Composition for Painting, Drawing, and other Aesthetic Endeavors

These notes usually accompany an illustrated lecture. These 4 vids under category “Teaching – EMILY CARR CURRENT CDA Fall 2015”    may also interest you:

Day 7 CDA Ecuad Composition Drawing-Painting (1 Of 4) {Oct 31 2015}

Day 7 CDA Ecuad Composition Drawing-Painting (2 Of 4) {Oct 31 2015}

Day 7 CDA Ecuad Composition Drawing-Painting (3 Of 4) {Oct 31 2015}

Day 7 CDA Ecuad Composition Drawing-Painting (4 Of 4) {Oct 31 2015}

Composition in painting or drawing can be compared to Composition in music. Firstly – The skill in the medium is somewhat independent from skill of composition: A person can be excellent at playing an instrument (drawing or painting) and not very good at writing imaginative music pieces (Composition) and vice versa.  There are many excellent designers who do not draw particularly well,  just as there are many excellent songwriters who play piano poorly. But, a person can sometimes be good at both (Mozart, Rembrandt). Secondly –  Beyond skill and knowledge, there is an intuitive aspect…your own individual interpretation and personality speaking through your decisions and actions. BUT there is an intellectual aspect…your intentions and considered choices guided by your knowledge of principles and elements of design and of historical precedent. It’s pleasant to have precocious  talent at this, but, have faith, almost every obstacle falls to bloody-minded persistence.

Design Principles
The usual factors of rhythm, balance, dominance, the nature of 2d and 3d space, positive-negative, etc. all apply as  parts of Composition.


Numbers of Shapes-Use a few strong shapes or group larger numbers of shapes into fewer .

Create Hierarchy – make a few strong shapes out of many – Create Dominance. Less is more.

Check the edges- check the negative shapes

Check the figure-ground relationships for interest – can a transition/figure-ground reversal or a ‘yin-yang add interest?

The location of shapes and focal points is obviously a major consideration in Composition in pictures and for graphic design. These are some important related concepts. Some apply more to 2d space, some more to 3d space and some to both:

Focal Points 
These are things our eyes are hard-wired to look at – Faces, figures, hands, details, meaning, signs symbols, contrast, saturation, strong gesture, etc.

Create a simple, clear choreography for the eye of the viewer.
Single focal point, double, triple, spirals, big gesture, etc.

The ‘Bagel’ concept
Avoid the edges, the centre, the corners. Try to locate focal points an unequal distance from each edge.

The ‘Grid’ concept
Grids are ancient aids to composition in all fields
Grids of one, two, three, etc

Rule of Thirds

Golden Mean

Space/Form Organizational Concepts: Fore-Mid-Background

Space within a space,

Room -portal -vista

Events along a path

Big Gesture

BEWARE OF RULES AND FORMULAS – It is all very well to know them, and there is some truth in them, but there is no substitute for developed intuitive sense honed through careful study. Also, a formula will usually tend toward balance, unity, stability, etc.  Many contemporary artists may want the opposite – dissonance, imbalance. For these artists, formulas are recognized but avoided or played with. Rules are deliberately set up and then broken. Things are placed dead centre, lines run into corners, etc.. “Disturber elements” are introduced, such as a rotation, a diagonal, or a curve set against an otherwise stable grid arrangement.

error: Content is protected !!