What Makes a Good Composition?

For some students arranging a good composition comes naturally, they just seem to know what looks right.  Some however find composition a bit of a mystery and struggle to capture an arresting arrangement and therefore piece of art. I offer a few tips to help you find the perfect composition.

Take The Time

Many of us don’t spend much time thinking about how we look at a subject, if it is in front of us we draw or paint it.  Often we forget that we have choices around the viewpoint (near, far, above or below), angles, and the arrangement of the objects themselves.

Spend some time moving the subject(s) around if this is a still life or a figure there will be options on how these can be arranged.  Try out a few different options, do you want the figure seated, standing, looking down etc. and do you want the objects bunched together, far away etc. there are plenty of choices.

Spend time arranging your objects to get the best composition
Spend time arranging your objects to get the best composition

All Shapes and Sizes

Using a mixture of large and small shapes makes for a good composition.  In the case of a still life it is best to select a range of different sized objects and different shaped objects to provide interest.

Break Up Space Unequally 

Be aware of the spaces created around the subject(s) as much as the subject(s) themselves.  This space is called negative space and it is an important element of art to learn about and understand.  Even spaces around the subject(s) tend to make for a less interesting composition so try to differ the shapes of the sizes of the spaces around the subject(s).

Turn Your Work Upside-down 

A good way of working out if you have an interesting composition is to turn your work upside down, this way you can see the spaces much more readily.  You can check if the spaces are unequal and vary in size.

Don’t Make it Too Busy

There is often the thinking that compositions have to be made up of many objects.  Sometimes a very simple composition can work really well.

Simple compositions can work well
Simple compositions can work well

I have also written some other posts on composition to help you on this topic, see How Do I Plan a Still Life? and What is Composition? for more advice.

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