Hierarchy and the eye

My friend John, whom I haven't heard from in a while, wrote to say he was in France for a month, where he painted, according to him,"some pretty good paintings". Then he says, he comes back and goes to paint a local river scene and all falls to hell, no focal point, TMS (too much stuff). He wondered if I had ever posted about how to edit in the field, how to leave out the things that aren't important. I know I've touched on it in a few of the 250 some-odd posts but not sure I'd focused on it.

What some instructors may refer to as "choosing a focal point", I prefer to call "developing a hierarchy" but they are sort of the same thing. So what's so wrong with putting everything into a painting? Nothing really, as long as you know how to do it, or you are a camera. But, I refer you to exhibit A, this marvelous piece of horrid design created on behalf of Butch Wax and the Hollywoods, which I got by Googling bad billboards. Anyone with a set of eyes could look at this POS and realize that there's not one thing that is top of the heap, king of the hill, CEO, A-number one. And what's the outcome? Nothing gets seen. The viewers brain goes "OY" and moves on to the next shiny thing.

Here's a painting by Thomas Hart Benton, which he obviously didn't create en plein air. It's full of stuff but still carefully crafted. What's the diff? There's a clear focal point, a dominant element, I don't think I really need to point it out, but it's the brightly lit naked woman standing dead center in a sea of dark forms. Lot of stuff that's been organized. Hierarchy, eye flow, focal point.

For the outdoor artist, how can we be more careful in our editing and organizing? 1. Start with a clear idea of why you are picking the thing you are picking. 2. Start small. Small studies force editing and limit the creation of confusion. Many of my students hate to work small, so they don't listen and they end up with an epic, all inclusive map of the area. It's big but it ain't pretty. Small sketches first for ideas and then small color studies for further development. Until you learn to deal with a lot of stuff. Here's what I mean.....

a small study (posted before) from a pencil sketch of an existing outdoor study, so there are layers of editing and careful consideration. and the final, a 20x20.

Now that I've addressed editing, next up will be how to choose more carefully out in the field.