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Composition is all about the balance and dynamics within a picture. It is a vast and fascinating subject.

A Good composition is one of the most important parts of aspects of image making process. When a planned composition works it captivates the viewers' attention and provides clues to the meaning of the artwork.

If you impulses to inspired by a particular subject, you a story to tell in your artwork. Your story doesn't have to be arranged in details. For instance; the story you want to tell about a landscape is your dream place has visioned for yourself when you get retired... You are planning purposeful arrangement of lines, shapes, values, illumination, texture and colours within the borders.

Before making any progress in this session, we should start to think of the placement and framing of the elements within as it is an essential consideration of any composition.

There are four main important elements we should consider; Placing shapes, Space and Figure & Ground and Proportion.

1. Placing Shapes: When we frame a picture or painting it just becomes something more than just a sketch. The edges of the rectangle create a visual tension, which makes the placement of shapes within the rectangle very important.

2. Space: This time we are focusing on space as depth and dimension. Space in a composition can refer to perception or illusion of dimensional space created by perspective or layering.

3. Figure & Ground: One element may simply in front of another (figure and ground relationship) Or, the scale of differences suggests that one of the object is in the foreground and other is further back. For instance; overlapping objects suggest depth when one form overlaps another.

4. Proportion: The amount of space allocated to the various components of a painting.

5. Emphasising Focal Point : A painting becomes much more interesting when it has a focal point; a specific area you want your viewers to focus. For instance; ina landscape painting, it maybe one specific tree or tree.

Keep in mind that you can choose more than one area of focal points in our painting if it helps us express our message in our subject matter. After we choose our main point we can use many devices and techniques for that focal point.

Here is some simple tips;

Use the rule of thirds, Emphasize your main subject, Accentuate a point of interest in your foreground, Always place your focal point off centre of your composition, Use diagonal/curve lines, Reflect the beauty of nature such as adding water reflection, Use contrasting elements which can create visual tension.

We can create a great sense of harmony and unity in our composition. There are ways several ways to create harmony and unity in our composition by;

1. Use the medium in a consistent manner

2. Simplifying, shapes, subjects, colours, etc.

3. Using a consistent style.

4. Making sure the artwork appears finished partly.

5. Ensuring that each part works and makes sense with the others.

We use basic elements of art (line, shape, texture, form, colour, space, scale ) and organise and compose them according to principles of art( balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, unity) and other elements of composition to give a panting structure.

Let's look at some use of composition in a picture plane;

Curve Lines: Simple curve leads the eye into the picture. Such a composition device should be placed in the composition if it looked balanced and graceful.

"Tahiti and Picnic", Gauguin

The Golden Ratio: Since ancient times, artists and architects have followed a mathematical 'golden' ratio that indicates the pleasing division of a space- about six tenths.

So the horizontal division in this composition below comes six tenths down the picture and focal point (the tree) is placed at six tenths along that line. The golden section is a great shortcut to instantly gratifying compositions.

A Frame Within Frame: Many compositions are based on bold geometric shapes. They are often not immediately visible, but they also be very much a feature of a picture plane. One such device presents a subject through or within a frame like structure within the picture. They may draw the eye into the picture and it may feel voyeuristic.

Frames Work; including natural frames inside your images is an excellent way to create something stunning.


Space is the area around above and within the objects. Feeling of space in a drawing is always an illusion.

Figure and Ground Relationship:

A figure is an element or shape placed on a canvas or other background. Ground is the space of the picture plane.

Figure-ground theory states that the space that results from placing figure should be considered as carefully as the figures themselves. (See figure-ground relationship)

The space is called negative space if it is unshaped after the placement of figures. It is a positive space if it has a shape.

A: 3 figures arranged randomly with negative space resulting.

B: 3 figures arranged to create a positive space. ( triangle)

C: The same 3 figures arranged to create a positive space. (the letter A)

There are main three types of figure-ground relationships:
 Stable, reversible, ambiguous.

  • Stable It’s clear what’s figure and what’s ground. One or the other usually dominates the composition.

  • Reversible Both figure and ground attract the viewer’s attention equally. This creates tension, whereby either can overtake the other, leading to a dynamic design.

  • Ambiguous Elements can appear to be both figure and ground simultaneously. They form equally interesting shapes, and the viewer is left to find their own entry point into the composition.

Depending on which relationship you set up and how you balance both figure and ground, you direct the audience to look at different parts of the design and interpret what they see in different contexts.

Creating an Illusion of Space in a Flat Surfaces: There are several ways to make our three-dimensional drawings and give them a illusion of depth and space. 1. Overlapping: Overlapping occurs when a figure partially hides an object that's behind it. When you have one object that is closer than another object you can not see part of the object because there is overlapping that occurs.

Also, bear in mind "rule of third" suggests that the best place to put the subject of an image isn't in the centre, but slightly off to the side. The result is naturally well-balanced and look interesing.

2. Value and Colour : Value and Colour are different things. Value is the darkness or lightness of a colour and colour is reflected light but value in colour can affect the illusion of space, light and shadow create the illusion of form and space as well. Objects are closer appear darker in value and warmer in colour. And objects are further away generally appear lighter in value and cooler in colour.

Have a look at the different shades of green trees and the cold and warms shades of sky create an illusion of space with in the picture.

3. Placement on the paper: Elements placed on the top of the picture are appear to be in the distance. The Mountains on the top of the picture creates an illusion of space.When you put objects that are lower on the picture plane than objects that are higher in the picture plane generally speaking it creates an illusion of their being space between those objects.

4. Size: The smaller objects will appear to be further away from the viewer. We have an object that closer to us will be bigger than an object a little but further away. It also has more in detail than objects further away.

The main subject of your painting should be its focal point. Because of this make sure it is magnified and focused. In other words, emphasise your main subject like the tree in front.

5. Volume and focus: Lighter values and less details suggest distant objects. Lighter values and less detail suggest distance; Look at the mountains in the horizon as they have a lighter tones and values and less clear to see.

One of the easiest way to add composition to a landscape is by adding nature. Think mountains, earth, plants, trees, hills and etc.

Therefore, please remember the following;

  1. Perception of details and clarity decrease as things go back into space.

  2. Objects that are further away are cooler in colour temperature, while objects that are closer are warmer. Colour seems to become less intense as it gets further away.

6. Linear Perspective. Parallel lines and edges seem to go toward one more vanishing points. Linear perspective is a drawing method that uses lines to create the illusion of space on a flat surface. Things appear to get smaller as they go back into space.

Repeating objects are a great way to get your point across. Use it to create a one or two vanishing points. Think of a row of trees, apartments, building's windows etc.

Light and Shade:

Exercise 1: Draw an egg with chalk on a on a black /while paper to create light and shades from your observation and use a full range of colour value.

Value is one of the seven elements of art.

Value deals with the lightness or darkness of a colour. Since we see objects and understand objects because of how dark or light they are, value is the most important element of art.

If you understand and implement value correctly in your drawings and paintings, you will see immediate improvement.

A successful artowrk has a full range of value means that they are ample amounts of light values- called tints, and dark values - called shades. Using a value scale, you can be sure that you create a full range of value. Many artists use a value scale as they work, identifying specific values and adding them in appropriate spots.

Pixel Picture Porrait of a gorilla:

Take this gorilla for example...

If we isolate ten of the values, we can see where we would need to draw or paint the values...

Using Value in Drawings

The whole point to value is to create the illusion of light. So value is used to basically create the illusion of highlights and shadows. Highlights and shadows combine to create the illusion of a light source. Remember, without light we cannot see. So technically, without a light source, you have no illusion.

Shadows- areas on an object where light does not hit.

Value - Element of art associated with the darkness or lightness of a colour

Light source - Area in which light is originating from

Value scale - A guide to creating a range of value, good pieces of art have a full range of value

Tints - light values

Shades - dark values

Highlights - Areas on an object where light is hitting


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