Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Composition is a big word


Composition can be difficult to teach. Do this, don't do that… Unless you want to deliberately break the rules… And then it may or may not work… You stick to the rules - and it may end up boring. You break the rules - and it may end up unbalanced… What is a sketcher to do?

Composition is a skill, just like drawing or values or accurate color. This means that with practice a sketcher can develop a vision and understanding of the design as well as a feel for positioning of shapes within the boundaries of a drawing. By practicing composition it is possible to get and improve the sense and sensibility of what is composed well and as a result has a built-in beauty, and what needs improvement and what this improvement might be.

Composition is also a vast subject. This is another reason art students shy away from it.

Here I will suggest three things that can be practiced right away. They will work for on-location sketching without burying one's head in theory.

1. Balance positive and negative space

See that your actual objects of interest (positive space) and space around them (negative space) take more or less the same amount of space on your drawing.

Some examples:

- Crowded drawing - very little negative space

- Unfilled drawing - small subject surrounded by a lot of negative space

- Balanced drawing - subject and surrounding space take about the same amount of space

Remember a trick - an empty unfilled composition can be improved by creative cropping or borders.

2. Repetition and pattern

A human eye loves pattern. When we see and recognize repeating shapes it makes us feel clever and calms us. Repeats and patterns give an image rhythm and make it dynamic and lively.

3. Connection

Let your subjects and objects connect, touch and overlap. This is one and an obvious way to keep the composition together, like holding hands.

The other way to connect is by intent, using directional lines and visual tension.

Here's an example of a composition with overlapping objects:

In the following sketch three groups of people are connected by individual figures situated between the groups. These figures create the tension that holds the composition together:

So what to do now?

Now that you have these insights, it is time to practice them. When you chose your subject or view, take another minute and make a tiny plan. Here's an example of such plan: "I will include this bridge, and the river with its interesting colors and these trees on the right bank. I will leave out these buildings on the right shore, and a willow tree on the left… they will overcrowd my drawing." Better yet, make a thumbnail sketch and see how it looks.

Take the view you are sketching and make it into a design. Emphasize patterns if they are there. Look for geometrical patterns, color patterns, contrast patterns.

Check if your shapes connect/overlap or stand alone. If they are standing alone, is there a way create a connection or directional pull to tie the composition together? Even if there is not, you have taught yourself something about composition by having tried. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post Alex! If I may, I'd like to build on your super-excellent post here with some of the composition quickies that I learned over the years. 1) "Rule of Thirds" is often used by photographers so that the focus of your picture is never centered on the page...it is either to the left or the right and that the rest of the image contributes towards leading your eyes to the focal point. 2) In the Western world, we are accustomed to reading from upper left and ending at the lower right. Anything that you can do to lead your viewer's eyes in a smooth path through your picture will help the overall composition. And 3) Variance in size of objects makes a more dramatic image to look at. The eye will tend to look for the object that catches its attention...either through contrast or size or quiet space around the object. One lighthouse off in the distance of a smooth coastline will immediately grab the attention because it breaks the constant of the horizon line. Thank you for this post. It is a great reminder for me and your examples are perfect.


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