The What and the Where


I’ve been writing about ideas from “Powerful Watercolor Landscapes,” a terrific book for artists of all media, written by Catherine Gill.  My last post looked at the “why” of a drawing.  Now let’s consider the “what” and the “where”  together, since you really can’t have one without the other.   The “what” is something that expresses the idea(s) you want to convey.  It’s logical that the “what” becomes the focal point of your picture.  The next consideration is “where” to put the focal point.  Slightly off center is usually best.

We were looking at this scene:


I decided I would draw it to express the joy and comfort I feel when I’m there.  I could highlight the flowers or make more of the front door.  I could even move the tree over a bit and make the kayak rental shack my focal point.   Those colorful flags fluttering in the breeze are happy, they make a good “what.”

This scene naturally lends itself to a good composition.  The flags are in the upper left quadrant of the page, a perfect location.  The color highlights and draws your eye to the focal point.   The bit of green for the grass and the red sign balance  the bright flags and lead the eye to “where” the “what” is.


What if the scene in front of you is nice  but doesn’t offer a great composition?  This is more often the case.  Items need to be added, deleted or moved around to make the picture more interesting.  A little artistic vision is helpful to see the possibilities.  Take this garden scene:


One could draw this as it is and make some strong patterns in the leaves in the foreground to lead the eye back to the garden shed.   But I have a different idea.  To the left of the picture are some large, deep red poppies:


These are so lovely  they should be part of the drawing.  They become the “what” and the “where” is the foreground.


Much more interesting!  It’s often difficult to let go of the exact scene before your eyes to try new arrangements. By using “why,” “what,” and “where”  you will discover ways to evaluate your subjects more easily and design your drawings to become more powerful.

1 Comment

  1. I admired your work at the USk show in Edmonds some time ago but never made contact with your blog until Tina gave me the link today. This is a helpful post. I hadn’t really considered altering the scene that much but your composition really improves upon the original. Frank Ching says, “Look more, draw less” by which he means to walk around the scene more to find the best composition.

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