May 19, 2012

Basics of Composition

Sharon Teal Coray

Before I talk about composition there are some terms that every artist needs to know before they can do anything. So below are some of these. Read them and remember them. Without knowing what these are you will never be able to create a beautiful work of art.

Value: This is simply the relative lightness or darkness of a color.
Line: This is one of the essentials in art. A line can suggest texture, mass, light and shadow. It can be a very smooth even curve or a wavy scribble.
Mass: This is any shape that has two or three dimensions and depth. The look of mass is usually achieved with light and shadows or by how we place the shapes in our painting. It can be round or flat in shape.
Center of Interest: This is one area or one object that is the most important part in the whole painting. This is also called the “focal point” and an artist can use diversity and unity to emphasize this area.
Asymmetry: Lack of symmetry or balance in a painting.
Axis: This is a make-believe straight line. It can run across or down the center of your drawing or painting. . It is the center line or mid line of any object or shape.
Symmetry: This is the balance of the masses and shapes on both sides of the axis plane or line. If you can divide the painting into half and have to two similar in appearance then you will have a symmetrical painting.
Harmony: When you are able to create a painting or drawing that has a combination of elements that are pleasing or has a feeling of order then you will have created a harmonious work of art.
Rhythm: Simply put this is the recurring patterns that create artistic eye appeal. If you can create a good relationship between diversity, unity and the center of interest you will have “rhythm”. This rhythm can be achieved with the use of color, lines and shapes.
Shape: Shape is an area that has clear margins. It has two dimensions width and length.
Plane: This is an imaginary flat surface that extends an endless distance in any direction.

Composition is one important factor in producing a excellent work of art. You can have all the knowledge of colors and drawing but if you don’t have a pleasing composition your art will not be as good as you could have it be.

Composition is the main element in drawing and painting. No matter what style of art you use this is what make a great painting instead of a bad painting.
Over the years of studying composition I found that is was on of the most complex yet captivating element of art. It is just plain impossible to draw or paint a good picture if you have no understanding of composition.

So what exactly is “Composition?”

The way I explained it to my students was that it is the way an artist positions all parts of his painting. This arrangement of many various shapes unifies everything around the focal point.

My favorite quote about composition in one phrase, he said:

“Composition consists of variety and unity.”

Think about that statement, it appears hard to understand at first but let’s look at it more closely.

What exactly does diversity mean?
Using a Thesaurus we see that assortment, mixture, and variety are other words you can use for diversity.

What is Unity?This means agreement, harmony and unison.

These two words give us a principle to follow for the basic requirements for any work of art no matter the style or medium
So now lets look at what exactly this statement actually means.
If we use the word variety for diversity we use it in the colors we use, the shapes, positions, line, and the size of all the elements we use in a picture.
So we want to use a good variety because this is what the eye will gravitate to. It increases the interest, and it creates “visual impact” on the viewer. On the other hand it can be over-done. If it is cluttered with too much variety it will ruin the whole painting. So the trick is to find the happy medium.

To describe Unity I like to use the word “order.” We must learn how to incorporate the entire parts of a painting such as the shapes, colors and positions in a harmonious, well balanced whole.
To create unity you can do the following:
Be sure to place your focal point in the “golden Mean” area. (to read about the Golden Mean go to:

Balance your masses, that means if you have a large tree on one side of the canvas you need to have something on the opposite side to balance it. It does not have to be the same height or size but you need something to keep the balance there.

Repeat the shapes and colors throughout the composition. Repetition is very important in a good composition.

The use of “contrasts’ in color is a great way to create a good composition.
Use different techniques to intensify the theme.

There is a lack of symmetry or balance in this painting  

 If you can divide the painting into half and have to two similar in appearance then you will have a symmetrical painting.


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