Class Notes: Compositional Motifs

The dictionary defines  Motif (noun) as "a distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition".

Most artists use them as something developed within the sphere of their own work. A motif can be idiomatic, coming about as an artist's work evolves and becomes more specific to the artist; an expression of their own creative "voice".
I started thinking about this while preparing for the Creede Quick Draw. Unlike most of the plein air quick draw events that I participate in which are about an hour and a half and require the artist to paint from the view, the Creede Quick Draw is only an hour but allows artists to paint from a sketch, or recreate something that they had painted previously.  It is a good opportunity to do a painting that is memorable and distinctly "me".
This got me looking for themes in my own work and compositional ideas that I have used over and over: aspens in the woods, cotton wood trees, deep forest scenes; these are compositional ideas, or motifs that I like and return to.
For our class sessions I came up with 4 compositional motifs taken from my sketches, and we used them as a starting place for small 6"x 6" paintings. The great thing about these is that once the shapes are established, all kinds of things can be changed to create distinctly different paintings: a high or low horizon, light direction and value variation, color or season change, the addition of other elements.

With the two bottom sketches I have shown paintings that were created from them. The Aspen and Pine piece is my 10"x 8" Quick Draw painting from Creede using the Aspen sketch.  The idea of a small stand of aspens together with pine trees is something I see all the time and creates a naturally strong value sketch. The other 2 paintings are based on the Cottonwood Grove motif. One painting is vertical, one horizontal and they use very different color and levels of stylization, but both reflect the same compositional motif. Cottonwood trees grow in groups like this all over the San Luis Valley and I use them as a theme in my work with a compositional motif that is very adaptable.  I look for these compositional motifs in the landscape. It is one way I have used composition and regional elements to develop a more distinctive painting voice.

Taste of Creede Quick Draw

Sunday of Memorial Day in Creede turned out beautiful and though the whole weekend is dedicated to Food, Culinary Arts, Fine Art, and good fun, the 1 hour Quick Draw is a highlight and attracts artists and buyers from all over.  In the top photo, from left to right you can see Kris Gosar painting the model, Lana Woodruff, Charlie Ewing (also painting the model) and Stephen Quiller.
The auction drew a crowd willing to bid and happy to buy. Everyone had a great time, even the artists who would as soon donate a painting and run for cover as sit through a nail biting auction. Work sold at a good clip tho' and I don't think anyone went home disappointed. I sure didn't. The good folks from the Denver area (6 hours away) who came last year and purchased my painting, were there again this year and purchased my piece. YIPPEE!
The center photo is my 10"x8" Quick Draw piece, painted from a compositional idea of Aspen and Pines that we see everywhere here.  It is a "Motif"- or reoccurring theme in my work. More about that in the next post.