Schoolism: Pictorial Composition Week 01 +

by Aug 11, 2015Art Projects

For those of you who are thinking of taking Schoolism classes, but are just not sure, I will be sharing my experience.  Hopefully, my journey will help you to decide if the classes are right for you.  I think the idea of Schoolism is great, but are the classes as great as I imagine them to be? Only time will tell. To find all of my Schoolism post, follow the category (tag) Schoolism.


Schoolism Dashboard

This is what the Schoolism Dashboard with lessons ready for viewing looks like.

I was so excited to begin my Schoolism lessons on July 15th, Pictorial Composition with Nathan Fowkes. I got the video files, and was as eager as when I entered my first class of Sheridan’s Classical Animation. Then, I encountered my first problem; the video did not play on my iPad!!!

Schoolism: Pictorial Composition Lesson 01 Dashboard

Schoolism Pictorial Compostion Lesson 01 Dashboard. The following videos play automatically. This division makes it easier for the stream and for you to access a particular section.

I waited until I got home. Still excited, I ran up to my room, grabbed my Cintiq Companion, and ran back downstairs to my favourite couch spot. (Yes, I am like Sheldon Cooper. I have a couch spot, though I do not guard it as obsessively as he does.) The video played, but it kept freezing from time to time. It was frustrating, but Nathan Fowkes was delivering so I did not care as much.

I enjoyed the lecture and was ready to work on my assignment. It looked easy enough. We were supposed to pick our three favourite compositions then render each one three different ways. The first is supposed to be rendered only in 3 values. The second full value scale, but no details. The third, full colour with no details. Fowkes said it should not take us more than 5 minutes to do the first, and no more than half an hour to do the other two.

… My first two compositions took three days.

I chose Touch of the Wolf by Susan Krinard cover art (Steve Assel, I think is the artist) and Drew Struzan’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone poster art from his “art of” book. Those are my two favourite compositions. I’m not sure what I wish to do for the third.

Touch of the Wolf and Harry Potter Image Sources

Touch of the Wolf and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone original image sources for Pictorial Composition Lesson 01 Assignment.

Now, I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong. Why is it taking me so long to complete this assignment? Is it because I have chosen complex subject matter? Am I including too many details? Is it that I do not know how to use my digital tools as well as other students? I did find it rather difficult to match the digital colour to the print colour. The colour that I picked on screen may have looked like the colour on the print, but then as I started painting, I realise it was off.

Maybe it would have worked better if I used gouache, but my paints are 10 years old, and I wanted to practice using my new digital tools.

After completing the two compositions, I decided to check back my lecture video, when I noticed that I have completely missed the commentary videos of Fowkes critiquing other students.

After listening to a few, it appears that for the first image we should not copy the original shapes as close as possible, but that we should simplify as much as possible to the basic shapes. We should also pick the three values that match our image’s values??? However, we are still supposed to showcase the main subject of the image. I do not want to include details, but if I do not include Harry’s glasses and scar, am I showcasing my subject to the best of my ability?

I’m having a really hard time trying to figure how much to include and how much I should leave out, so for the last composition, I’m going to look for something very simple. I’m also going to try to find a digital image, and not the print image, so that I can have the reference on my computer as I’m painting. Then I’m going to time myself to see how much I can do in 5 min, and how much in half an hour.

This assignment should have taken a week to complete, but as usual, life likes to throw disasters my way, so I had to deal with some family issues and could not continue working as I planned. Thank you Nathan Fowkes for making me feel guilty about that. He actually said that even with his incredibly busy life, he is capable of finding time to complete all of these assignments on time.

Well, if it takes him half an hour to complete each, maybe that is true.

What is wrong with me?

Let’s see what I can do with the last composition…


Initially, for my last composition I thought about recreating my favourite Rococo painting, “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Even as a child I found this image terribly romantic. There is a pretty girl in a pink dress swinging, while a young man marvels at her beauty. A small reproduction of the painting has been hanging by the door in my home for decades. I looked up the picture on Google…

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Click Here for the original source file.

I have been misinterpreting the image all of these years! There is nothing romantic about this painting except the colours. The reproduction I own is very dark, so I did not even see the old man pushing the girl on the swing. Apparently, this is the young WOMAN’s husband. (Gross!) The young man is not gazing at her adoringly, he is looking up her skirt and between her thighs! She is not an innocent pretty girl, but a saucy, flirtatious lady looking for her next lover.

I still love the painting, but I do not feel romance when I look at it any longer. 😉

Looking at it, I realised this composition was incredibly busy, and I did promise myself that I would pick something simple. By chance I glanced at the Robert Bateman books on my shelf. After a brief search, I decided on “Bluebird and Blossoms”. It looked simple enough, and I loved the colours and light in this image.

Blue Bird and Blossoms by Robert Bateman.

Bluebird and Blossoms by Robert Bateman. Click Here for the original source file.

Was I ever wrong! There is nothing simple about this image. There are so many branches, curves, flowers, tones… I have been overwhelmed once more. I did time myself, though. In the end I did create the three value study in less than 5 min (I reworked the values later on, but it was still under 5 min), the tonal study in slightly over half an hour, and the colour study in about an hour. I could have kept adding details, and perhaps I did add a few too many, but I’m happy with the last composition.

Here, you can see my complete assignment:

Pictorial Composition Week 01 Assignment

Pictorial Composition Week 01 Assignment. See below for details about each image.

I’m really looking forward to Week 02. We get to create five of our own compositions! Yay!

I have uploaded the Assignment from Week 01 on the Pictorial Composition Event Facebook Page, hoping for some critiques. However, as only the students of the class are present, it is difficult to get someone to rip my work into shreds and teach me what I’m missing. I myself have tried to offer some critique, but if I knew what I was doing, would I be taking this class? Maybe Schoolism can hire past students to monitor the event page and offer us some valuable feedback. Otherwise, we are pretty much on our own, which is OK, I guess. Maybe I’ll try the collective Schoolism Facebook Group. There must be some previous students there who have mastered the subject and are willing to offer me valuable feedback.

I’ll keep you informed. If you have any questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to write me a comment.





While listening to the lecture, somehow I have completely missed that we were supposed to pick three values that matched the values of our sources to create the first composition. Therefore, I picked a dark grey, a mid grey, and a light grey. The challenge here was to decide what to include and what not to include. The easiest method was to squint and pick up on the images lights and darks, but do those values reveal the gist of the subject? I also thought that we were supposed to match the structure of the image as close as possible, and not to simplify the shapes to their bare bones.


Touch of the Wolf Composition 01

Touch of the Wolf Composition 01

Looking at my image now, I would remove all the distracting bits (such as branches covering the moon and the dark cloud that is taking away from the silhouette of the house and hills.  I would leave the plant pointing at the two characters, because I appreciate the circular movement it creates, as if it is cradling the two characters in it’s grasp.

I was a bit more comfortable dealing with the full value image. However, I did not notice that I’ve messed up the proportions of the original image. This always happens when I’m tired. Somehow, I loose the ability to visually measure anything.


Touch of the Wolf Composition 02

Touch of the Wolf Composition 02


Other than the proportions, I feel I have done a decent job with this composition, but have I spent too much time on it? Should it have been simpler?

The last composition is in colour. I know I have spent way too much time on this one.  The greatest challenge was trying to match the print colours to screen colours.

Touch of the Wolf Composition 03

Touch of the Wolf Composition 03

I believe I have captured the image rather well.  Perhaps I have added a bit too much detail to the curtains and wall, but I did want to keep people focused on the scene. Touch of the Wolf is a story about an English nobleman, Braden Forster, who happens to be a leader of a werewolf clan. The werewolves are dying out, so he has turned into an obsessive matchmaker looking to breed pure-blooded werewolves.  When his American cousin, Cassidy Holt, arrives on his doorstep, he is determined to match her with his brother, but Cassidy seems more interested in him. I really loved this story as a teenager, but I bought the book because of the gorgeous cover. To this date, I have not discovered another cover to match. I only wish the artist, Steve Assel, had more of his work on display.


Drew Struzan is probably my favourite contemporary artist. I love people. I love drawing people, and no one draws people better than Struzan.  He is also a master of composition; he can tell the story of an entire film with just one image.  One of my favourite images is the poster he created for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The moment I heard we were supposed to study three compositions, I had my top two picked out.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Composition 01

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Composition 01

The trouble with this image is that it is very complex. There are many character and many scenes I need to capture. Initially, I had translated shadows on Harry’s face, but then I decided to keep his face simple and to include the details of scar, glasses, and mouth. I could have made his face a bit rounder, and his mouth could have been smiling, but all of the elements of the picture I feel are represented in the image. What do you think?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Composition 02

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Composition 02

With the second image, my struggle of what to include what not to include resulted in me including way too much. I must have spent a day on this image, trying to discern all the shadows and lights Sturzan created. Why did he make this part of an image lighter? Why did he keep the other part of the image in a simple silhouette? What’s going on with the light on Hagrid’s face? The goblin’s face is tiny! What parts of the image are sharpest? Where are the blurred bits?… The questions went on and on.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Composition 03

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Composition 03

For the third image, I tried to include a bit of texture as well, and to put to use some of the digital tools (such as layer blending) that I did not have as a traditional painter. This image took another day.  Can someone translate the essence of this image in 1/2 hour? I did not even try, because I was just way too fascinated with all the details and subtlety and I decided to explore it to my heart’s content.  I also missed the part of the lecture that told us we should not spend more than 1/2 hour on these images. Ooops!


As mentioned previously, I did not have a third image in mind, and have stumbled upon this lovely painting by Robert Bateman by accident. At this point, I have caught up to the missing bits of the lecture, so I attempted to follow the guidelines to the best of my ability.

Bluebird and Blossoms Composition 01

Bluebird and Blossoms Composition 01

In previous compositions, I would zoom into the image and work, these images I did not zoom in.  I kept them at approximately 3-inch-wide size as I worked. The image above took 5 minutes.  Or rather it would have if I did not decide to change my values.  At the first pass, the background was middle grey and the bird was dark grey and white. It is not neat and perfect, but I think this is the bare minimum needed to capture the essence of the composition.

Bluebird and Blossoms Composition 02

Bluebird and Blossoms Composition 02

I soon realized that this image is not as simple as I thought.  There are a lot of interlocking branches.  Once again, I did not zoom into my image. I kept my distance, and have turned the texture of the interlocking branches into quick line strokes. I have timed myself, and have managed to create this image in just over 1/2 hour.

Bluebird and Blossoms Composition 03

Bluebird and Blossoms Composition 03

For the third composition I cheated. By this point I was so tired that my measuring capabilities were gone. I created a new layer, quickly traced the bird and blossoms, and then I got back into drawing without digital aids. Now, I notice I have made my background colours a bit too blue, and have added more contrast to the entire image, but I did not want to spend hours fixing it, so I let it go at about an hour.


And there you have it; Pictorial Composition Assignment 01.