How to Learn Composition – Draftsmen S2E15

Marshall: I’m just sitting here waiting, sipping coffee and waiting Wondering what’s taking Stan to be here I am drinking coffee, you are drinking what you’re drinking Everyone’s drinking something, somebody’s drinking beer Yeah! [Intro] Marshall: Hey, there’s Stan Hi Stan Stan: Hey Marshall Sorry, lunch took a lot longer than I thought Marshall: I was never judgmental Stan: Sarcasm? Marshall: No I was singing a song, having a great time How was your lunch? Stan: It was good Marshall: What’d you have? Stan: It was a combination of a bunch of leftovers Marshall: Yeah? Stan: Yeah Marshall: You want to describe them? Stan: There was some beans that my wife made for some tacos, there was a hot dog and there was Thai food Marshall: Beans, hot dog, Thai food Okay Stan: Yeah And the Thai food were spring rolls and these fried crab and pork balls Marshall: Wow And so, you feel well fed right now and comfortable Stan: I’m full Marshall: Good Stan: How are you? What did you do during your break? Marshall: I looked over my notes on how to study composition and I – there’s so much in there that it’s just too much Stan: Should we not do this? Marshall: Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t do it There’s just too much and I don’t want to over feed you Stan: Okay Marshall: So, thank you for being here with us, this will be the shortest episode we ever did Stan: Okay, bye everybody Marshall: Bye What’s the title of this episode? Stan: “How to study composition”, right? Marshall: Okay Yeah Stan: Or, wait. Hold on. No “How to learn composition” Marshall: “How to learn composition” You’re going right for the success, not how to study it Which creates a little tension that maybe we might study it and not master it Stan: Yeah, well, it’s also ’cause that’s what we titled our previous episodes about anatomy and perspective How to learn anatomy, How to learn perspective I think that’s what we called the other ones So we’re just going with the theme Marshall: Yeah and this is a big one because people have been waiting for this for a long time Stan: I’m gonna try to play the role of a student in this episode Marshall: Okay Stan: Because you have way more experience teaching composition than I do In fact, I’ve never taught composition so my experience is zero Marshall: Okay Stan: I mean, I’ve kind of given advice on composition in other classes, like you know, like plein air painting or still life Or any class, you know, you kind of have to talk a little bit about composition But I’ve never really taught that subject Marshall: How do you even define it? Stan: I don’t know, that’s the – you’re the one – why are you asking me? I just told you – Marshall: I’m asking you because you’re the student and this is the Socratic method of bringing the knowledge out of the student by saying ‘what are your preconceptions?’ Stan: Ah, okay Okay, so this – you’re trying to get the wrong answer out of me Okay, let’s see Marshall: No, I’m trying to get – I’m trying to get a good answer out of you I was figuring this was respectful Stan: Okay, so first of all, my experience learning composition, I’ve taken, I think one class on composition I think Erik Gist was the teacher, and I think it was more of a compositional templates course And I think he even acknowledged that, that here’s some templates, you know, steel yard or wait, ball yard? No, steel yard Marshall: Oh yeah, yeah The steel yard composition Stan: There’s like, what is it? Six or eight of them or something? Marshall: Edgar Payne breaks it down into several basic ones that are very basic If you’ve got a vertical and a horizontal in there that dominate the image for the angles, and it’s offset from the center Steel yard, what were some of the others you remember? Any? Stan: There was some kind of yin yang one Marshall: The yin yang one is a major one, yeah That you’ve got a set of opposites however you’d arrange them, and that there’s array [?] in them, they flip-flop Radial patterns? Stan: I remember like a triangle kind of like a thing pointing at the top, like Frazetta, he did that a lot, where he’s got this group of people and at the very top is that hero Marshall: Yeah Stan: And everything just kind of points up to him and, yeah I don’t remember the other ones Marshall: Well, there are many other ones Stan: Okay Marshall: Edgar Payne makes a chart of a number of basic compositions, you can even base them on letter forms Stan: So that was my course that I took from Erik Gist and he acknowledged that, like these are kind of guidelines Like all of these can be broken They’re just little templates Marshall: But what do you use them for then? What is their value if they’re little templates

I’m using Socratic irony, I’m asking rhetorically Stan: I don’t know I mean, it’s like if you want like a quick composition, that’ll work or if you’re like, for example, if you’re plein air painting and you look out and you’re trying to find something You see a big tree and a little tree, and you’re like, “Oh cool I’ll paint that.” And it kind of looks like that compositional template I studied And you can kind of fit your painting into that mold Marshall: Okay Stan: Now I don’t – I don’t know I don’t like that I mean, maybe for like a beginner student who’s starting to learn it, that might be cool It’s like a quick way to get some kind of success, right? Marshall: Yeah Stan: But going beyond that, I don’t like that I want to learn it a little bit deeper Marshall: We’ve had students ask more than once, a number of times, “what do you guys think of harmonic armatures?” Stan: Yeah, you’re gonna have to explain that to me Marshall: Yeah Harmonic armatures would be that if you’re composing within a rectangle, for example, that you can divide it with corner to corner Xs and then you can start to divide lines up within there and there are certain divisions of lines that are pleasing to look at, the way certain frequencies make pleasing notes And there’s a lot of talk about harmonic armatures and I’m trying to see if the subject of harmonic armatures has anything to do with these templates that you were learning in the composition class Stan: Is the golden mean, is that a harmonic armature? The little spiral pattern that kind of goes into – Marshall: Yeah Stan: Okay Probably then, yeah I mean that’s a template Marshall: Okay, well let me start with this Here’s what I’m getting from you; in many a composition class, the first thing you study is that the arrangement within the rectangle that you are composing, whether you put something here, here, here or here, affects the picture It affects how it feels, it affects the success of it to some degree And there are prescriptions, there are templates, there are ratios that a lot of people have passed down over the ages, that say “this is a good ratio” One of the most common is the golden section or the golden mean or the golden rectangle, whatever you want to call it You can learn about it – any composition course, you can type in “golden section”, “golden rectangle”, “golden mean composition” into YouTube and you’re gonna have more people who will take the time to explain it than you need But let me tell you how it was explained to me by my teacher Don Wyden when I was 18 years old in a design class That the ancient Greeks wanted to find out what pleasant divisions were So, somebody took a stick and gave it to all sorts of people and said, “Hold this stick somewhere from left to right, in the way that just feels most pleasing to you,” I guess Just an emotional decision And they didn’t tend to grip it toward the middle, they tended to grip it at a ratio of about 1:16:18 or something like that Stan: They calculated? Marshall: They calculated – Stan: Wow! Marshall: What the math was to quantify what the emotional decision was that this is where I like to do it And that is passed down and it relates to the nautilus shell, the fibonacci, the spirals, all the stuff that you’ll learn about when you look this up It’s very popular And sometimes, composition training never goes any further than that We’ve talked about this very little, I don’t know that we’ve spent two minutes talking about this in all the years that I’ve known you You said that you weren’t a big fan of it – Stan: Of what? Marshall: Or that you don’t use it Of the – Conforming your compositional choices The organization and arrangement of how you put things in that rectangle conforming them to a template or a mathematical ratio Stan: I think there’s something to it But I think it – I’ve seen people take it way too far, in my opinion There’s been some people that have emailed me with these PDFs full of studies of master paintings that are divided up into 100 different triangles and swirls

And it’s like, look how it matches this perfectly And it’s like, well you – because you divided it to match Like you can take any painting, just crop it in a different way and divide it up into triangles that will fit this painting It seems like, it’s kind of you’re making a template to fit the painting instead of – you know what I mean? It’s like a customized template I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna help me be a better artist Marshall: Yeah Stan: It’s a mathematician, who’s probably a really good mathematician trying to analyze paintings Maybe the original artist thought a little bit about that Like maybe a little bit of imbalance but not to that degree I highly doubt it Marshall: Okay Stan: I mean, but of course, there are some Like maybe Michelangelo did at some point but – Marshall: Let me tell you what I know about that Stan: Okay Marshall: Is that harmonic armatures and conforming to grids, as it were, many great masters have used them Stan: Okay Marshall: And if you were to study with someone, say like Myron Barnstone, he would have you turn all curves into straight lines He would have you carry those straight lines through so that you can see where they disappear and pick back up again He would have you understand the angles of every everything that you can perceive in that picture and there is great value in that, in that it heightens an artist’s, it heightens a student’s sensitivity to the fact that those angles are in there And they’re a part of the composition And if we’re not sensitive to them, I made it 12 to 15 years into my training and professional life without ever being sensitive to the fact that there was a pattern in there that I was not kicked into viewing it emotionally and critically And so, there is value in that and when you say, well what masters have used it? Certainly Rembrandt did, we know because there’s some that you can see He was deliberately and self-consciously dividing up the space Constable the landscape painter Oh, many many of them Stan: Can I ask a question? Marshall: Yes, go ahead Stan: Those paintings, where they deliberately made it fit perfectly to some templates? If we just take those paintings and shift things a little bit, just a little bit so that it doesn’t fit that anymore, is it gonna be a worse painting? Like, is it actually gonna look worse to an observer that has no idea that we just did this? Marshall: We’ll get to that in five minutes Stan: Okay And I’m actually curious I’m not arguing against it, I’m trying to – I’m figuring out Like does it actually have an effect on the result? Marshall: Stan, I feel the same way your instinct is leading you Stan: Yeah Marshall: I think that harmonic armatures and studying that stuff has value, but I think that it’s something like astrology There’s got to be something to astrology because it’s been around a long time And there’s a lot emotionally to it as an art But when you start to critique it as a science, as anything claiming to be a science, it falls apart in some important ways So, what do you make of it? I’ll leave astrology up to you because I don’t know enough about it But I do know enough about harmonic armatures to tell you that great masters used them and – Stan: I can hear that Marshall: Yeah, garbage truck’s here Stan: Ah, Cooper’s favourite Marshall: I hope this isn’t a metaphor Stan: It’s that Wednesday garbage truck Marshall: Well, no It’s once Marshall starts talking Stan: Oh Marshall: The garbage truck comes in to say ‘don’t listen to this’ Stan: Yeah, garbage is spilling out of two places Marshall: Yeah I hope not Hey, let me tell you, I’ve got to tell you how dynamic symmetry, which is another harmonic armature Dynamic symmetry was very popular, probably 1920s There’s a book, it’s still in print, I think, that Dover came out with, and Norman Rockwell was working as a professional illustrator and quite popular And people – illustrators around him said, “Are you using dynamic symmetry in your composition?” Now, he didn’t know what it was “Oh, this is the scientific way science is moving us ahead and how to compose, you’ve got to do this” So, Norman Rockwell got the book on dynamic symmetry and learned dynamic symmetry and started arranging his saturday Evening Post covers so that they conformed to dynamic symmetry and he even shows some of those pieces, and they were good pieces

But as time went on, he saw that using dynamic symmetry did not make them any better than they had been in the first place So, eventually, he abandoned it and he did good work when he conformed to dynamic symmetry And he did good work, great work when he didn’t So, this is the biggest problem I have with harmonic armatures, is that they are over rated They give beginners something, let’s say, if I just do that, it’ll work And too many of the teachers of it do something where they will take everything they can to show how the proportions of a human hand, for example, a nautilus shell and many great master paintings do fall into it whether the artist was aware of it or not And in some cases, they were aware of it And in many cases today, they are aware of it because they’ve watched YouTube videos that said ‘you’d better move it over there so it falls on this pattern’ But what they don’t do is show that many, many great masterpieces and much of nature doesn’t conform to this And so, it becomes selective arguing There’s a term for it, it’s called “cherry picking” It’s that I will use the examples that support my argument and I will ignore or withhold the arguments that don’t support it Stan: Yeah Marshall: And that’s a lousy way to find truth, lousy way to find truth We should always embrace the opposite argument as much as we can And if you’re trying to find out the value of harmonic armatures and the golden ratio and dynamic symmetry in any compositional templates, one of the things you want to do is look to the side that says, “Ah, that’s questionable.” Stan: You know, I ran into that issue when I was writing my hand lessons You know, obviously proportion was a big part of the hand lesson And I read about all these several different ways of measuring proportions on a hand Ultimately, I picked one that I thought was a really good – a really easy way to get in the ballpark But even that kind of still fell apart, even the one that I thought was the best one still had like some flaws But when I was going through these, and I would test them against actual hand photos, they were all over the place Proportions don’t match these systems You know, when you talk about the golden ratio and how it fits a hand, it doesn’t If it’s a percentage of the population’s hand, and then everyone else, it doesn’t fit It’s kind of like somewhere near that But even then, there’s other people that are very much different from that Marshall: I’ve got to quote Robert Beverly Hale here, in what I think is the best drawing book in the world He says, in the chapter on driving all the horses at once, I think it’s page – the second page into that Page 210, as I recall I know because I’ve read it a number of times He has three paragraphs in that entire book, three paragraphs on composition And one of the things he points out is that a lot of times from drawing, you’re not going to learn composition It’s better to go to finished pieces where people have really self-consciously arranged But let me tell you what he says, his first point about composition “Beware neat theories of composition The artist’s feeling for composition, like the artist’s feeling for proportion, is a highly personal thing” Now, what does that teach you about compositions? It’s like, that doesn’t help me But that is the first point Is that composition is so subjective How do you compose a piece of music? How did Beethoven do it? He did learn musical form but he also came up with ideas that were Beethoven, as opposed to Haydn, as opposed to Bach and every person who composes music It is a highly personal thing, this is my idea for how I want to organize the notes and it comes from, I feel like it should be this way It’s emotional, it’s intuitive, it’s instinctive Now that is the first point Robert Beverly Hale makes in a great book, in which he talks very little about composition But he does say “watch out for neat theories of composition” It is very personal And the proportions of the hand proved the point Hey, have you seen Hogarth’s thing where he makes the hand into – he divides it into halves and halves and halves? Stan: That’s the one I chose, that’s ultimately the one that I felt like was the best one Because it as very easy to remember, and it kind of worked, I mean it was close enough

I still pointed out in my video, the flaws, where it’s like you divide this one in half but it’s usually a little shorter than that And then you divide this, what happens? It’s actually a little longer than that In my experience from when I actually tried to apply it But it still is a good one to, kind of, get you close So, it has value Marshall: Now the issue came up in the adopting your art parents Some people said ‘the best art parent to adopt is nature Nature is my art parent’ Well, what does that mean? It means that we can go to harmonic armatures and we can go to master paintings, master compositions But we can also go to nature, and we can see that the ratio of a head to a body is a certain ratio And that it changes from the time we’re children, to the time we’re adults And getting familiar with proportions and ratios is useful But here’s the last thing I’ll say about the limitations of it When I found out about the golden section, and I got a photocopy of what it was and how to find it And I put that in my studio in front of my face, and it was there for a few years, and for about a year, I referred to that thing constantly and I conformed a number of my compositions to them And quite frankly, they sucked Now, they sucked for a number of reasons, I just wasn’t that good a composer, I didn’t know that much about it But one thing that the harmonic armatures are going to help you with, as a matter of fact, almost the only thing, is where to place things on the picture plane Do you recognize that as important as that is, in composing that it’s only one element? You’ve still got lights and darks to deal with, if you’re working in color, warms and cools, if you’re working with edges, would you – or working with edges in one way, what you’re going to do with the edges? If you’re going to work with whether you fade something back or pop it into relief, how contrasty, how non-contrasty they are? Textures, deep space and flat space Composition has a number of elements going on and placement is only one So, in summary, my attitude toward harmonic armatures is that to go through that training where you heighten your sensitivity to divisions is valuable for you but do not rely on the template to bring out your best work And the fact is, the people I know around me, including former students who are the best composers I know, miles, hundreds of miles beyond me I’ve watched how they got good at it, and I think that to a person, not a single one of them ever measures this out They go with something much more valuable, which I hope to land on, which is tapping into emotion and using nature as your parent Now, there was one other thing I wanted to say about that Alphonse Mucha wrote a book on composition Alphonse Mucha was deliberate, calculated, mathematical, and he would arrange the way the ratio would change as things move through there for their size and everything else It’s an impossible book to learn from, I couldn’t get through it Because he was expecting you’re going to compose like me, and you’re going to use my – before they were talking about fractals My fractal divisions to make this change, this gradation of size Mucha did beautiful work and it lasts Its got qualities of nature Frazetta, from what I can gather, never measured out his canvas to conform to those rhythmic divisions And if they landed there, it’s probably because Frazetta was doing the thing this all came from The Greeks didn’t start with the math, they started with what do people tend to emotionally prefer, and let’s take all that and quantify it and say that is one potentially powerful thing to know about it Study it, but don’t put too much energy feeling like it’s a rule or something you need to conform to There’s something much more important coming up Stan: Okay Marshall: How did we do for the first part of this? Stan: I like it Marshall: If you’re playing the role of a student, what would you ask next? Stan: I would ask then, why do we even – how do we study composition and why? Because if it’s all about emotion and how it feels and it’s subjective, you know, every artist is going to think differently

Why is this even a field of study? I can just do it how I feel like it’s supposed to be Marshall: You know, I feel like I did some of my best compositions before I knew anything about composition When I was 18 years old and I was going with my instincts But that is typically a stage of beginner’s luck, that you were tapped into something And then when you start to make – I came up with a tune on my own I composed a tune, it’s a good tune Yeah, but when you’re going to take it to the next level, where you’re going to have accompaniment to it Are you just going to have the accompaniment ape the tune? Are you going to try to counter point things And what if you’re going to have several instruments? And what if you’re going to have some in the higher registers and the lower registers, and it gets more complex and then you lose the ability to juggle something complex And composing finished works, there’s a lot of juggling acts That’s one of Robert Beverly Hale’s metaphors for making a picture, it’s like juggling You’re trying to do many things at once Hey, let’s go back Let’s go back to Robert Beverly Hale to see what he says next, because I told you he gave three paragraphs He said – after he said it’s a highly personal thing, he says this “However, certain principles of composition may be learned by studying the masters Goya’s mastery of the balance of blacks, gray and white is a case in point.” Hmm… that tells us something That tells us what Howard Pyle, well after Goya, made a big deal of He said that essentially studying composition is learning to see the world, to see everything in terms of black and white No, wait It’s not black and white It’s the darks and the lights And he was big on that Now, there’s another way, there’s an alternate way, and that is to see the darks, the lights and the things in between Stan: So, everything? Marshall: But you see, if you start to make it more than three – Stan: Yeah No, I got you Marshall: Actually, there’s 256 levels of dark to light Well, how are you going to juggle that many balls? Stan: Yeah I like to break my compositions into five values, three in the lights, two in the darks Marshall: And breaking a composition into five values is complex It’s too many to start with And here’s what I’ve learned after whatever it’s been, it’s been about 23 years or more More than that My goodness, it’s been about 33 years of teaching composition students to find out what works Howard Pyle’s approach, which is what Robert Beverly Hale was talking about, here is one of the most fundamental things is to study masterpieces and reduce them You say, “Ain’t that wrong to reduce something?” No, that’s to simplify Reduce them into just a pattern of what people call “Notan” Just a pattern of the light areas and the dark areas, and this is really hard to do Because you have to make choices That you are going to lose that night scene where you’ve got the dark trees against the dark sky and the bright moon If you treat the sky, the night sky as light, you don’t get a moon But if you treat it as dark so you see the moon, you’re not going to get the dark trees And you have to go ‘what’s more important?’, and then you are put into the wicked learning environment of having to interpret that composition by making choices Which means you sacrifice one thing to gain another, and then you are off into the position of what you do anyway when you compose You have to make sacrifices to get something you want, and sometimes you get lucky enough to where you get everything you want with these choices So, Howard Pyle says “it takes several years to teach students to see things in terms of the lights and darks” Really? Several years? I’ve gotten some students to where they were so up to this level in less than a year, a few particular students, four, five, six months, they got great at it by just doing 120 of them and being critical about them And then, once you can see that, adding a third tone and that third tone is like being given a million dollars ‘Oh now, I can show the moon and the trees.’ And you are thinking and simplification of values Now, here’s the pitch for why you – go ahead Stan: Sorry, before you move on, how big do they draw these studies? Marshall: Not big Stan: Is it a thumbnail? Like a two inch by one inch or two by one and a half or something like that? Marshall: The size of a business card or a postage stamp or a playing card, but not the

size of an index card typically Stan: Okay Marshall: What goes wrong when you try to do them bigger? Stan: You start putting too much detail, you’re not simplifying it Marshall: That’s right Yeah, and you limit the amount of time on these; five minutes, no more than 20 minutes 20 minutes means you’re really assessing value relationships, and value relationships are core Shapes and values are core to compositional mastery and here’s the final pitch for them; the gestalt of a picture, the thing that even a dog sees if it’s colorblind is that if you were to high contrast it, that value pattern Howard Pyle says it should after a half hour of work on a finished painting, your initial layout, your value pattern should – to use a warrior’s metaphor, it should kill at 100 yards That means you step back 100 yards, that painting rocks You shrink it down to a postage stamp, that composition kills, and then you know you’ve put your energy not into the details but into the composition on the value level And it takes time and work to do that and when you’ve done it over and over by analyzing great masters; Goya, Sargent, Winslow Homer, Käthe Kollwitz, Frank Brangwyn, don’t miss Frank Brangwyn, many others, but those are ones that I would put on my list for masters of the past Oh, Dean Cornwell, uh, Harvey Dunn Many, many others I mean, here’s what happens; I mention those names and somebody say “hey, you left out so and so..” I know Stan: Yeah, how can you – I mean, there’s so many, there’s thousands Marshall: Okay well, then start with Doré Start with Gustave Doré best Stan: Why not start with the ones that you’re drawn to though Right? Marshall: Yeah, but let me say something though Some artists are more sophisticated and they don’t work tenabristically, they don’t separate their values really obviously so they’re hard to learn from Stan: Okay Marshall: Degas was a great composer, but he worked in more subtle ways and so, it’s harder to learn it from But Rembrandt and Doré Doré is great because he worked in black and white anyway and you blur them so that you tend to see a general pattern and you ate that pattern and then you gradually start to see that even if it’s not high contrast, even if there’s no black in there, even if there’s no white in your finished piece and I like to work softer contrast, you’re still aware of the value structure and you can’t compose with something that you’re not aware of So, the first thing is get aware of it It doesn’t mean you’ll be a good composer, it means that you’ll at least know that this is fundamental So, harmonic armatures are where you place things, value structure is another I might have spent too long on that but I was just elaborating on where Robert Beverly Hale and Howard Pyle aim next Stan: Okay Our emotional health is as important or more important to maintain as our physical health If you’re someone that’s interested in going to therapy, consider checking out my sponsor for this episode, BetterHelp BetterHelp is unique because they take out the annoying parts of the process Gone are the days of searching for a therapist in your local area and driving to the office That’s because everything is done through BetterHelp’s smartphone app You can schedule appointments at your leisure and sessions are conducted by secure video or over the phone On top of that, you can chat and text with your therapist One really useful thing I’ve discovered from BetterHelp is the articles that they provide on their website There’s a new post called “Feeling Happy And Staying Healthy: What Stress Does To The Body” that I recommend reading Having a resource like BetterHelp to pull from can be really beneficial Right now, BetterHelp is offering all Draftsmen listeners 10% off your first month with discount code “Draftsmen” To get started, go to Simply fill out a questionnaire to help them assess your needs and get matched with a counselor you’ll love That’s BetterHelp, Marshall: What does your student mind go to next? Stan: Student mind goes to some key words that I hear about when I hear about composition, like focal points; uh, contrast, gesture, storytelling Focal point being – is like the one that everyone focuses on Marshall: Yeah Uh, it’s because focal points happen in nature There might be a million people, billions of people, but there’s going to be a few that you focus on

That’s a principle of priority, some people call the principle of dominance, the principle of emphasis, the principle of supremacy, the uh – let me go to the next part of what Robert Beverly Hale says; certain principles of composition What does he mean? There’s elements, we’ve talked a lot about elements Elements are just the ingredients The ingredients can be used badly Principles, there some ways to use them well and one of them is, if one thing is more important than other things, that’s usually a good idea It is not a rule that there has to be a single focal point, that’s what you watch out for But, Corot made that a rule for himself He has a quote about he always has one, I think he even called it a ‘highlight’, one part that is brighter or more colorful or whatever than the rest, and you go through his paintings, that was important to him That’s important to a lot of artists That’s important to a lot of storytellers that you have a climactic point in the story The garbage truck is coming in, can you hear it? Stan: Yeah Should I talk a little bit Marshall: Yeah, yeah, you go ahead Stan: A few people who have studied at the Russian academy, the Repin academy in St Petersburg, they’ve told me a little bit about what they teach about composition and it kind of reminds me of what you just said And this is kind of like the telephone game; it’s like someone told someone and then he told someone and they told me So, this might not be the way they actually teach it there, but this is how I understood it Even on something as simple as like a face, it’s a portrait, it’s not like a story that you’re telling with a background and foreground and middle ground with several characters and there’s flow through them, it’s just – it’s a portrait of a face You still thinking about the composition of this rectangular space and you have to think of how you’re arranging the contrast in your drawing And that could be contrast in value but it could also be contrast in edge, in color, contrast in the size or importance of a shape It could be contrast between different elements, it’s not just value contrast Marshall: Right Stan: And he says that typically what they’ll do is they’ll you know, you got this you know, the eyes and the nose which is the focal point of a portrait typically and it’s also usually the thing that’s closest to the viewer, right? This part of the face is closest and things recede back Like the jaw is farther back, the ear is farther back And what they’ll do is things in the nose, those sharp edges, like the nostril, the cast shadow coming off of it will be higher contrast than things towards the back and they’ll really pay attention to that So, for example you have you know, there’s a very common cast shadow coming off the jaw onto the neck and it could be really sharp If you got a direct light source kind of like what – oh, do we have one on me right? Marshall: It’s on the other side, but yeah Stan: Oh there’s the edge of the cast shadow on my no – from the nose right here If I go up – well, you can’t really see it cause the mustache Anyway,` you get it There’s cast shadows being cast from my nose onto my lip and my cheek and from my jaw into my neck The one that’s being cast from my nose should be a little bit more contrast than the one from my neck And if you don’t think about that, you might just look at the subject and just see oh, there’s a sharp edge right there, right by the jaw, right here, right where that shadow starts And you just say oh, it’s a sharp edge, I’m just going to put a really sharp edge there and the ear, there’s a lot of little details in there and that might not necessarily be the best option that you want to create that sense of three-dimensionality with the nose popping forward the most and as the head rolls back, it goes less and less – it pops out less and contrast can make it pop out less Marshall: Yeah Stan: So, you could maybe soften that cast shadow a little bit or even if you want to make it sharp, you could make the value of the light on the neck a little bit darker so that the value contrast between the shadow and the light there is smaller than the value contrast between the cheek and the nose shadow Marshall: Yes Stan: The shape could be a little more complicated from one, you know, all those things And it’s every shape they put, it’s not just a cast shadow, it’s every piece – every half tone shape that’s put in there, they’re analyzing it, comparing it between all the others Whoops Between all the others in the drawing

And that, it’s kind of fun I like that Marshall: And that is composing and you also – you’re hitting on one of the greatest secrets of composing, good composers enjoy it, it’s fun for them And students often are so concerned ‘am I doing it right?’ that they are not able to have fun, which is why so many beginners – children compose instinctively, maybe not sophisticated, sometimes sophisticatedly in some ways, but not sophisticatedly like when Steve Houston does it where you’ve got all this balancing act of textures and colors and values That is composing It’s composing a face I had a student tell me once, ‘I don’t need to take composition because all I do is portraits’ It’s like ‘well, what do you mean? You just…’ ‘well, you put the face in front of the camera and take it, paint it’ Yeah but you might not like the background and you say ‘I want to simplify that background’ Okay, you’re composing And I don’t like that light, I want it from a different direction You’re composing I don’t like how hard those shadows, are I want them softer You’re composing And I want to move the camera up or down You’re composing You’re composing with space, you’re composing with form, you’re composing with rendering, you’re composing with elements Yeah, that is composition, under any name; composition is design, composition is arranging, composition is making decisions Hey, let’s do this, this is the point to do this I think We need to separate very clearly, in studying composition, we need to separate elements and principles One analogy is cooking; elements are the ingredients, principles are what a good chef does to make it good There’s no rule that you cannot have equal amounts of these three ingredients But typically, one ingredient will dominate and that is a principle; the principle of dominance, the principle of focal point Flavor might not be the most important thing here but the crunchiness, the principle of texture What’s another one? You mentioned contrast Contrast is focal point, isn’t it? That you’ve got all sorts of things going on in the music including canon shots at the end, but you save them for the end so they aren’t happening all the way through That way you’ve got loud parts but the contrast is that canon shots are the loudest part And a focal point which might be the highest contrast or the brightest color or whatever else, that’s the principle of dominance and contrast if you think about it The principle of balance which is often misunderstood, the principle of consonance and echoing rhymes What Myron Barnstone I think calls “coincidence”, that one part coincides with another, with the echoing around of things, with the carrying through of things Continuity, directional movement, paths that take you to the focal point which is the big boom or if you use the journey metaphor, is the destination of the journey or whatever else We’re moving into what I think is the most important thing about composition Stan: Uh-uhh Let me guess, is it storytelling? Marshall: No, because – Stan: Emotion Emotion? Marshall: It’s metaphor which leads to emotion I mean, metaphor is the most misunderstood thing about composition that I know of Stan: You think it’s the most important? Marshall: No, I think that there are three great important things about composing One is what we’ve already mentioned, that you do it for the joy of making decisions There are certain people who all they want is a template They want somebody to tell me what’s right and if you’re clinging to that and not enjoying it as I get to make up my own ideas, then you’re probably not going to do your best work But if you take the attitude of its exploring, it’s discovering, it’s trying things, it’s messing around, it’s experimenting and having fun with it, you’re probably going to be led to better choices The second that we’ll do for this purpose is what you started to mention with contrast Contrast and balance are the use of opposites, that you compose with lights and darks and you compose with bigs and smalls and you compose with sharp edges and soft edges and up close and far away and flat and thick and all sorts of other opposites You can list maybe – well, half a dozen that everybody uses, but when you list the ones you can use, you could have 20, 30 sets of opposites; the familiar and strange, the organic and the industrial That’s kind of fun too to look at your own work and see what your set of polarities that you play with are But that’s a whole lesson, and I spend – I spend a few hours on the use of opposites in teaching composition Stan: I’m interested to hear what you – what you’re going to say about the metaphor thing Can you make a case for it?

Why is metaphor such an important thing? I haven’t heard much about this Marshall: First let me ask you Stan: Mm-hmm Marshall: When somebody talks about metaphor and composition, what do you think it means? Stan: I’m thinking of little literal metaphors, like a shape kind of looks like something else and it’s meant to look like that something else because it’s sending a message about what the meaning is behind this painting Marshall: Yeah In storytelling, Robert McKee calls that “symbolism” Symbolism is where one thing represents another; this rose symbolizes passion, that horizon symbolizes eternity, this egg symbolizes fertility That can be done brilliantly but it’s not going to help students compose It can turn them into pretentious university students who say ‘people just don’t get how brilliant my work is and that everything means something else, but it can be done brilliantly It’s just that that’s not where we dig for what this is about Stan: Okay, so why is it so important? You’re saying it’s one of the most important things about it, so, can you make the case for it? Marshall: It’s because when you look at a picture, you have an emotional response If we’re sensitive viewers, in particular good viewers, we look at it and we feel cheered up by it or scared by it or thoughtful about it How does that happen? It obviously happens by the subject matter If you have a beautiful face, you will have a different response than if you have a scary monster, but not necessarily A person can compose that monster which might be hideous to make it quite amusing looking by the way they treat the flatness of it and the outlines and the bright colors and turn it into a cartoon, and we can have that very attractive face be terrifying because it’s in a Nowalk [sp] film where the light is coming through blinds that turn this person into slices of light and dark and it’s very disturbing Composition is about getting an emotional response and we get the emotional response at the most basic level with the abstract design With it, it feels like blood It feels like garbage, it feels like a lovely spring garden And to treat your design as a waterfall doesn’t do much good if you’re designing a waterfall, but if you are designing a wedding dress and you treat it as a waterfall, then you are bringing the energy and emotional content of one thing into another thing and there’s something about that that is basic to our emotional response and it is something that every great musical composer, storyteller, sculptor, artist uses even if they don’t know the definition of the word “metaphor”, every child uses it, that this is like this enough to where I’ll treat this composition, I’ll treat this picture as if it’s an embryo or as if it’s a scorpion or as if it is a drawer full of knives that I pulled open and they tangled all over the place, or as if it’s a Japanese garden, but not if it is a Japanese garden That’s why we’re saying, the one thing has a certain feeling and I am going to arrange my elements by comparing the two This is the blood of creative composition This is how I have seen the students who take this seriously do the best work I’ve ever seen and the students who never pay much attention to it or don’t work on it, I don’t know that we reach our level unless we really take it seriously And here’s the last thing I’ll say about it; here’s what I mean by taking it seriously; children do it instinctively, many grown-ups stop doing it because they want it to be literal, measurable, quantifiable, able to conform to the golden section But what about what you’ve got in nature? What about what you’ve got – all of these – the golden section is like a cracker compared to the feast that you can have of metaphor where you’ve got all sorts of things that you can pull from And getting good at it means to take a year or three of consciously working to make comparisons

One exercise, it’s only one but one that is good is to take your 20 or 30 or 40 favorite paintings of varying styles and liken them to meals, liken them to dishes Whether they’re desserts or whether they’re appetizers or whether they’re candy Norman Rockwell’s are kind of candy but then you can get even more specific and that is exercising the part of you that looks at one thing and sees it as another How was that Stan? Stan: That was a great case for it I’m actually kind of excited I want to go study it You got me motivated to go study composition with that Marshall: Hey, here’s where I’d start, I’d start with the book that I have a link to on my website; it’s Molly Bang’s book There are many books on composition and I read every one that I could read and I got kind of tired of them Some of them, they’ve got good things in them but there is one book and it’s the simplest book; “Picture This” by Molly Bang In a half hour, she will point your head in the direction of all of this stuff I’ve been talking about She does it really, really well, in just the first half of the book of how she would illustrate Little Red Riding Hood with abstract shapes I’ve talked about it before because I talk about it all the time It’s one of those must read books so that rather than trudging through 40 hours of reading books on composition, start with Molly Bang and she may ignite your creativity to where you don’t need to study that many more books on composition because you’re going to be off and running to see that you’ve got a lifetime ahead of you to invent your own Stan: Cool Marshall: Where from here? Stan: Well, I mean, I got nothing else to say Marshall: I’m trying to think of other resources and I don’t know whether he has his teaching online, but he’s a man that I know and I’ve had him come into my classes a number of times His name is Steve Shriver and he has a series of presentations on ornament in architecture And the reason why I wanted him to come and share it with my students over and over is that it is so inspiring about how the history of ornament and architecture evolved, and he has one little portion in there about how much ornament and architecture at one period in history was arranged around auricular shapes, that’s A-U-R-I-C-U-L-A-R The shapes of the ear alone can spawn an entire movement of compositional style And so, collecting things, when somebody asked about how you get good at abstract work last season and we talked about collect things you love Everything; volcanic explosions, lava, the way birds arrange themselves on a wire, the way trees arrange themselves in forest, the composition of leaves, all these things you love, study them, analyze them, ingest them until they’re a part of you and that will start to affect your abstract expressionist compositions It will also affect your representational compositions So, like N.C Wyeth who loved ocean waves and photographed ocean waves, filmed them, and then would watch them at night He’d start to ingest the power of ocean waves so that if – if he’s doing work of people fighting on dry land, they’ve got a certain ocean wave quality about them “Ingested Metaphors” is what John Gardner calls those You just pay so much attention to something that when you put it out, it’s got that quality Stan: Interesting Marshall: And of course, I teach composition and I know if you’re waiting for it – Stan: Where? Marshall: Uh, eventually I teach it – I’ve been teaching at the community college, Fullerton community college and I’m teaching it even this coming semester but I don’t know that everybody can take it, but I will bring it – I used to teach it to the TAD students online They were great! Hey, I gotta tell you this; we talked about how to be a good student Stan: Yeah Marshall: This is one more thing that has to do with being a good student and teaching composition Stan: Okay Marshall: I feel like when I’ve done my very best teaching on composition, it didn’t make any difference necessarily in students I don’t know that I did my best teaching on composition when I taught a number of those TAD students, but they got so good because this is an example of where the student pursues it for a few years and really works on it with these things in mind, and you can become

a great composer with very little teaching If you are committed to it and trying to understand it, analyzing masters, analyzing nature and critiquing your own work in terms of metaphors; how does it feel to me? How do I want it to feel? What feels like that and how can I steal the elements from that to bring it into this work and bring that emotional aroma? Stan: Can you recommend a few artists that are really good with metaphor in their compositions? Marshall: Yes All of them Stan: What do you mean “all of them”? Marshall: All of the good artists are going to be good at it even if they’re subconsciously doing it Stan: Okay, but who should I study? Marshall: Marcos book “Framed Ink”, do you know that book? Stan: Yeah Marshall: It’s a miraculous book in that the bulk of the book is about metaphor and yet he never uses the word He’s got a way of thinking that this needs to feel a certain way and so, if you darken it or you lighten it or you do this or you do that, it’s going to feel differently So, that’s a good book for it even though it’s not consciously using that term But good artists – any – Stan, I’ve got to uh, I’ve just got to say, choose your favorite artists Stan: Okay Marshall: And then start to look at them in terms of that Stan: You had a bunch of examples of artists who to study you know, for the value Remember, you were talking about Rembrandt and stuff Marshall: Yeah Light and dark Stan: There’s no one that comes to mind where it’s like ‘man, that artist really nailed those metaphors’ Marshall: Here’s the danger of it, is that I might say ‘look at how when Wayne Thiebaud draws people standing on a beach…’ which he rarely did, but he did a lot of cakes and candies and pastries and cakes with candles in them and more pastries and candies and cakes and candles and pastries Stan: [Laughter] Yeah Marshall: When he paints people standing on a beach, they look an awful lot like cakes and candles That’s ingested metaphor Stan: Oh, interesting Marshall: But let me do another one, because when they’re consciously observed, I think that uh, Giger’s metaphors of the body as rotting meat and machinery are pretty obvious, but uh, Michael – oh, Michelangelo using the body as a flame, that was a consciously chosen metaphor Stan: In which painting? What do you mean? Marshall: In many of his He treated the body because flames go whosh whosh whosh So, he treated the body that way and like a serpent and like the way rivers go, that’s the meandering thing Glenn Vilppu uses the school of fish, right? That you’re flowing like a school of fish that make darting Joe Madureira, do you know who he is? Stan: Mm-mmm Marshall: I think, I don’t know that he pointed this out but certainly people have pointed it out that he’s got these compositions that look like bubbling lava But whether it was conscious or not, here’s the thing; choose your favorite artists, look at their work and see what you, not what they, but what you, you’re the one who’s learning to create, what you would liken their stuff to do and then you consciously apply that to your own choices What do I want this to look like? Okay, I feel like we went on this too long Stan: Okay Marshall: But thank you for the question though Stan: You’re welcome Do you want to just listen to one voicemail and just see if it – if it doesn’t, we’ll just end the episode [Chuckles], okay Marshall: Okay Voicemail: Hi Stan and Marshall I got a question for you both Do you think you’re still growing as an artist? I just wonder for anyone who have already mastered the techniques and skills, what you are still pursuing for anyone who has already at the certain level, then what’s next so you are not just repeating yourself And I just want to say uh, thank you for making such a good podcast I actually listen to your podcast every time I’m practicing my drawings Thanks Marshall: “Masters like us!” [Laughter] Stan: Yeah I do not feel like a master Oh man! Marshall: I don’t feel like one because I’m not one compared to any masters whom I really admire for what they do Stan: Exactly right Marshall: And so, in a way there’s an objective quality to mastery is that you can do the job you’re setting out to do as opposed to succeed at it rather than failing at it, but it is relative in the sense that when you compare yourself to someone who’s worse – when my son was young, he just adored me, he idolized me, he Oh! Stan: Oh my god! [Laughter] That’s funny I got a funny story Marshall: I remember that I could make him laugh by just “dad, make me laugh, make me

laugh” And I could make him laugh and then when he became a teenager, I remember coming home one time, hanging around a friend of mine who is so terribly funny that everybody was falling over with laughter And so, just out of affection to connect with him as a teenager, I said “who are the funniest people you know?” and he said “not you, that’s for sure” And in a matter of – in a matter of a few years, I went from being the great god of laughter to someone who had nothing to offer Stan: Yeah Marshall: And so, it is relative If we were to go into an environment of people who are all worse than us, we would be considered masters It wouldn’t mean that we were, but we became considered masters and we might be able to bring them up to that level So, I don’t know – I don’t know that I even accept this question I’m working on mastering teaching and my goal is to make it so that students get way, way better than me And if I do that, then I know I did my job well, and those are some of my touchstone, is people who are good enough at teaching to make the students master the topic better than the teacher Stan: The way I treat the word “mastery” is I always shoot for it, I try to get there but I don’t expect to ever get there Marshall: Yeah Stan: You know the phrase, the more you learn the more you realize you have still to learn That’s very true I think in art, is you just kind of keep opening up these doors and each door is just more and more complicated because the subtlety inside every door gets more subtle, and the amount of time it takes to learn that new thing is enormous So, it’s more about – it’s not like I’m learning general fundamental principles anymore, it’s more about sharpening each one, right? Like I feel like there’s still so much to learn about every subject I mean, I’ve kind of exhausted anatomy personally over the past you know, six seven years that I’ve been teaching it, but because I was so focused on it, I haven’t really improved in color theory, in composition I know almost nothing about composition I could focus on that for a decade and improve greatly on that Storytelling There’s so much I don’t know, I feel like a human lifetime is not enough to become a master at everything that there is in drawing or painting It’s just not enough there’s so much to learn Marshall: I feel the same way 200 years, 300 years isn’t enough Stan: Yeah Marshall: One of the most exciting things in life is to study to learn and then to try your hand at it and then get better at it, when you start to get better you say ‘whooh whooh whoh’ And then when you – there’s going to be stages in it but it just – it seems like the great thing about the arts is that you can conceivably get better and better and better as long as you’re strong enough to work It’s not that way with prize fighters and football players Stan: But I got a funny story about what you just said Cooper the other day, and this is a consequence of him being locked up in quarantined for so many months He’s like ‘dada, you’re so big’ and then he’s like ‘your muscles…’ [Laughter] I’m like “wow! I’m his muscle hero right now” Marshall: Yeah Stan: Oh man! I mean, you know, my wife is five foot zero you know, and I have two tiny dogs So, yeah, to him, I’m by far the biggest person around I felt great Marshall: Yeah, it’s amazing Stan: Like yeah, you know what, I am muscular [Chuckles] Marshall: Yeah You are the dominant large animal of the family Stan: Yep Marshall: Yeah Now, if he gets taller than you, then he’ll look down on you and say ‘how did I ever think you were big?’ Stan: I don’t think he’s gonna get taller than me I think he’s gonna be a little dude Marshall: He’ll be smarter than you Stan: Probably Marshall: Yeah That happens Stan: He’s smart Marshall: Yeah Stan: Yeah, he picks things up He’s definitely got more rhythm than me Marshall: How do you mean? Stan: Oh, he’s a really good dancer Marshall: Really? Stan: He loves dancing I hated dancing when I was a kid I was so embarrassed Even as a little kid, I was embarrassed of dancing because I just couldn’t get it I was like ‘how do you guys move your body?’ Marshall: Oh yeah There’s just hardly anything funnier in life than to see a kid that age who pours themselves into a dance The rawness of it, the lack of inhibition, yeah Stan: Yeah Some of his moves that he does is like – you haven’t seen anyone do that, how did you pick

that up, you know? Like he’ll twerk, he’ll start twerking It’s like, you have not seen anyone twerk Like, we don’t show you that stuff Marshall: Yeah That’s that thing about kids compose instinctively A kid’s got a body, I got this thing called a body, I’m gonna use it I can use it this way, I can use it – and then marvelous things happen, failures happen too, but yeah, that’s not something that needs instruction until you’re really going to work on some moves, but the – yeah, it’s just astonishing to watch what comes out of a small child’s instincts or for better and worse, but that’s an example where dancing – making up songs Does cooper make up songs? Stan: Hmm No, he’s got a lot of songs he likes He’s really good at picking up on names of musicians now He’s two! I was so surprised He knows who Michael Jackson is versus who Justin Timberlake is, even when Justin Timberlake sounds like Michael Jackson Marshall: Yeah my son was doing that at two also, with other kinds of musicians, but he could he could pick out Aaron Copeland’s head from a distance and say ‘there’s Aaron Copeland’ And it was yeah, it was amazing to see that at two years old, he was picking up certain personalities associated with certain sounds, words Yeah, it’s great I was thinking today that I do not miss the work of parenthood, but being in the backyard and before we did this, you know there’s a persimmon tree out there and the leaves are thick like Africa They’re just sumptuously big and all these trees are getting new leaves on them and crunching them and looking at them, I kind of miss the presence of a kid observing a tree blossoming over a matter of weeks And I was thinking, you’re one of the few people in my life who’s raising a kid and we’re talking about it regularly Cooper’s how old? Not yet three? Stan: Not yet three It’ll be three in August, so what’s that? Two months from now? Marshall: Yeah Stan: Yeah, two months from now Marshall: Okay, where do we go from now? Stan: Yeah I think that’s it We’ll leave it on that, on a light note Cool Thank you guys Do we know what we’re gonna record next? Marshall: We haven’t talked much about how we learn from masters and how we break masters up into disciplines But it’s sort of been a subtext Stan: Really? Wait, is that one of the episodes on our list? Marshall: No, it isn’t It’s one that I’ve gotten a lot of questions; “how do I copy masters?” Stan: “how to copy masters”, interesting Okay, that is a good one Yeah, let’s talk about that one Marshall: Okay Stan: All right guys Thank you for joining us Marshall: Yes, thank you Stan: And give us those TikToks [Laughter] Sorry Okay, bye Marshall: Morning has broken, Marshall will fix it Marshall can fix most, anything broke Except for cars and also computers, nor broken hearts, yet Marshall is woke Pam pam pam palalapam Pam pam pam palalapam Pam pam pam palalapam Listen to Marshall he tells the truth unless it’s convenient to tell a lie Maybe he’ll find that balance of wisdom, but don’t count on it, he’s old, he may die You give me a title and I’ll run with it Okay, let’s see how about if I give you Stan Prokopenko, professional teacher Stan Prokopenko Professional teacher Stan Prokopenko, what a guy, what a guy, what a guy Yeah! Stan Prokopenko, professional teacher, Stan Prokopenko, what a guy! What a guy! What a guy! If you can’t hear the chainsaw outside, there’s a chainsaw outside

If you can’t hear the chainsaw, it is there If you can’t hear the chainsaw, it’s still there If you can’t hear the chainsaw, well, that’s you There’s a chainsaw going on outside it’s true