Jul 24, 2009

Understanding some basics about composition!


Painting by Sharon Teal-Coray


Every artist needs to understand there are some basic rules that apply to composition. It is not hard to understand but you do need to know this in order to achieve a pleasant looking painting that will hold the attention of your viewer.

Lets start with the "Center of Interest" or "Focal Point". Any subject you may paint will require you to have a definite center of interest. This is the place you want your viewer to look, it is truly the most important area in the painting.

Take a look at this picture, here we have no real center of interest, your eyes keep moving back and forth trying to decide what you are supposed to be looking at, blue building...entrance...blue building...entrance.... OK I give up!















Here are some tips that will help you create a well developed center of interest.
1.Make sure your focal point area contains the strongest colors. To really create visual impact in this area use complement colors. This will make each color stand out. You can further improve this area by a "bulls-eye" result by adding a touch of pure color, or a contrast in values. Using strong contrasts in this area will make it “pop” and give it real visual impact. This will be the major focal point with all other areas subordinate.



If your painting in hanging in a room with a lot of other paintings and it is the onw that attracts viewers to go to it to take a closer look, it has “Visual Impact”. This is what every artist strives for!





Look how that red hat in this painting grab your attention!










Using complement colors in your composition. The purple background against the yellow flowers makes the painting really jump out.

2.It always makes for an interesting composition when you add animals or human figures. This will boost the center of interest. If you do add them always point animals or people facing inward, if you place them looking outward it will make the viewer's eyes move off the canvas,remember our main goal is to keep them looking at our art as long as possible.

If you have a group of people or animals never spread them out all over the canvas, place them near each other. If you do spread them around they will compete for attention and the viewer will not know where to look.
Never place animals sideways to avoid a flat pasted on look. They will have a three dimensional volume if you turn them about ¾.


This lion looks like it was pasted onto the picture.



3.Never place your center of interest in the center or half way in the picture.(Except for a still life)




Imagine how much better this would be if the artist placed the trees over to the right and out of the center.


What a distraction these are! You can’t see the painting for the trees in the middle!



This is OK, still-life paintings are the exception to the rule.




4.Don’t point elements towards the edge of the canvas such as roads, rivers or tree limbs, this will lead the eye of the viewer right out of the painting!




This tree leads the eye right out of the picture! YOu have lost your viewer or customer!






Notice how the fence leads out of the picture instead of into it!





5.Have your rivers, streams and paths enter the picture with an “s” movement or a soft curve, using straight lines moves too fast and are static. You want your viewer to “meander” along not get pushed right out of the painting.
This stream leads the viewer “straight” into the picture fast but where too??? On another note, this painting is divided in half down the center of the canvas, it actually looks like two different paintings.




This painting "invites" us to come in slowly and look at all the things that are in the garden.



6. Group and overlap objects. This will be more pleasing and give your painting depth.



Look how all the objects are spaced out, this does not give us any depth!
Always overlap objects.


Here we have three objects and not one is over lapping, there is no depth here.



This is so much better, the fruit is overlapping giving the painting depth, the knife further increases the feeling of realism and depth.

7. When you are painting anything from clouds to trees avoid duplicating what you just painted, keep them different in size, forms, and movement. This may be a little hard because we are wired to repeat things we paint that looks good to us!




Three tress look the same, spaced the same…boring!




Look how different these trees look, much better.








8. Unify your painting by carrying the colors throughout.



Look how the artist introduced the pinkish color on the tops of the mountain in the surrounding trees, bushes, roof and water. That is unity!
If you are painting a sunset with orange and yellow add a touch of this to the ground cover or foliage. Bounce the sky colors on the rocks or in the shadows or tree trunks. ( Note the even number of bushes in the water all the same size!)





This is bad unity…do you see red-orange any place other than the tree on the left and a touch in the trees on the right? The artist could have introduced that color all over the place which would have unified the painting. The tree sort of stands out like a sore thumb and looks out of place. ( plus the little trees in the center all look the same!)






9.Avoid splitting your painting in half either top to bottom, or side to side It is much more attractive to have a low or high horizon than cutting the canvas in half.







This is right, the horizon line is further down making it a great composition.


10. Avoid grouping anything in even numbers. Odd numbers are better.



Two lions, an even number, just imagine how much better this would be if the artist had included a male in the pride and this would be an odd number making it a much better composition. Paint using odd numbers!
Exception to that rule is painting pairs, if you have to paint a pair of deer for instance just change their size and position.





Two elephants but the varying size makes it a good painting.



Three elephants……much better!



11. Do not stop the viewer from entering your painting by placing a fence or line of bushes in the front of the canvas. Leave a place for them to enter.



No way to get into this painting, you would have to climb over the wall and foliage.


12. Avoid “tangents” this is where there are two edges just touching not overlapping. This is irritating to the viewer even if most of the time they don’t know why it is bothering them, having these do have a negative effect on the viewer.

13. Unless you are into photo-realism it is not necessary to specify every board, shingle, brick or stone, Simply by suggesting a few of them will actually convey the idea better.

14.When painting cast shadows add holes where the light peeks through, otherwise the shadow will appear pasted on.

15. Use mood to create interest, you can paint a deep orange sky at sundown, it could be windy, raining or wet. All of these add interest.

16. Structures such as stucco, concrete and wood that are close to the viewer will show the texture, cracks and weathering. This will make them more interesting to the viewer. Remember to only add the texture to the foreground objects.


17. Balance is very important. There are two kinds of balance in a composition. Symmetrical balance and asymmetrical balance.


This is symmetrical balance.


Symmetrical balance is the placing of identical forms to either side of the central axis of a work to stabilize it visually.
It produces paintings that are peaceful, soothing, and visually secure.
Asymmetrical balance is achieved in a composition when neither side reflects or mirrors the other.
Characterized by arranging related or unrelated objects randomly.





This is asymmetrical balance.




Using the “Golden Mean” or "Rule of Thirds" to place your center of interest.

In painting this is a formula meant to provide the aesthetically most enjoyable proportions for a picture. The golden section is arrived at by dividing a line unevenly so that the shorter length is to the larger as the larger is to the whole. This ratio is approximately 8:13. The golden section (sometimes known as the golden mean or rule of thirds), which was thought to express a perfect harmony of proportions, played an important role in Renaissance theories of art.


"Rule of Thirds" is not a rule at all; it's a guideline. It is intended to help you when you are not sure where to place your focal point. You may still have a great picture by ignoring the rule, depending on the content of the image and how well its elements are balanced.















The Lighthouse is placed in the "Golden Mean"


If you place your center of interest at this point you will have a very pleasing composition. The intersection of the two lines  is the "Golden Mean" Try experimenting with this and also look at some of the great paintings that have been done, see if you can see how they placed their center of interest in the "Golden Mean" Move the horizontal line up or down and it will still show you the "Golden Mean" where the two lines intersect.

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