My last post dealt with the different ways to start a painting. But what is even more important is what should happen before you start the start. As a still life painter, I have the ability to totally design my composition. I have to know what I want to say and how I am going to arrange my cherished objects to achieve that goal. Some call it concept or intentions. Whatever you want to call it, much has to be decided as you move objects around and make choices about color and value. One of those decisions is how to design your image.
My work now reflects something that I'm finding is a must in my compositions--strong lights and darks. Chiaroscuro is the term used to mean light/dark in paintings. This was a classic compositional motif used by the Dutch masters of the 17th century. Does this mean that your major mass is dark with small shapes of light? Not necessarily.
A strong pattern can have lights connected with lights on a major dark field, but you can also have darks connected with darks on a major light field. Your middle tone needs to marry with one or the other. The fewer the values the better to make for a strong pattern! This idea is supported by Daniel Gerhartz in his Technical Insights from his book "Not Far From Home." Design at its simplest, in my opinion, should be an arrangement of shapes that have a dominance of either dark or light and should be woven together with a thread that lyrically carries the eye to the focal point and around the canvas. The thread is often comprised of the least dominant value that is either literally connected to or leading to the next progression of shapes that follow the pattern.
Some artists are calling themselves "abstract realists." This idea makes perfect sense to me. A Chiaroscuro painting, for example, makes use of light and dark patterns; if compressed into a grayscale and then posterized the resulting image looks like a black and white abstraction (Notan). Such an abstraction can be powerfully seen from across a room. I am personally drawn to paintings with strong patterns of light and dark . Here are a few that curl my toes.
Are there other compositional designs? Of course. But for me a strong pattern is my first choice when my concept is about capturing the path of light or dark. Remember, there really are no hard and fast rule, or formulas for good compositions. Knowing what you have to say comes first, then the design follows.