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A view from above

Jo Quigley demonstrates how to create an exciting composition in acrylics by taking an aerial viewpoint

As students of art, one of the first things we learn is the rule of thirds, a guide to help create more harmonious or pleasing compositions. This is where the picture is divided into thirds vertically and horizontally and key elements are placed along these lines or at intersections. As the horizon, or eye level, is probably the first and arguably the most important dividing line, it is no surprise that more often than not it is placed safely along one of these lines, thus dividing the space into a third and two thirds. But what happens if you were to ignore the rules and place it higher or lower than a third, or choose to leave it out completely? I find myself strangely drawn to works that do just that.

Placing the horizon

I have often wondered why I find these works so intriguing. Perhaps it is because in these paintings I am more aware of the artist’s intentions. For example, if the horizon is placed very low on the canvas (a worm’s-eye view), it implies the artist has given greater importance to elements above the horizon. This suggests that as the viewer we are looking up at elements within the painting, making us feel small in comparison. Adopting a low viewpoint can be used effectively to emphasise the feeling of a vast sky, a towering building or even a large animal.

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About The Artist

Follow cover artist Henrietta Graham's example and set yourself a challenging project to create a series of paintings on a particular subject matter, or why not try something different from your usual practice to keep your creativity flowing? Our professional artist/tutors offer plenty of ideas this month, from how to paint loose watercolour landscapes by Lea Nixon, unusual compositions from a high viewpoint by Jo Quigley, and how to use pattern to dramatic effect in your still lifes by Penny German. Hazel Soan demonstrates how to paint a lively self-portrait in watercolour, Glyn Macey shows what you can discover by studying Rauschenberg's work and techniques plus we include articles on understanding the structure of the head and how to measure and see more objectively to help improve your figure work. Oil painters will love Martin Kinnear's new series on oil techniques, starting with the importance of value and chiaroscuro, while Charles Williams takes a thought-provoking look at the age-old issue of 'when is a painting finished?' With more besides, you won't be short of inspiration and helpful advice in this month's issue!