Skip to content
May 27, 2013 / pleinairman

Diptychs and Natural Dividers

A Walk in Springtime 12×24 oil/panel

On my recent hikes, I’ve been taking my camera and composing scenes with it.  My Canon Powershot SD780 IS can shoot wide-angle, 4000×2248 photos, which is a little wider than a 12×24 panel.  Since a 1:2 format is a natural for the landscape, this wide-angle framing helps me plot out ideas for compositions.

I know that this sounds obvious, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to walk with just the camera and no painting gear, and with the specific goal in mind of composing paintings on the LCD screen.  Thinking hard about composition – and not about color – makes a difference.

One idea I’m playing with is the diptych.  With the camera, I try to find a natural divider to split the composition.  Most diptychs I’ve seen are two paintings in the same frame with a piece of moulding for a divider.  Or, they may be framed separately with wall space as a divider.  Eitiher way, in my mind, the two halves never read properly as a unit.  The wood moulding or the wall space seems to affect the aesthetics negatively.  (As a reminder, in a diptych, each of the two paintings should be well-composed, but they should also make a good composition together.)   I find that by keeping the diptych all on one panel and by using a natural divider – a fence post, a tree or some other prominent feature in the landscape – both halves are unified and my aesthetic demands, satisfied.

To show you how this works, at the top of the post is a piece I created based on a photo I took on a walk last week down by Cranberry Point.  Below are the two halves.

For those of you interested, I used an unusual (for me) palette:  Burnt Umber, Thio Violet, Phthalo Green, Cerulean Blue, and three new colors from Gamblin, Green Gold, Cadmium Chartreuse and Nickel Titanate Yellow.

This weekend, I will traveling down to Pemaquid Point to join about 30 members of Pastel Painters of Maine for a few days of painting.  I’ll also be presenting a plein air pastel demonstration to the group on Saturday.  I believe I have Internet access at the hotel, so stay tuned!


Leave a Comment
  1. Robert P. Britton, Jr. / May 28 2013 1:29 pm

    that's interesting, Michael. So when you frame that, will you have a center vertical bar?

  2. Michael Chesley Johnson / May 28 2013 2:53 pm

    Thanks, Robert. No, it will be framed with a simple 12×24 frame. The tree will serve as the divider.

  3. Charles Eisener / May 28 2013 9:17 pm

    OK, now let's do that as a triptych. . one central and two peripherals! Do not often see this type of composition done very well; they typically look rather artificial. Nice job!
    I have always prefered the Canon line of pocket cameras. Their color balance and tones just seem to be more pleasing than most other brands; probably a function of their sensors.
    When I saw the painting, I almost gasped – that's the photo Michael posted a week ago!! Oh no! A plein air artist working from photos!
    Think I'm over it now . .


  4. Michael Chesley Johnson / May 28 2013 9:37 pm

    Triptychs! You've got the idea. And yes, working from photos! But don't tell anyone, or my membership will be revoked.

  5. violetta / May 29 2013 5:02 am

    For me diptychs often give a sense of confinement. Some good ones are abstract paintings and others I find work really well are 2 canvases of different width. I recently had a triptych of mine framed with each piece in a narrow box frame style and it actually still works as a whole, so that was a learning curve for me.

  6. Sonja Funnell / Jun 4 2013 3:32 am

    The trees all have such a beautiful organic life to them. When I look at these paintings I can feel them growing beyond the borders of the composition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: