Drawing is a complex skill. You need to learn things like manual skill, pencil techniques, precision, perspective, gesture, anatomy, light and shadow.. But even when you're a master of it all, even if your picture has all these elements in place, there still may be something wrong with it.
This elusive factor is called composition.
Bad composition can destroy the impact of even the most polished artwork.
In this article I'd like to take a more practical approach to composition. What is it, actually? What is it made of? And, most of all, how can you make sure your composition will pan out before you place your first line, instead of seeing it only after it's all done?
Keep reading and I'll answer these questions for you! To put it as simply as possible, composition is an arrangement of elements that makes us see them as a whole.
Every artwork has some composition. You either create it consciously or by accident, but you can't create a drawing without it. In a more practical sense, composition is the relation between the elements of the picture.
At the same time, it's actually invisible for us. It's like the skeleton of a living creature—you can't see the bones, but they make the body look like it does.
- Without the skeleton there would be no form. Yet it's the form that we see, and if you try to draw the form only, you may end up with something unnatural.
- You may accidentally create a form that looks right, but being aware of the influence of the skeleton increases your chances of doing it.
It's the same with composition. You may try to guess how to place the elements of the picture and wish for the best, but you can also learn what makes an artwork look good, and use this knowledge to your advantage.
Good composition is all about balance. Too much is just as bad as too little. If your drawing is a dish, composition is the seasoning. No matter how much time you spent in the kitchen, improperly used seasonings can ruin your work.
But what does "proper" mean? And what are the "seasonings" of composition? Since composition is a relation, there must be at least two elements for this to occur. That relation between them can be based on many factors, making this issue so complicated. Let's tackle them one by one.
Although composition requires at least two elements to occur, you can't avoid creating composition by drawing one element.
There will always be a relation between that one element and the frame. By "frame" I don't mean only the richly ornamented frames of traditional paintings. The frame is the border of the artwork. Even if you don't care about it at all, a frame is created by the edges of your sheet of paper, or, if you take a photo of it, by the cropping. In other words, a frame is a border between what is part of the artwork, and what isn't.
This border becomes a part of the composition as soon as you draw something within it—it's the mini-universe of your artwork. When you show your art to someone, their eyes look at all the frame as a whole, no matter where the actual drawing is.
Here we're coming to the issue of negative space. In the picture, we don't see only what is drawn, but also what isn't. The area between the drawing and the frame isn't "nothing". We see it, even though it wasn't created consciously. And even if we ignore that part, it still adds to the meaning of the picture and influences our perception of it.
Here, the drawing is tiny in comparison to the rest of the artwork area. The viewer will see a lot of space and the character. Actually, the space is the star of this picture! If that's what you wanted, there's nothing wrong with this composition—it shows the insignificance of the character, which can be useful.
If it wasn't your goal, and you wanted the character to be the star, this is a mistake. Here we have the opposite situation. The character takes almost all the space, and in result it becomes the space.
How to Create an Interesting Composition
Its details become the characters instead. Here the character looks as if it's trying to leave the artwork.
The viewer gets to see a whole lot of empty space and a character uninterested in its own display.
Is it good or bad? Again, it's a matter of intention.
How can you make these compositions more interesting? Hint: there's no single correct solution to each.
Composition can be explained mainly by showing the comparison between the elements. Contrast is a measure of the difference between them.
It's very important, because we see by comparison—we compare white space with the dark lines to see a drawing.
Contrast makes things interesting, because it draws our attention.
It separates two things, making us look at them individually. The images below have the same number of elements, but the one on the right has higher contrast.
What Is Composition, and Why Is It So Important?
When you look at a picture, you compare various features of the elements to visually group them for a faster reaction.
The higher the contrast, the easier it is to make such a grouping, and the more satisfying it feels.
There are many characteristics we can use to measure contrast:.
Shape (sharp vs. blunt, oblong vs. Shading (dark vs. green, blue vs. Materials (shiny vs.
Theme (a big bad wolf vs. a baby, still life vs. We can use all these characteristics to create contrast in our composition. However, there's a catch here.
Contrast needs balance to work. Too many different things become one thing—chaos.
Too few become one thing as well—order. To achieve a natural effect, you need to balance out chaos and order.
Contrast is so powerful because it has an evolutionary meaning—it makes us see the head of a lion in a sea of grass, or a single red fruit among green leaves.
It draws our attention to what's important. And that's how you should use it in your composition: to draw attention to what's important.
Of course, this means you need to decide what is important, and what is just a background. After this, it's just a matter of giving them opposite characteristics. There's no need to use all of them, or to make them all opposite.
It's all a matter of stylistic choice—realism doesn't like exaggeration, but cartoon styles thrive upon it. Each of these objects would be dull if placed separately. Together they create a relation, and that's what we see—not two objects, but a sense of scale.
Here the sense of scale gets lost. Too much contrast results in chaos, creating a messy pattern rather than a scene. But chaos can be a great background for an important element we want to show!
Which of these compositions are interesting, and which are not? We often say composition is about the arrangement of the elements—their position towards each other.
Rhythm is a visual shortcut our brain takes. If some elements follow a rhythm, we don't need to look at them all one by one—a row of fencing rails is a fence, a "cloud" of leaves is a tree crown, etc.
Rhythm creates a different sort of contrast. In this picture, the small flower draws our attention not only because it's small in comparison to the big ones, but because it breaks the rhythm.
But it's not only a matter of contrast. Rhythm makes us see something that wasn't really drawn. A row of stones means that someone put them this way. A "cloud" of leaves upon a tree means they belong to the same plant.
Elements going in the same direction means that they're driven by the same power (be it wind or fear). This gives additional information to the picture. And this information shouldn't be accidental, because it adds to the impact of the composition.
The broken rhythm of a broken fence instantly draws our attention.
Was it a herd of mad cows, or just a drunken farmer on a tractor? A story unfolds just by breaking the rhythm.
This composition is all about the order. There's size contrast in here, so it's interesting, but we also see something more here: it's 100% man-made and controlled. Everything drifts to chaos, but here someone keeps stopping this trend.
Here's a similar situation, with the trees being planted by people. This composition is simple, yet there's some beauty in this predictable rhythm. What do these compositions tell you? Your drawing isn't just a set of random lines. They're supposed to mean something, but even the most amazing message will be disrupted when read wrong—for example, when read from the end.
Composition can be used to lead the viewer to see exactly what we want them to see, in exactly the order we chose to be the most effective for the message to be understood.
- If you ignore this, the viewer may get a completely wrong first impression, giving up on the artwork before understanding its real meaning.
- When we look at a picture, first we search for things to look at.
- The order of looking is important, because even if it takes milliseconds to see it all, in nature one millisecond can be a matter of life and death.
- We want to make sure we see the most important elements first.
- When planning a composition, you need to decide what these "most important elements" are.
Let's look at that previous example once again. All the lines lead us towards the center. You look there before you notice the road or the trees.
No matter what you put there, it will be noticed first. Here it's more subtle, because the lines of rhythm are all within the body of the animal. Your eyes slide along it without any point to stop.
This adds to the sense of motion. Here, contrast makes you look at that big figure first.
- Then, searching for complete information, you look just where they're looking.
- What do you notice first when looking at these examples?
- How do your eyes move? Now you know what composition is and how to find flaws in it.
- But it doesn't help if you finish a drawing and only then discover you left out too much negative space, or the rhythm made your landscape look man-made.
That's why you need to think about composition before placing your first line. But how can you do it, if you're not sure what you're drawing yet?
Plans tend to make everything stiff and boring, and spontaneity can't be planned at all. Let's see how to solve it. You don't need to create a finished drawing to judge its composition.
It's because they don't matter in composition. They're seen as the last thing in the picture, long after we understand what we're looking at.
You just need to see the frame, contrast, rhythm, and focal points. And this is something you can sketch quite quickly to see how the elements work together! We call this method thumbnail drawing. A thumbnail is a miniature version of an artwork that you often see before opening the original version.
You can't see any details in the thumbnail, but you see everything that's most important to the picture.
Then sketch a very general version of your drawing. Simple shapes, simple silhouettes, simple shading—this is all you need to see if the composition works the way you wanted.
You can learn more about thumbnail drawing here:. Thumbnail drawings are rough sketches that make a big difference. In this continuation of our Digital Painting 101 series, we'll show you the basic process.. Want to create better paintings?
Well as artist Patti Mollica says, “A strong composition is the foundation of a successful painting.” And whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced artist, knowing how to create a successful composition takes practice and requires mastering a few key techniques. But don’t worry, artists, Mollica has you covered. Below, she shares essential painting composition tips and techniques — with a few quick and easy mini demos along the way — all pulled from her book, How to Paint, Fast, Loose and Bold.
Get ready to enhance your skills and create more successful artworks with these painting composition tips. Creating a preliminary three-value sketch before you start painting will help you see the overall light, middle and dark patterns so you can make decisions about design and composition — the foundation of any painting.
Create one or even several value sketches of your subject matter and try to simplify your composition into a few recognizable shapes and values. Be willing to veer away from what you actually see and change shapes, modify values and anything else you deem necessary in the interest of creating order and organization out of visual chaos.
Keep your eraser handy because you will try out ideas and change your mind often. This is part of the design process.
Remember, you are not working with numbers; you are working with visual information that is being filtered through your personal sense of aesthetics. What do you think looks good? Does it convey your subject clearly? Will it be readable from a distance when you squint at it?
Many artists do not plan ahead and just start painting what they see in the hopes that color will save the day.
I do not recommend this. In fact, there is a popular saying, “Color gets all the credit, but value does all the work.”. If you work out your composition as you paint, making changes and revisions with hues, values, shapes and placement, your colors will become overworked and muddy. Muddy colors are the result of changing your mind so many times that the colors all start to blend into gray-brown.
Having a game plan for value organization is not only the key to strong compositions, it’s also one of the keys to cleaner colors.
Organize and simplify: There is a fair amount of complexity in the scene, but a quick value sketch shows you everything you need to organize and simplify.
When you have completed one or more sketches, decide which composition you like best and move forward with the painting.
Keep your value sketch in plain view while painting so you can refer to it and ensure you are following your plan and sticking with the decisions you made earlier.
When mixing your colors, make certain they correspond to your value plan.
Having a value “map” in front of you will allow you to loosen up and paint with more confidence because you will have laid the groundwork for a strong foundation upon which the painting will rest.
It does take some time and effort to compose these value sketches, depending on how complex your scene is, but if you can’t simplify the composition in black and white, it will be far more difficult to do it in color.
A value sketch should not be large or overly time-consuming. Fifteen minutes for a 4- by 5-inch sketch is all you need.
Don’t make the mistake of doing a large, elaborate rendering.
That defeats the point of learning to simplify. A quick visual guideline is all that is necessary to keep you on track.
This landscape has been translated and simplified down to a handful of values.
In the value sketch, you can see that significant changes were made to the overall composition and its elements.
These decisions were made according to my artistic license; what I thought the painting needed.
Consider the following basic guidelines to strengthen your design and overall composition.
Make an effort to design your value sketch (and thus painting composition) so that one of your values will take up most of the picture area. The boldest compositions have a dominant value. Try to avoid having equal amounts of each value in your composition.
Decide on a Dominant Value.
In Blue Building on Tenth Ave., there is a dominance of middle value and dark value, with very little light value.
The large light shape of the awning hemmed in by dark shapes above and below leads the eye to the figures.
Blue Building on Tenth Ave. by Patti Mollica, acrylic on panel, 16 x 16; private collection.
The strong directional lines of the windows also lead the eye downward.
The large middle value shape of the road frames in and provides a contrast for the light-value streak of sidewalk, again bringing the eye to the figures.
Decide where you want the viewer’s eye to land — that will be the primary area of interest in the painting known as the focal point.
A properly designed composition will lead the viewer’s eye right to it. Although this is more relevant in landscapes than still life paintings, your focal point should be supported by your design and the value patterns that lead up to it.
Elements of color, value and directional shapes should be employed and emphasized so that there is a pathway leading around your painting to the focal point.
The eye will automatically be attracted to the area of the painting where the lightest and darkest values are in closest proximity to each other. If the values are scattered and don’t offer any type of path toward the focal point, the viewer won’t know where to engage with the painting.
Lead the Viewer’s Eye. Notice how the perspective lines of the fruit, flowers and sidewalk in Flower Dude (above) lead the eye directly to the figure, which is the lightest value surrounded by the darkest value.
The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the strongest areas of contrast in the painting. Use this strategy when establishing your focal point.
Many beginner painters make the common mistake of positioning the entire subject smack in the middle of the canvas, floating in space. Cropping some elements slightly off the picture area is much more interesting and creates more variety in the negative space.
Note how the top of the orange and the cast shadow get cropped off the picture area in the sketch below. This is more compelling than having every element centered within the picture boundary.
Try cropping your sketch so that the space around your subject (i.e., negative space) has interesting and unequal-sized shapes.
Decide in your sketch how to crop your subject to see where it should be positioned on the canvas.
Pink on Orange by Patti Mollica, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 9; collection of Mark Hagan.
My initial idea was to position the orange and slices on a horizontal format.
But after looking at my sketch, I decided it might be more interesting in a vertical format.
Try different variations; change your mind. Just be sure you do it all before you start painting!
With a square formatting (below) the space around the apples is equal. A = B and C = D. In the next example (below), the shapes are unequal and therefore more interesting.
Also notice that although the apple sits in the exact middle of the canvas, the cast shadow and the background apple are cropped so that they go beyond the borders.
This diagonal movement offsets the static quality of an object placed in the middle of the canvas. Here is another example of interesting cropping and placement of a subject.
The Rule of Thirds states that an image is most pleasing when the subject or focal point is placed along an intersection of imaginary lines that divide the image into thirds — both vertically and horizontally.
Horizon and Focal Point Placement is Key. Try to avoid splitting the composition of your painting in half, vertically or horizontally.
It is more interesting to place your horizon line either high or low on the canvas. Your focal point is best positioned anywhere but directly in the middle of the canvas.
Zig Zag Through Midtown by Patti Mollica, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18; private collection.
When composing your setup, try overlapping some elements to create a more dynamic sense of space and better relationships between the elements.
Strap Happy by Patti Mollica, acrylic on panel, 12 x 12; collection of Ute Spatz. When objects are placed evenly apart with no overlapping, the resulting composition can be boring and flat.
The eye loves variety. It is intrigued by unequal divisions of space and alignment, and differences in shapes, edges, textures, directional lines and size.
Try to create compositions that are dynamic by the conscious inclusion and arrangement of pictorial elements that play off each other.
Here are a few suggestions:. Make the divisions of space around and between objects unequal and uneven.
Avoid aligning objects on a horizontal or vertical axis. Include a variety of shapes, sizes and proportions in your painting.
If the composition feels overly geometric, consider adding or emphasizing an organic shape for visual contrast. Alternate your brushwork edges.
Contrast hard, sharp edges near the focal point with soft, feathery edges in the subordinate areas. Enhance smooth or solid color passages with busy, tactile areas.
Contrast a dominant horizontal composition such as a flat landscape with strong vertical or diagonal elements like a telephone pole or tree.
Chickadeaux by Patti Mollica, acrylic on panel, 8 x 8; collection of Susan Martin.
By practicing these painting composition tips and techniques, you will be well on your way to creating better and bolder paintings.
Be sure to check out other simple painting techniques from Patti Mollica in her three video downloads and discover how to achieve a powerful composition, every time you paint.
Character Illustration, sketching tips, ink drawing, pencil portraits, and more. Ever have one of those days when you find yourself Googling “what should I draw?” Or perhaps you’ve been working on line art, realistic portraits, or urban sketching, and you’d like to try a new style.
These days, you might even be looking for cool drawing ideas to host a Zoom drawing party.
Whether you’re an accomplished artist trying to hone new skills or a parent looking for cool drawing ideas for teenage girls or boys, get your creative juices flowing with this list of easy and cool drawing ideas for beginners and experts alike.
The end result won’t be realistic, but your creativity may surprise you! Making cool drawing ideas easy isn’t hard at all. Start with a circle shape, then create simple patterns by adding a few strategically placed lines.
Drawing trees might seem daunting if you focus on each little leaf, so instead, use quick, basic strokes to convey their overall shape. Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts. Take your collection of pins, mugs, or caps, and draw them to make your own illustrated taxonomy. How are you feeling right now?
Use your answers to visually depict your brain as it is right now, or as you would like it to be. Some people say that naming your fears is the first step towards overcoming them. What if you draw them instead? Creative Transformation: 9 Exercises to Draw, Write, and Discover Your Future.
You don’t need to go far to find inspiration. Take this list of prompts, or just look around you, for plenty of cool easy drawing ideas. Create a blobby shape by putting a drop of ink on the paper and blowing on it, moving the sheet around, or blotting it with a piece of paper.
Make up your own little worlds by adding a few extraterrestrial elements inside a triangle or circle. You can make as many of these as you’d like, finding new worlds to explore each time. Create an original work of art inspired by a place you’ve visited in the past or want to in the future, and use drawing as a way to travel. What does your ideal cafe look like?
When stuck for ideas, a cafe (real or imaginary) can be an excellent source of cool drawing ideas. Pick a word that brings out positive feelings within you, and then brainstorm images that remind you of that word.
Positive state of mind: guaranteed. Create an endless array of characters by using just nine basic shapes. Limiting your palette to three colors, try to capture your essence by focusing on your most defining features.
Calling all anime fans! If you’ve always wanted to learn how to draw like your favorite artists, practice drawing the perfect manga face. This is a great way to start a new sketchbook. Start by drawing yourself in the center, then fill the page in with doodles of your favorite objects, hobbies, pets, or anything else that makes you, you.
Instead of just drawing your favorite animal, take parts of different animals and come up with a world of fantastical creatures!
- Trace the outline of your favorite animal and fill it up with a word or phrase, making sure the letters fit snugly into the shape.
- Sea monsters were all the rage in the early 15th century maps. Create your own by thinking of its personality, location, and abilities, and determining how to best express them.
- Create your own comic by coming up with a funny situation that can be told in four panels. If you learn the basics of how to make a skull, you will have endless possibilities for cool drawings: realistic, scary, stylized, sugar skulls, comic-style, and downright silly!
- Fashion illustration is an artistic way to interpret and portray garment designs. Practice drawing your own clothes, your dream wardrobe, or your favorite designer’s latest collection.
- Despite its apparent complexity, you can create beautiful mandalas by following a pattern based on shapes from nature. Make floral ink drawings from reference or from your imagination, and cut out the pieces to play around with creative composition.
- One cool and easy way to transform your doodles into design and lettering tools is by practicing basic flourish techniques.
Lettering is also a form of drawing. Get creative and try hand lettering as a fun way to communicate with the world.
Spring, summer, fall and winter. So many cool drawing ideas from four simple words.
Think of your favorite person and make them a special drawing using materials, images, and words that remind you of them.
Not only will you improve your skills, but you’ll also have an endless supply of inspiration for future drawing projects. Start by sketching any object you like and proceed to make nine iterations of it, where you focus on patterns, details, or shapes to end up with something completely unique each time.
Drawing doesn’t necessarily have to be a solitary pursuit. Host a drawing party, and ask each participant to share their own cool and easy drawing ideas!
Think Like an Artist: Cultivate Your Creativity.
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