by Clara Josephs

Phipps Garden Center

Phipps Garden Center, photo © Clara Josephs

Hillary Parker’s full day class entitled Composition was held a short bus ride from the hotel in the charming Phipps Garden Center. The class content began with an overview of the elements that Hillary thinks are most important to consider when developing a new composition: balance, movement, light, negative-positive space, and the “voice and vitality of both the artist and the plant”. Some interesting notes from this segment:

  • Think early on about how the subject will be lit.  Lighting plays a huge roll in composition.
  • Balance involves more than just size, also consider color, mass, placement. Balance does not have to be symmetrical.
  • Movement calls the viewer in and sustains attention. Be careful about creating square, circle or triangular negative shapes that can trap the eye. Any easily recognized shape can become a trap.

The ability to convey the Voice and Vitality of both the plant and the artist is a hallmark of fine art. Hillary suggests that it is very helpful to do a fair amount of writing about the plant before starting your composition. Once your have written, perhaps several pages about the plant, its habit, what interests you, what are the most outstanding characteristics and the defining  traits, then condense that down to one sentence or phrase that you keep on your table and refer to daily to make sure you are portraying those attibutes. Keep referring to the adjectives in your writing – are they coming through in the portrait? We looked at copies of 15 paintings attempting to identify the voice of the plant and artist.

Hillary cautioned that when drawing your subject be sure to use multiple subjects so that you are truly familiar with the species” botanical truths”.

Hillary Parker teaching

Hillary Parker and students, photo © Clara Josephs

Hillary paints a number of very large (8 feet plus) watercolor commissions for hotels, and a highlight of the class for me was viewing her enormous tracings for a painting of a cotton plant (see the photos). Done on 300 hot press cut from a roll, she used the familiar method of numerous tissue paper iterations. The individual bolls were drawn in final detail on small pieces and taped in place. Since she does not like to paint upside down, she had to carefully lie across the painting to reach into the center areas.

The afternoon concluded with students creating a composition of cotton bolls. I had never seen them up close and was stunned by how beautiful they are.  Every angle was captivating. The day was over too soon!

Cotton bolls

Cotton bolls, photo © Clara Josephs

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