Art Journalling

Composition and why its important

This is part two of my series noting my observations from the “learning to paint” podcast. Today I am discussing the merits of composition, and way it is so important to a successful painting. I discussed the reasons for these pages on the blog page Learning to Paint; Part one Colour Theory and three Practice are also available.

Composition is key to a successful painting.

There are rules that if you follow them, will make your painting sing. Break the rules at your peril. Break the rules, it might work. When deciding on your painting composition you need to use one of the rules as your main, but you don’t need to use them all, that could get weird and give you a disaster.

7 Rules of Composition :

  1. Rule of thirds : break the canvas in to a 3 x 3 grid, the intersections are the sweet spot.
  2. Focal point : One item is the main area, everything else “recedes”.
  3. Rule of odds : Groups items in odd numbers, 3, 5 , 7.
  4. Perspective and Visual Pathway : Travel through the image in the direction you want the viewer to go.
  5. Variety: Use Shape, texture, tone or medium to add interest.
  6. Fill the Frame: Use a single image filling the whole space. 
  7. Direction: Items / people facing each other, into the image to keep the viewers eye in the painting.
Composition, pleasing to the eye

There are rules, but they they can be broken. They are there for you to use in your painting, they are a guideline to make things work better, make the image pleasing to the eye.

You don’t have to paint “everything” you see. Take the image, see what you like, don’t put in what you don’t like. Its your painting, do the thing that makes you happy.

Artistic licence IS a thing.

“Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter’s command to express his feelings.” 

Henri Matisse in “Notes of a Painter.”

Change things to suit what you want. Add colour or items to suit you. Remove colours or items that don’t work for you.

Random  = it just happened, you liked it and left it in.

Spontaneous = it was intentionally random (I’m not sure I really get yet but it sort of makes sense!)

Convert your reference photograph to black and white to see your values.

Make a study (thumbnail) of your reference. Use your greys to get value. Practice your colour palette.

There is so much more to composition I am sure, however these are the key points I noted. If I follow some of these then my paintings will be successful. If there is anything you think I should be aware of, please do comment below.


Linked posts:

Learning to Paint *** Colour Theory *** Practice ***

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. I paid for the products discussed, I received no payment and I am not affiliated in any way with any brand mentioned herein.

4 thoughts on “Composition and why its important

  1. Had to think about the spontaneous part but yes I do kinds get it! Lol. One of the best pieces of advice I use is to take a black and white photo of your painting as you mention. It really helps re values. Thank you! <3

  2. More stuff I’m learning!
    I know about the “rule of thirds” in relation to photography. I didn’t know it was a think in painting too.
    I like the “rule of odds”. I think I do that without thinking about it. I almost always feel like I have to have an odd number of things, mostly in 3’s and 5’s .
    Thanks for this post too ❤

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