Composition: The Poor Artist’s Cupboard

This is a requested tutorial. It’s all about composition.

1st off, this is an advance tutorial. Readers are advice to have intermediate understanding of modeling in Blender (or any other 3D applications, but I prefer you to use Blender). Basically this will not be a “how to” tutorial. No “how to bend the book” model will be told. This tutorial is an outside look of Blender and more toward making great composition by looking and understanding and not by copying photos you saw.

The reference is Charles Bird King’s “The Poor Artist’s Cupboard” painted in 1815. It’s an oil painting on Canvas, in the collection of Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

What strike me most is how functional the composition is. Some things in the composition are old, untouched, some are few months old, some are worn, teared and folded and some are just left there few minutes ago (bread). It looks like a biography of the owner and he is indeed very busy and poor.

To extract the composition, we must look at what are the core things that is going on. Below is the list…

1. The artist (He) is poor, he put everything inside a cupboard, maybe he has an overflowing work desk
2. He is busy, everything not arranged properly
3. He isn’t an untidy person, as you can find his stuff easily
4. He was or is researching/collecting about sea, or he just came back from one (sea shell)
5. His breakfast left over (yes he is too busy to clean that up)
6. He might be someone you know.

These are motive of the composition to work. Without these little stories most compositions will look less functional and without history, without identity, which make them hard to believe that someone was there and have been using/leaving stuff for a while.

Composition balance. In the painting, everything is heavier to the left. The dark part maybe a piece of dark cloth (maybe a sweater) pushed inside. But there are ways to do the same without getting into cloth simulator.

We don’t need to know everything to model something similar. It’s best to insert your own touch and your own flavour into the composition.

Referring to my composition. First I make a big book to cover the base, then I put thick books farther inside, not properly arranged, this makes it looks more organic. On top of them, I put 1 thicker book with open side facing outside. On top of it another book, this time thinner and thus bends, Next I put 2 unrolled papers on top. To the inner right side I remove books to insert 2 rolls of paper. There is a gap at the base of the cupboard between big book and wood, here I add another roll of paper, the reason of the rolls of paper will be the scroll holder, touching both side walls of the cupboard.

Coming out from those, I lay down few pieces of paper, loosy between a big folder, that might be an old case/research, hard to pull that one out. The very thick book in front (500 pages thick) is the on-going stuff he is reading, his progress about 30% of the book (try guess which page he is on… XD). And yes the big bread untouched (painted before breakfast). A fork stick out of it.

The 2 notebooks (lower left & mid) been use very often. These maybe hand written, thus the page is a little spent and hard to close. Then the glass, what is in it we don’t know. As we keep pushing things inward paper will bend and fold, this is the organic part of the composition. The last thing the artist put inside is the sea-shell. It is touching the top of the glass, so the glass must enter before the sea-shell.

The final part is the 2 pinned notes at both of the top corners of the composition. Even if these papers are light but the area they covered are big, they give balance to the top composition. The piece to the left is a tear from the notebook, the 2nd (top right corner) might be from a teared piece of newspaper. Observe the smaller part of the paper bends forward. That’s another organic part of the composition.

Out of all the craziness of my composition and the original, what can you learn from them?

“Composition is how things get there, their age, the effects of one touching another and their stories.”

I conclude this tutorial with this phrase “Understanding can make believe.”

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11 thoughts on “Composition: The Poor Artist’s Cupboard

  1. Composition is about the arrangement of objects and space within a frame. It is not about “how things get there.” Nice attempt, though.

    By the by, you are very good modeler.

    • Aha… trap question…
      A tutorial: When we have a real classroom full of students learning one thing and the rest of the students either skip class or sleeping behind. XD

  2. No, composition is nothing than that; the arrangement of objects and space within a frame.

    Speaking of composition. Your 3D model of King’s painting brought an interesting observation to mind. I believe, but I am not certain, that King’s painting has two horizon lines. Something you can’t do in 3D modeling. At least it certainly looks like it has two horizon lines. What do you think?

    • Question: have you thought of moving composition in and off screen, such as in dolly and/or zooming in?

      2 horizon lines only in non 3D medium. Many Renaissance painting have those.
      As I observe his painting has a wide band of horizon lines from across the seashell to near top.
      But this is a one perspective painting. Confusing huh.

      His other work has non of that.

        • I was referring to the original painting. If you plot its perspective lines you’ll find that there is a big band of horizon line, which is impossible in 3D. Try reconstruct its perspective lines… it will be lots of fun!! 😀

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