Society of Wildlife Artists blog: Composition

There's more than one way to capture wildlife on canvas. By trying different methods, you can find out what works and what isn't so successful. 

Waxwing watercolour by Darren Rees

Thankfully, we all have different tastes regarding pictures. There’s an array of different approaches to painting employed by today’s wildlife artists, and that’s what makes any mixed exhibition so interesting to the eye.

There’s clearly no right way and no wrong way.

Some artists uphold the tradition of plein air painting and work direct from the subject outdoors. Others study skins and stuffed specimens and, through paint, bring life to the inherently inanimate.
Most practitioners look at wildlife and grab sketches and photos, then conjure their particular magic with paint or printmaking in a studio. As for me, I adopt a mixed approach using portable sketchbooks and watercolour in the field and leave larger works in acrylic or oil for the studio.
For example, I’m still working with last week’s waxwings. With the many drawings that I did on the spot I have a collection of shapes to work with and a desire to depict a group scene where I can describe the full picture.  
I’ve started to explore ideas with a series of compositional studies – a practice gleaned from one of my favourite artists Charles Tunnicliffe (for every masterful painting he exhibited at the Royal Academy there were several ‘alternatives’ in miniature.)
Playing around with images of groups of birds on a small scale can help me see what will work and what is not so successful. It also acts as a plan for any larger piece.

Darren Rees has been painting for over 20 years and is one of the UK's most highly respected wildlife artists. His first solo book Bird Impressions was published in 1993 to much critical acclaim. He is a knowledgeable naturalist and also acts as a guide on wildlife tours around the world. To visit Darren's website click here.

To visit the SWLA's website, click here


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