Monday, 2 April 2012

The Simple Secret to Better Painting – Book review

This is a review of the book “The Simple Secret to Better Painting” by Greg Albert.
The simple Secret
 So what is this big secret? Can you really boil it down to a single principle? Here comes the ONE RULE OF COMPOSITION: “Never make any two intervals the same.”
The notion of intervals is then applied to the different aspects of painting: objects, shapes, colours, tonal values…
Greg Albert is cheating a little because he then adds two sub-principles to the One Rule of Composition. The author sums-up his recommendation at the end of the book:
“I no longer remember when I first summed up composition in one sentence, but the ONE RULE OF COMPOSITION has successfully simplified both teaching and learning how to make a better composition immediately. The Rule of Thirds and the Mostly, some and a bit formula are both corollaries of the ONE RULE OF COMPOSITION. My experience has shown me that these three concepts are the most useful to painters standing in front of a fresh canvas or watercolor sheet who want to get the composition right from the start.”
 “The Rule of Thirds” is a simple way to divide a picture into thirds vertically and horizontally. The intersections of the horizontal and vertical dividing lines create four points that are natural centre of attention in a composition when we look at a painting. Greg Albert calls these points the four sweet spots.
Greg Albert applies the formula “Mostly, some and a bit” to all of the characteristics of color: hue, temperature and intensity. For instance, you could have a painting mostly warm, with some neutral warm area and a bit of contrasting bright blue.
These are the main points, but the author also discusses other concepts that are attached to these three rules.
What does the book cover?
The book can be divided roughly into three parts. It starts with four chapters on principles of good design.
  • Chapter 1 – design dynamics
  • Chapter 2 - making things interesting
  • Chapter 3 – achieving dynamic balance
  • Chapter 4 – pleasing the eye
The numerous illustrations help to get the ideas, an approach that makes total sense when the targeted audience is visual artists. The paintings that illustrate the different concepts are good. I even prefer the simpler series thumbnails showing some “boring”, “better” and “best” compositions.
The next two chapters deal with tonal and colour schemes, and how “The one rule of composition” applies there.
  • Chapter 5 - tonal value and contrast
  • Chapter 6 – color
Finally, the author looks at specific types of subject and shows the concrete applications of the principle:
  • Chapter 7 - still lifes
  • Chapter 8 – landscapes
  • Chapter 9 - figures and portrait
How does this book compare to other instruction books on painting? It is not a “how to” book based on demonstrations by the authors. Also, Greg Albert does not intend to cover everything. For instance, there is nothing on colour palette or mixing colours. He only covers colours in terms of dynamic composition and the impact they have.
The benefit of having the “Never make any two intervals the same” motto as a unifying principle is that the author can then anchor new knowledge on this foundation. It is always much easier to retain information when you can link it to what you already know.
For those who are sceptical about this approach, just remember that: Simple does not mean simplistic.
An excellent book recommended for beginners to more advanced painters. Applying the principles in this book will help you improve your composition in more than one way.
The book
The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: F&W in the UK – North Light Books in the US
Language English
ISBN-10: 1581802560
ISBN-13: 978-1581802566
If you are in the US (Amazon affiliate link)
The Simple Secret to Better Painting: How to Immediately Improve Your Work with the One Rule of Composition


 If you are in the United Kingdom (Amazon affiliate link)



The author

Greg Albertis graduated at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Ohio. He has been teaching drawing and painting in the Art Academy of Cincinnati’s community education program for many years. He is also the Editorial Director of North Light Art Instruction Books and the author of several books on drawing and painting.


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