition about water skiing more than one that's simply a seascape.

I give each student a large sheet of watercolor or similar heavy paper, and ask them to choose their media. Watercolors are popular because they readily lend themselves to the atmospheric qualities of skies and the liquid properties of water. Acrylics are often chosen for cityscapes where the hard edges and angles of buildings are desired. Some students prefer to work in only black and white and produce illustrations with lines and washes of India ink. Others are more comfortable with the control offered by colored pencils, pastels or markers. Of course, combining media is not ruled out.

Requiring students to produce a composition that includes both magazine images and their own work accomplishes two objectives. First, it forces them to recognize the importance of careful planning in a successful composition. Secondly, it allows them to use their imaginations to enhance or expand the limits of printed pictures.

While looking for pictures to use, students cut or tear out anything that looks interesting to them and save it for possible use. Once they have selected several photos and have a general idea of the thematic direction, they place the images on the white paper and start planning. I encourage them not to lock themselves into an overall scheme but to move the images about while experimenting with arrangements. At this point, we discuss balance, rhythm, values and other elements.

Once the pictures are cut or torn, and the overall composition and placement of the images decided upon, the images are glued to the paper with rubber cement or thinned white glue.

In young artists' drawings, one area of the surface may be treated quite expressively while other areas remain untreated. Often students do not think in terms of a complete composition and consequently ignore sections of the project they consider unimportant. Gaps on the paper forces them to visualize the entire scheme beforehand. Providing the spatial links in the composition, students are also considering the entire surface.

After gluing the images, the next step is the preliminary drawing. Students sketch the sections of the composition that they will provide--not overly detailed and no shading--before any paint is applied. With the sketching and gluing satisfactorily completed, the artist begins the final stages of the project. For successful integration of the photos, the colors should be matched as closely as possible, but this point should not be overly stressed. Experimentation with color should not be discouraged and can be a vital part of the learning process that leads to new discoveries for the student. Various other effects can be achieved by drawing or painting over sections of the photos. Effects can be tested on scrap photos and paper.

Regardless of the medium used or the subject matter, students will learn to consider the overall composition from the onset of a project. By considering the ordered arrangement of shapes and images, they learn to consider all the elements--line, color, texture, etc.--necessary for satisfying, completed projects.

PHOTO : Sailing, transparent watercolors, 30" x 22" (76 cm x 56 cm). Ernie Galano, grade 10.

PHOTO : Autumn Fantasy, watercolors, 30" x 22" (76 cm x 56 cm). Bernadette Barrett, grade 11.

Kenneth Johnson teaches art at Bishop AMAT High School, La Puente, California.
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Author:Johnson, Kenneth E.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Words:698
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