Frank Webb: Composition for the Painter

Frank Webb: Composition for the Painter


In the last couple of weeks I have been convincing you to consider getting either of Frank Webb’s books, Watercolor Energies and Webb on Watercolor. Today I am going to take a look at Frank Webb’s third book, titled Composition for the Painter (now titled Strengthen Your Paintings with Dynamic Composition).

Getting these books just a couple years ago could get very expensive. The supply of these books was really spotty since they were out of print for years. The good news is that all three of Frank Webb’s books are now back in print! These are Watercolor Energies, Webb on Watercolor and Strengthen Your Paintings with Dynamic Composition – which is the new title for Composition for the Painter.

The books are available directly from the publisher Echo Point Books and they should now also be available on Amazon. However, that’s all I know about these new editions. Unfortunately I cannot say if these books are only reprinted originals or if they actually went through editing and if so how extensive it was. Note that I don’t own any of these new editions, therefore the information in this article refer to the Zack Press edition from 2005, which is a reprint of the first edition titled Strengthen Your Paintings with Dynamic Composition, originally published in 1994.

There are two main differences between Composition for the Painter and either of the previous books by Frank Webb, Watercolor Energies and Webb on Watercolor. Firstly, unlike either of the previous books, Composition for the Painter features not only works by Frank Webb, but works of 24 different artists. Secondly, the book’s focus is very heavy on composition and less on mechanics or technique, as is noticeable from the chapters:

  1. Space
  2. Ideas
  3. Line
  4. Shape
  5. Value
  6. Color
  7. Texture
  8. Size
  9. Direction
  10. Composing the Self

From the list of contents you can see that the book is less focused on the mechanics of the painting process and stresses the importance of composing your paintings, just as the title suggests. I really like what Frank Webb says in the introduction of the book, “Why is composition ignored by many painters? First of all, many who are painting do not realize they are composing, just as the fish doesn’t know that he is wet.” It can be terrifying to think about it, but it is true. As a society, we ceased to be creative. Our values are shifting rapidly towards instant gratification. We refuse to put in the work and better ourselves. And Frank Webb continues, “Since the French Impressionists, there has been a feeling that a painting must be an improvisation, and that composing thwarts improvisation. Others stray because they are so focused on technique, materials and media. Then there are those impatient ones who are so anxious to slap on paint. Then, too, laziness takes its toll, for composing is hard work and we wish to avoid not only work but pain. And last, but not least, composition is ignored by painters who cater to a public conditioned by photography, believing a picture must have elaborate detail. Thus the world is overloaded with non-composed pictures insinuating themselves into every corner of our lives.”

That is so well said. If any of it rings true for you, if it makes you feel uneasy, upset or even angry, it means that you actually recognize your shortcomings. Channel it into motivation. Motivation to better yourself and the world. And, of course, use the book to feed your motivation.

While both of Frank Webb’s books that I discussed previously – Watercolor Energies and Webb on Watercolor – are amazing resources, combining advice on mechanics and composition, this book can truly be a wake-up call. It’s not for the faint of heart. It focuses very strongly on design and encourages you to work hard on improving yourself. It also gives you the tools you need to do that. The book is written in a very pleasant language, as are all Frank Webb’s books. It is a very supportive and inspiring read in case you’re willing to put in the work and turn the advice into action.

This is an important book. If your intentions are serious and you’re honest with yourself, you could really benefit from reading this book. Let me know if you’re going to get it in the comments below.

Please note this is an article repost.
Original publish date overwritten.
Comments loaded with incorrect timestamps.


  1. Frank Webb

    Just saw your comments re my books. Thank you for the expressed appreciations! I have been admiring your work. It is visual evidence of a superior mind.

    1. Thank you kindly for your compliments Mr. Webb.

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