Portrait Demo: Composition Harmony with Aaron Westerberg

After he refines his photo references and decides on the composition, Aaron Westerberg does a small painting to formalize his ideas. At this point, rather than concern himself with the quality of the drawing, he concentrates on color and composition. “This stage is very important because it allows me to see whether—and why—the setup is working,” says Westerberg. “No matter how large or small a painting may be, if the composition as a whole isn’t in harmony with itself, the painting won’t be good, regardless of how well rendered it is.”

With the composition worked out, Westerberg can estimate the dimensions of his painting, so he selects the linen and stretches his canvas. “From there I usually do a simple linear brush drawing in oil, focusing on proportion and balance.”

Read more about Westerberg’s oil painting process in The Artist’s Magazine (November 2010).

Furisode Kimono (oil, 40x20) by Aaron Westerberg
Cafe Conversation (oil, 20×16) by Aaron Westerberg

Moving forward, he still prefers not to do a full-value rendering at this point. Rather, he does just enough of a block-in to get started. Working this way, Westerberg gets a good grasp of the painting’s all-important focal point: “Once the center of interest is established,” he says, “I strive to make sure that nothing will take away from it.” When satisfied with the design, the artist concentrates more on value and color, finishing each area before moving on. “I use very little medium and prefer working wet-into-wet because, when I’m finished, I really don’t like to work back into a painting.”

Step by Step 1

1. During the early stages of a painting, I’m concerned with the placement of the compositional elements. These I draw on the canvas with a flat brush, which gives me a very fine line. I want everything to hook together rhythmically. You can see one long line from the hair through the neck and down through one of the main folds of the kimono.

Step by Step 2

2. I move on to a very basic block-in that allows me to see how the overall pattern of lights and darks is working.

Step by Step 3
Furisode Kimono (oil, 40×20) by Aaron Westerberg

3. Once I’m happy with the composition, I start painting with accurate color and value. Finishing one section at a time allows me to work wet-into-wet over an extended period of days.

Read more about Aaron Westerberg in the feature article “Fleeting Moments,” in the November 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine

Click here for a peek at the table of contents
for the November 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Click here to learn about the digital download
of the November 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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