Beginner Art · Composition

What is Composition?

Composition means combining various elements of a drawing or painting into a satisfactory whole.  A good composition will hold the viewers interest and will encourage the viewer to look around the piece and notice all the details after the initial impact.  So what makes a good composition?

There is a theory called the ‘Rule of Thirds’, this idea is that subjects should be placed in one of the thirds of the piece to create interest.  Subjects in the middle of an artwork are thought to be less interesting.

Using a grid to make sure you don’t place focal points in the middle.

Many artists talk about ‘leading in the eye’ to an artwork, taking the viewer into the artwork and making them linger for a while.  This is often done by having a focal point to draw the viewer in but placing the focal point somewhere slightly off centre.  A typical example would be a doorway or archway and a path, our eye is automatically going to follow the path and look through the archway or door.

You Can Crop

You can crop a subject matter if you wish for a better composition.  Using a viewfinder is good for this as it does the cropping for you.  In the past I have dramatically cropped an artwork because I didn’t like some aspect of it after it was finished.  It is best if you can work out the composition before you start but don’t be afraid to crop a finished work.

Fine nibbed pen and pastel
You can crop your artwork for a better composition

One good way to learn and experiment with composition is to use a viewfinder. A viewfinder is a device that enables  you to crop a subject or scene so you can decide on a composition.

Another way to obtain a good composition is to try doing some thumbnail sketches. The thumbnail sketch enables you to start with a rectangle or square and fill it with the elements of your piece.  The thumbnail sketch is supposed to be a quick sketch that lets you try out different compositions.

Thumbnail Sketches

Try Out Variations

Remember that you have choices, you can move objects, try out different viewpoints.  Many of my students just draw or paint what is put in front of them of course you can move objects.  When I start a still life I like to try out many different viewpoints and I spend some time moving the objects around for the best results.

Move the subject matter around!
Move the subject matter around!

Try Out Viewpoints

A different viewpoint can provide a more interesting composition.  Above we see a birds-eye view of the fruit and vegetables (from above).  You can try looking up and looking down on subject matter for a slightly different and often more interesting view.

How do you get a good composition for your artwork? Share your ideas!

2 thoughts on “What is Composition?

  1. Good pointers on composition, Rebecca. While some folks are anxious to get right into painting, pre-planning using the rule of thirds in thumbnail and even color sketches will assure greater success in creating a good composition and therefore a better painting. I also refer back to my own color charts before deciding on tube paints to use especially to get the right color mixes. Having color charts is very helpful for landscapes and seascapes that need different blues and greens for sky, water, foliage, for example. I have examples of using notans and thumbnail sketches of my last painting.

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