Edgar Payne on originality

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Many artists are attracted to Edgar Payne’s compositional principles gleaned from his book, “Composition of Outdoor Painting”. Mention his name and those principles are usually discussed. I have not been directly influenced by his various forms of composition but rely more on an intuitive sense of balance, which seems to naturally line up with his compositional structures. More importantly for me has been his clear, practical, common sense instruction. It is shared with humility and a patient understanding of humanity. There are no secret sauces. He stresses the importance of mastering the fundamentals, having a definite purpose before beginning, working hard with perseverance and determination, and not stressing over being original or unique. Focus on mastery of the fundamentals and one’s individuality will shine forth naturally.

Edgar Alwin Payne

I like the fact that Payne stresses the importance of growing in understanding and skill. He puts little to no emphasis on originality. As a freelance illustrator for ten years, if you wanted to gain a national reputation, the emphasis was heavily weighted toward being unique…having a style different from all others. It was only as I moved into the fine arts that I realized the shallowness of that idea. As Payne believed, because we are so unique as individuals, we can’t help being unique as artists once we’ve gained knowledge and understanding and applied that to our work.

Don’t give another thought to being original, just work, paint what you love.

“Spring in the Mountains” – 15″ x 48″ – Oil


“Originality is not a matter of trying to invent new principles but rather a matter of creating new modes of mannerisms based on artistic fundamentals.”

“If one followed altogether only that which has been done and has no new ideas, art would fail and become merely a poor imitation of existing work. New thought is essential, yet, this considered alone, all truths and principles set aside, results would be equally disastrous and lead entirely to eccentricity, idiosyncrasy, and iventually to demoralization as far as true artistic quality is concerned.”

“Fifth Lake Peaks, High Sierra” – 29″ x 29″ – Oil

“High Sierras” – 24″ x 28″ – Oil


“Knowledge is undoubtedly the keynote to individual thought and originality in painting.”

“Talent and genius, even if they exist in a person, cannot be guided into productive artistry without the initiative, perseverance and determination of the student.”

“The first thing in the study of art is sound, extensive knowledge. The next is knowing how to apply it.”

“Sierra Lake” – 25″ x 30″ – Oil


“As each painter develops his abilities, he adopts methods and chooses subjects suited to his liking and temperament.”

I have not included a link for purchasing this book. All the prices I have seen for it are ridiculously expensive. Maybe you’ll find it a a reasonable price.


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