Too much contrast in too many places?
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    Too much contrast in too many places?

    Hi,

    This is something for the Environment of the Week (water of life at the edge of the world).

    I feel like the composition is too busy/has too much contrast, but everything I try to do to fix it seems to make it worse. I know that having a strong silhouette is important, but I also want to show the dramatic play of light on the sculptures as well. It's been hard to strike the balance. Maybe it's not as much of a problem as I'm thinking? Because when I see super-busy old master paintings, they seem to make it work with high contrast all over the place...

    Any other general crits/suggestions would be very much appreciated!

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    Last edited by Zirngibism; December 30th, 2009 at 02:55 PM.
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    cool idea, my issues with it is the lower group.

    The scale feels off like they are too big so they don't seem farther away than the top group.

    And they are just as in focus as the close group making them compete for your visual attention.

    I would also think that the water splash and mist would conceal most of the lower groups as well.

    when i look at it my eye goes directly to the figure at center in the lower group. not sure if that's the best.

    overall cool piece.

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    I think one thing that may help your darks is more surface light on the rippling water. This would also add some nice reflections on the figures as well. That's the first thing I noticed missing.


    Z

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    Good point about blurring out the lower figures a bit. I think they're definitely in the right proportion distance-wise, though, since I did a 3D mockup before the painting.

    As for the water reflection, yeah, you're probably right about needing more. But I was afraid of making it too light or it might blend into the light background to the right.

    I shall post an update, shortly!

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    I love this piece, I do agree about the contrast, mainly on the biggest guy extreme left, the pure black is taking away from the flow, meaning that's where my eye goes and stays, I would tone back the black, other than that, the piece is really interesting and good luck with the submission, it's fun to do.

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    Here's an update. Did a myriad of little things. Tried to push things back as suggested. Tell me if it looks better, worse, or perhaps just the same?

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    Cool pict.

    Based on your revised pict, I don't have an issue with the overall contrast, I do think that softening the bottoms of the waterfalls, with mist and spay, will help pull the falls further back.

    You might also want to subdue the color of the sculptural levels that are below the very top one...or possible decrease their light/dark contrast.

    The one thing i find confusing is the area immediately below the guy closest to us with his back to us. I'm not clear about what that is right below his back, it's the same color as the other figures, but I don't believe it's part of his body.

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    I think the transition between value groups/ shadows is too sharp and abrupt. it's looking very...3D..but the bad 90's kind where they can't get smooth round shapes.
    The light source doesn't seem natural because the shadows are so sharp.

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    jupiter10-- Yeah, good idea about the falls. Also, that form underneath the closest guy is actually supposed to be another guy supporting the entire basin on his back, sort of like how Atlas holds up the world. See his arm?

    I'm glad you said that though, maybe I can bring up the anatomical details so it looks more like a guy's back.

    RyerOrdStar-- I know what you mean. I tend to like to make things more planar than they really are. I like to think it's a style, but I know what you mean. So, are you saying perhaps that the shadows are too dark, or that the highlights are too bright? Eh, maybe it's both? I like to try to have my darkest dark be almost black and lightest light be almost white in a picture, so maybe I was overzealous with the darkest dark part.



    *Goes back to fiddle more on it*

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zirngibism View Post
    Also, that form underneath the closest guy is actually supposed to be another guy supporting the entire basin on his back, sort of like how Atlas holds up the world. See his arm?
    I think this area is the one thing that's kind of weird about it. The closest guy in the upper group, the hand, and the leftmost people in the lower group get kind of jumbled together, and it makes it a little unclear what's going on there. I couldn't tell that it was a hand either. Once you mentioned it and I could tell what it was, it made the painting much more interesting, so making that more clear will be a big help.

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    THat is looking wicked cool so far, love the planar quality of it! I think it's on the right track and the crits so far cover most of the troubles. The one area I think you need to tweak- See the outermost child statue on the 2nd tier, right underneath the falling water? That statue behind him, on the bottom tier below, is forming a severe tangent and looks like he's attached to the child statue's face. It's making the entire bottom tier difficult to read in space. Move the statue a bit to eliminate that tangent and you'll solve a lot of the spatial trouble here.

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    I had to spend some time figuring out what the heck is going on in the bottom-left quarter of the picture. The thumbnail also doesn't read easily. Readability-wise, this picture is pretty bad, I think.

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    Ok, I added a more readable hand to the guy holding up the basin. I also made him bigger so that the viewer can see the overlap. I also desaturated that middle ground, and added some warm light to the water reflections.



    Sidharth Chaturvedi-- Thanks. I went in and fixed the tangent (or at least I think I did, haha). That area had really bothered me, and I hadn't been able to pinpoint why.

    tmth-- By bottom left corner, do you mean just the torso of the guy holding the basin up, or did you mean the whole left quarter, including the basin overlap?
    As for the picture being bad readability wise, do you think it's a lost cause, or can it be salvaged? Eh, maybe I should just move on and learn from my mistakes...

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    Why not split the picture in 3? Foreground, middleground and background. From there, you could distribute the contrast levels evenly so that one thing in the background doesn't empower the object in the foreground.
    Wicked piece so far, it has so much spirituality in it! I love the idea of statues retaining the water.

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    Mmm, really cool idea.

    Apart from what other people have said, I find the corner square behind the first guy's back a bit confusing. What is there? Rock? More body?

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    This looks good. I like the basic way you've used 3D to work out the perspective and anatomy--I think it's a strategy that will serve you well in the long term. I also like the idea of a goblet formed of human figures--it's very poetic and unexpected. The raytraced greenish water is very expertly done.

    To me, the main compositional issue is that, except for the farthest-right figure, the goblet is basically a dark form against a dark background. One way or another, I think there needs to be a clear figure/ground relationship established, probably by lightening and simplifying the entire background considerably.

    The other thing that leaps out at me is that the figures seem to be the now-immediately-recognizable default human males exported from Poser. If it were me, I'd really take the time to redesign the figures, either in 3D or by some serious overpainting, to give them more style and identity. I'd also refine a lot of minor details (for example, make it so they're actually holding hands and not just sort-of-touching like they are now.)

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    I think the shadows on the significant figure are too dark to be fitting in that environment. They seem out of place, as if it is sitting in a completely different world from the background environment. Be very wary of the ambience and other secondary lighting.

    That said, it is helping to make that one head pop out as the focal point so changing the contrast may cause a chain reaction.

    Very interesting concept!

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    Seems to still be there. I meant this area-

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    I wouldn't lower contrast or whatever you may think to do to let the far away waterfall on the right look more distant. It's because of the distribution of elements. The eye catching part of the artwork is placed on the left. Taking away too much "volume" (dunno how to describe it) from the right side would destroy harmony. Just for the balance, I'd even place something there on the far distant, upper right edge (like a castle or whatever)

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    Hi - I did a quick OP to see if I could help. Basically I think it is a neat idea that would be really cool if worked out to be more clear visually.

    Here's what I notice - the piece is very busy overall and seems disjointed - the "figure-bowls" and large waterfalls don't feel part of the same environement. Compositionally the piece is divided into two pieces both vertically (A) and diagonally (didn't put that in).

    B - odd tangent - figures appear to be on the edge of the falls here - if they're not then modify tangent and creat space below figure bowl - if they are their little falls wouldn't be happening.

    C - very low angle of light coming in - which seems odd because entire left side of image feels like it is cliff - I suppose there could be a gap but it just doesn't feel quite right - also a low light angle such as that would create long cast shadows all across the falls and rest of scene from the cliffs.

    D - scale of water ripples seems very off - much too large/broad

    E - water seems much too transparent - like air

    F1 F2 - light seems inconsistent - it illuminates the hand but not the trapezius/neck/shoulder?

    G - Not sure why this fall isn't vertical like others? Also lacks any shadow as mentioned.

    H - as someone else mentioned - this figure is actually the one the eye goes to because it is the most directly facing/engaging viewer and seems "active" - not in trance state?

    I know that's a lot - I think it's a cool concept but might be best from a different pov/composition.

    Hope it helps!

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    I don't find that the contrast is the problem, though as Jeff points out there are some other things that seem to be shaking up the composition.

    Throughout the whole picture, though, you seem to be using a lot of hard, sharp edges, even in the falling water. This looks really great on some things, but on others it makes it look artificial. The falling water, as mentioned, would be diffused quite a bit; maybe blurring it would be a bit too far, but having smaller and more subtle shapes and strokes worked into things might improve it. Likewise, the ripples on the main basin look rather chunky in my opinion...not necessarily a bad thing, but there seem to be a lot of converging sharp points in the middle of the basin, and I think a few smaller ripples thrown in there can help the believability of the fact that water is constantly flowing out of it.

    Overall, though, this awesome. I like the atmosphere and the overall idea.

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    Could I suggest that the problem here is with your value-massing (which is far too busy).

    Read:
    http://forum.portraitartist.com/show...&threadid=1857
    http://forum.portraitartist.com/show...?threadid=1870

    Unfortunately the pics don't show up there, in the first, but I think the ideas are still communicated. Basically, the idea is to limit the number of values and the way they are grouped, so that a thumbnail version of the image makes a bold decisive statement.

    Dave

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    dr. house suggests more atmospheric perspective on the far behind land. Since you have big Waterfalls you have to have a lot of fog, which means a lot of white in the background.
    Take a biiiig Airbrush and work the upper right corner.

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    I hope the sloppy PO shows what i mean.

    Play around with another Layer and push and pull it till you like it. you dont have to do it as extreme as shown here, a little would help alot, too

    cheers

    -a

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    Whoa, you sure got much valuable feedback, so there's not much I can say that hasn't been said But anyway, for the reply's sake:
    Yeah, I meant the whole bottom-right quarter of the picture. About it being salvageable - of course it is! I saw your works in the ca gallery and I'm sure you'll manage to do that.
    Kfeeras' idea of putting on lots of atmospheric perspective is what I'd do here. Also try this trick when you're more or less done with the image - duplicate it, blur it quite hard then erase out this blurred layer so that you create some focus. It's good to use as many nastry hacker tricks as possible to guide the viewer's eye through such a busy picture!
    Cheers, and keep going

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    First off, thank you everyone for the generous amount of replies and critiques. Never have I gotten this much helpful feedback and paintovers. While this obviously means this images still has a lot of problems (which I definitely agree with), it also must mean that you guys see enough potential in it to be worth your time. So again, thanks, you guys rock!



    Quote Originally Posted by NMartin View Post
    Why not split the picture in 3? Foreground, middleground and background. From there, you could distribute the contrast levels evenly so that one thing in the background doesn't empower the object in the foreground.
    Wicked piece so far, it has so much spirituality in it! I love the idea of statues retaining the water.
    Tried to do it, but I suppose it could be pushed more. *goes into curves filter*

    It's supposed to be another guy's back holding it up, but it seems lots of people have had issue with it, despite adding a more prominent hand. But if I took it out, I think it would also be kinda weird, so I'm a little stuck. I also thought about lightening the background, but was afraid it would throw the piece off balance. But you've helped me reconsider.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sticks View Post
    Mmm, really cool idea.

    Apart from what other people have said, I find the corner square behind the first guy's back a bit confusing. What is there? Rock? More body?
    Neither. And you're not the only one to be confused. It's supposed to be the back of a DIFFERENT body, holding up the whole basin like how Atlas holds the earth. I would darken it to make the shape more evident, but then I'm afraid It'll distract the eye.

    Quote Originally Posted by Giacomo View Post
    This looks good. I like the basic way you've used 3D to work out the perspective and anatomy--I think it's a strategy that will serve you well in the long term. I also like the idea of a goblet formed of human figures--it's very poetic and unexpected. The raytraced greenish water is very expertly done.

    To me, the main compositional issue is that, except for the farthest-right figure, the goblet is basically a dark form against a dark background. One way or another, I think there needs to be a clear figure/ground relationship established, probably by lightening and simplifying the entire background considerably.

    The other thing that leaps out at me is that the figures seem to be the now-immediately-recognizable default human males exported from Poser. If it were me, I'd really take the time to redesign the figures, either in 3D or by some serious overpainting, to give them more style and identity. I'd also refine a lot of minor details (for example, make it so they're actually holding hands and not just sort-of-touching like they are now.)
    Yeah, the main reason I did the 3D mockup was to figure out how to do the water, because I wan't sure how to handle the distortion of the figures beneath it. So I sculpted the water in Modo and rendered it with 1.33 refraction index water material.

    Good idea about lightening the background. I guess I tried avoiding it this far because every one of my illustrations/environments seems to be 100% dark-on-light, and I'm trying to get away from it. I suppose I could wait until a new piece to break out of that mold, though.

    (I know you're probably right about 3D serving me, but since I've started using it not so long ago it seems to be stabbing me in the back a lot.)
    Anyway, while I did use Poser models to get the initial basin designed, I also took photo reference and did some significant painting over.

    Here's some of the photos, taken with my brother as a model:


    I was originally going to add fins and stuff, to make them seem like gods of water, but I was afraid that the extra elements would make it more confusing than it already is. When you said redesign, did you mean just anatomical proportions, then?

    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Chow View Post
    I think the shadows on the significant figure are too dark to be fitting in that environment. They seem out of place, as if it is sitting in a completely different world from the background environment. Be very wary of the ambience and other secondary lighting.

    That said, it is helping to make that one head pop out as the focal point so changing the contrast may cause a chain reaction.

    Very interesting concept!
    The significant figure (which I'm guessing you mean the leftmost one who's back we're looking at) used to be lighter, but it caused major distraction and pulled the eye away from what was going on elsewhere. Seems like I've backed myself into a corner with this one as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sidharth Chaturvedi View Post
    Seems to still be there. I meant this area-
    Whoops, I thought you meant the tangent between the closest and middle basin (which still led me to improve it, haha). Anyhow, thanks for taking the time to use paintover to point it out. I think you're right about it.


    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp Thing View Post
    I wouldn't lower contrast or whatever you may think to do to let the far away waterfall on the right look more distant. It's because of the distribution of elements. The eye catching part of the artwork is placed on the left. Taking away too much "volume" (dunno how to describe it) from the right side would destroy harmony. Just for the balance, I'd even place something there on the far distant, upper right edge (like a castle or whatever)
    I have to say I agree with you more than those who are telling me to lighten the background. I tried lightening it a while back and it seemed to throw the whole image off balance and make it seem too left-heavy.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Hi - I did a quick OP to see if I could help. Basically I think it is a neat idea that would be really cool if worked out to be more clear visually.

    Here's what I notice - the piece is very busy overall and seems disjointed - the "figure-bowls" and large waterfalls don't feel part of the same environement. Compositionally the piece is divided into two pieces both vertically (A) and diagonally (didn't put that in).

    B - odd tangent - figures appear to be on the edge of the falls here - if they're not then modify tangent and creat space below figure bowl - if they are their little falls wouldn't be happening.

    C - very low angle of light coming in - which seems odd because entire left side of image feels like it is cliff - I suppose there could be a gap but it just doesn't feel quite right - also a low light angle such as that would create long cast shadows all across the falls and rest of scene from the cliffs.

    D - scale of water ripples seems very off - much too large/broad

    E - water seems much too transparent - like air

    F1 F2 - light seems inconsistent - it illuminates the hand but not the trapezius/neck/shoulder?

    G - Not sure why this fall isn't vertical like others? Also lacks any shadow as mentioned.

    H - as someone else mentioned - this figure is actually the one the eye goes to because it is the most directly facing/engaging viewer and seems "active" - not in trance state?

    I know that's a lot - I think it's a cool concept but might be best from a different pov/composition.

    Hope it helps!
    Woah, uberthanks for the awesome paintover! I really appreciate you taking the time to put this together. Out of curiousity, do/did you teach?

    I think I know what you mean by vertical and diagonal division. Those aren't bad in themselves, just when something is evenly divided, right? Oh wait, mine kinda IS evenly-divided.

    B. They're supposed to be near the falls, yes. But I can see it working better if I moved that edge to the left, yes.

    C. I see what you mean. There's supposed to be a gap in the cliff letting the light through, yes. Hmmm, perhaps if I showed part of the gap in the left? But that might even make it more busy?

    D. I originally was going to have some water falling into the front basin from above, and I thought that would make the water more turbulent, then I guess I forgot about the cause of the turbulence when I decided not to include that falling water. But yeah, I guess it is a little "big". Wonder how long it would take to fix...

    E. I was afraid that if I didn't do that, people wouldn't see the cliff through the water and think there was a direct tangent. Guess it didn't work regardless, haha.

    F . Thanks for pointing that out. I darkened the shoulder and totally forgot about the hand! But if I darkened it, would people be able to tell what it is?

    G. I thought having the falls like this would make the composition less vertically driven. I was also inspired by some multi-tiered falls (in Greenland I think). I still like the design and intend to keep it, but you're probably right about the shadow.

    H. I hadn't thought that the angle was the reason for drawing people's attention. I guess it's a psychology thing. But I do kinda like this figure, and will probably not do anything more to it than lowering the contrast.

    You're right, this would probably work out better if I redid it, but I just plan to fix what I can and move on and learn from my mistakes!


    Quote Originally Posted by Tangleworm View Post
    I don't find that the contrast is the problem, though as Jeff points out there are some other things that seem to be shaking up the composition.

    Throughout the whole picture, though, you seem to be using a lot of hard, sharp edges, even in the falling water. This looks really great on some things, but on others it makes it look artificial. The falling water, as mentioned, would be diffused quite a bit; maybe blurring it would be a bit too far, but having smaller and more subtle shapes and strokes worked into things might improve it. Likewise, the ripples on the main basin look rather chunky in my opinion...not necessarily a bad thing, but there seem to be a lot of converging sharp points in the middle of the basin, and I think a few smaller ripples thrown in there can help the believability of the fact that water is constantly flowing out of it.

    Overall, though, this awesome. I like the atmosphere and the overall idea.
    Thanks, I'll work on it. I've never really painted water before, so this has been a good learning experience!

    Quote Originally Posted by dcorc View Post
    Could I suggest that the problem here is with your value-massing (which is far too busy).

    Read:
    http://forum.portraitartist.com/show...&threadid=1857
    http://forum.portraitartist.com/show...?threadid=1870

    Unfortunately the pics don't show up there, in the first, but I think the ideas are still communicated. Basically, the idea is to limit the number of values and the way they are grouped, so that a thumbnail version of the image makes a bold decisive statement.

    Dave
    Thanks. Value massing is one of my biggest struggles. It could be because I didn't really make a thumbnail before jumping into this one, but instead just went off my 3D mockup. For my current EOW, I'm taking the time to make thumbnails so we'll see how what goes...

    Quote Originally Posted by Kfeeras View Post
    dr. house suggests more atmospheric perspective on the far behind land. Since you have big Waterfalls you have to have a lot of fog, which means a lot of white in the background.
    Take a biiiig Airbrush and work the upper right corner.

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    I hope the sloppy PO shows what i mean.

    Play around with another Layer and push and pull it till you like it. you dont have to do it as extreme as shown here, a little would help alot, too

    cheers

    -a
    Thanks for the paintover! I had been afraid to add atmospheric perspective for fear that lack of the upper darkness would throw the picture out of balance, but it really doesn't look too bad from what you've done. I definitely wouldn't do it that extreme, but probably a little. Thanks again!

    Quote Originally Posted by tmth View Post
    Whoa, you sure got much valuable feedback, so there's not much I can say that hasn't been said But anyway, for the reply's sake:
    Yeah, I meant the whole bottom-right quarter of the picture. About it being salvageable - of course it is! I saw your works in the ca gallery and I'm sure you'll manage to do that.
    Kfeeras' idea of putting on lots of atmospheric perspective is what I'd do here. Also try this trick when you're more or less done with the image - duplicate it, blur it quite hard then erase out this blurred layer so that you create some focus. It's good to use as many nastry hacker tricks as possible to guide the viewer's eye through such a busy picture!
    Cheers, and keep going
    Thanks! Most of my pieces (including those in the CA gallery) involve me painting myself into a tight corner and putting 80% of the work into solving the problems I created and slowly getting myself out of it again. But I think that's the process which I learn most from!

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    Here's an update.
    I moved the foreground waterfall so it wouldn't make that tangent.
    I added some more atmospheric perspective, smudging, and warm light to the background.
    I defined the supporting back a bit more.
    I also lightened up the upper left cliff area so that the darkest darks would be in the foreground figures.
    I darkened the foremost figure's hand, and added some smaller ripples in the water.
    I also made the figures hands holding onto eggs (egg symbolizing new life), as opposed to just having hands haphazardly touching.
    I got rid of the weird head tangent with the backmost and middle basin.
    And lightened all the shadows of the close one.
    And darkened some of the lower water in the close one too.

    I tried adding the fins as I'd originally intended to the people, but it just looked kinda corny. I'm not quite sure how to make them less poser-like, because I still want them to look human.

    Anyway, hope my changes made a difference. I'm sure happier with it!

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    Maybe a subtle texture on the certain areas of the skin -- webbing or veins come to mind -- can do the trick? Or perhaps even slight bits of rust or moss growing, depending on how you want it to feel.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zirngibism View Post
    I'm not quite sure how to make them less poser-like, because I still want them to look human.
    The best way to make them less Poser-like is to not use Poser--take some time and model your own figures from scratch. They will look unique. If you must use Poser, my advice is to be prepared to overpaint the figures a lot to make them your own.

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    Hi Zirgibism - yes I teach (and art direction is about the same thing really - you act as a mentor) - thanks for asking. It's looking better in some ways but getting further off in others. I'll just give broad impressions this time...

    The main thing is the image is still very separate feeling - the "pools" don't relate to waterfall environment - they are all clustered together on the left and there are none visible on the right - so there are the pools...and there is the waterfall. Placing a few "pools" scattered into the distance in such a way that the eye travels in a nice loop will help connect the two halves - think stepping stones.

    The light is very unspecified still throughout the scene - big value pattern is really important iin getting the image to "read" - and as has been pointed out it has to work as a thumbnail first - there has to be a clear division of light family and shadow family (the exception being an overcast day of course).

    SO I know you're probably tired of beating on this one - but I would recommend for learning purposes - take a few steps back in process and do a thumbnail sketch that defines the light and shadow value pattern and distributes elements for a better composition. We're talking 10-15 minutes for the thumb - you don't have to go in and rework anything if you don't want but it can be valuable to step back and see how you can visualize something better.

    Basically that's what I would always suggest as the starting point - you're very strong with traditional media so work things out compositionally and spatially through thumbnails first - then go into digital.

    This has been a great thread BTW - have fun!

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