The Composition #7

“The elements of composition embrace the whole creative process.”

The Art of the Artist – Composition – by Fletcher Martin

Composite #7 CJM 5 x 7

Composite #7 CJM 5 x 7


Identifying “planes” can be helpful in determining the value scale in a painting.  This is most notably used in landscape painting but can be applied to the figure or a still life as these subjects are equally composed of a source of light acting upon a myriad of peaks, valleys and turns.

Consider using this “scientific” approach until your eye becomes more accustomed to what it’s seeing.

What is meant by a “plane”?

  • PLANE –  “Fine Arts. an area of a two-dimensional surface having determinate extension and spatial direction or position: oblique plane; horizontal plane.” 
  • PLANE –   A plane is simply a surface or a flat area.

Tip!  Note your source of light and it’s location to your subject.

Tip!  Forget about color.

Using a landscape as an example, I’ve included an image with 4 key areas and the associated values using this scientific method. If you notice these are simply horizontal, oblique, or vertical planes like in geometry.  In the diagram the assumption is that the sun is at it’s highest point in the day. For this example, the lightest value or #1 on the 4 step scale we are using would be the sky and this is generally the case in a landscape.  The ground directly underneath would be become #2 or the second lightest value on the scale.  If there are any hills or gradual inclines in the area they would capture partial light and become #3 on the value scale. Last, but not least,  upright trees would become #4 and the darkest value on this scale. 

You will be amazed how applying this method will help your composition come alive and really take form before any color get’s into the picture.

Value Study and Planes

Value Study and Planes

Keep in mind that the organization of the values and their position would change as the sun moves.  And in a figure painting or still life the same theory can be applied.

In closing, I would like to note when there are minimal shadows and contrast due to light or lack of light, color becomes an important asset in communicating value in a composition.  If you look at impressionist art and convert it to gray scale you will often find little variation in value as that is achieved through color value.

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