Does the latest edition feature new updates?
Yes, typographical errors throughout the text have been corrected without altering the original intent of Payne’s work. Beginning with the 7th Edition, 5th printing, a “Tribute Preface” is dedicated to the late owner of De Ru’s Fine Arts, DeWitt “De” McCall. Added to the 8th Edition is an original Biography of Edgar Parne by his wife, Elsie Palmer Payne, as found in the 3rd Edition but later removed from subsequent printings. Additionally, since the original Edition, drawings and color photographs of Payne’s work have been added with each subsequent Edition.
What is Composition in art?
Composition is a broad term. So broad it can be challenging to articulate and define clearly. Think of it as the way in which we arrange the visual elements to communicate our ideas about the subject. But for Payne, it goes well beyond that. He writes in his introduction:
A fine painting is a composite of all its factors and influences. Bringing these together to form this composite creates the process of composing. Hence the study of composition is a matter of studying art and all of its factors and influences.
A well-composed painting is clear, concise, and engaging. All the pieces will appear to work in perfect harmony. It will look like a cohesive painting rather than an arrangement of parts.
A poorly composed painting is harder to spot. A painting can be wrong for many reasons, and narrowing down the main culprit can be challenging. You might know something is off but cannot put your finger on it.
Is this book written in the 1940s still relevant today?
Yes, and this is best answered by Payne himself, “The study of art is a lifetime matter. The best any artist can do is to accumulate all the knowledge possible of art and its principles, study nature often, and then practice continually — To be original, one needs to learn the ideas of other painters to be different from them — Learning the art of painting is not an easy task. It takes great intelligence, keen analysis, study, and practice.”
How will this text help me to be a better artist?
As Edgar Payne noted, “Composition of Outdoor Painting is not presented as a treatise on Art, but is rather a short and concise handbook on the essentials of outdoor painting for the practical student.” Using illustrations of paintings by various historical artists, the Selection and Composition section of the book delves into a breakdown and understanding of the use of balance, arrangement, natural composition, value ranges, and other principles of composition. The use of greyscale illustrations and his notes and descriptions of these paintings helps the reader to understand the use of values in compositional development. This section is the meat and bones of the book and contains excellent viewpoints and instruction. Payne also uses many thumbnail sketches and lines drawn from paintings by many other artists to show composition examples that he develops further in the chapter. This is one of the book’s most valuable aspects and helps make this subject understandable to artists of all skills. Additionally, the use of thumbnail reference sketches throughout the book is what makes this book a handbook versus a textbook. The artist can refer to it often for clarity and understanding. This is one of those books where the highlighter and pencil notes in the middle of a page are helpful for future reference.
Why is this book so compelling for an artist?
Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting is a must-read for aspiring landscape artists. First published in 1941, it has been hailed as one of the most influential works to date on painting and composition in general. The book covers a wide range of topics related to outdoor painting, from an overview of color theory to the fundamentals of value contrast. It is currently in its 7th Edition.