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Composition in art

28 July, 2010

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Composition in art is what makes stare at a drawing or painting.

It looks simple (a group of people, a landscape, a flower, etc..) and yet it is carefully studied to lead us enter in all its parts.

woman looking at a caravaggio is like "kidnapped" by the composition of the painting

This is why the eye folllow a path without getting tired or lost and so we get "kidnapped" by the painting or drawing.

In my opinion, composition must be learned and practiced even before being able to draw or paint. It also helps in photography for instance.

And it's an education into beauty.


Before I get into lengthy explanations...

I think the best teacher I found online is here.

composition in art DVD content by ian robertsHis books and videos are really a blessing. On sale now (July 2010)

Available also at Amazon: the book and DVD (without the extras though).


mastering composition by ian roberts book mastering composition by ian roberts dvd




(NOTE: this rules can be broken!)

  • Look at things in a simple but boldly way! Don't think in terms of objects but of shapes and colors.
    If in front of you is a landscape that you want to draw or paint, simplify its features and look for:

  • L-shapes, simple shapes, often used in landscapes, marine painting of boats

  • Triangle-shapes, again...simplicity

  • S-shapes a powerful way to lead the eyes

  • Diagonal lines

  • Create a centre of main interest (should be off-centered in the final drawing/painting)

  • Group things together

  • Create radiating, smooth or straight "lines", color patches, shapes leading to the main center of interest.

  • If there is a "boring" texture all over the drawing/painting/photography create a resting spot for the eyes by introducing a total different element (e.g. a leaf on a totally grey background of a road)

Here I wrote a better way to look at these rules.



Essay on Art
by A. Clutton-Brock, 1919, p.58

The Artist and his Audience

According to Whistler art is not a
social activity at all ; according to
Tolstoy it is nothing else. But art is clearly
a social activity and something more ; yet no
one has yet reconciled the truth in Whistler's
doctrine with the truth in Tolstoy's. Each
leaves out an essential part of the truth, and
they remain opposed in their mixture of error
and truth.






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