A Good Artist-Pt. 3 Composition.

Posted by on Oct 19, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Good Artist-Pt. 3 Composition.

So sorry to have been lax in my blog post-good news and bad.  The bad was a long, long cold and the good, a new grandbaby, a granddaughter.  Girls are rare in the Wukela family so it took a while to get over her, actually she’s pretty great and I’m not over her yet.

The idea of learning composition in art is very scary to most people.  Several years ago I attended a workshop with Morgan Samuel Price and the most important thing I got from it was a simple sheet of things NOT to do and with it came three things TO DO.  This sheet did not cover everything about composition, but if you don’t do the NOTs and do the DOs, you’ll be in pretty good shape.


  1.  No even divisions, no bands vertical or horizontal which divide up the canvas (or paper) evenly. ” Even” is always wrong.  Even is boring.  The horizon line should not cut the total space exactly in half.  Move it up or down a bit.  Just doing that little thing will make your work more interesting. In landscapes, we often say that we need a lot of one thing, some of another and a little bit of the last thing-so say a lot of sky, a little water and some of the beach.  We, then, will have avoided even bands.
  2. An expansion of the NO EVEN rule is that if you have three similar things they must be different.  You can get by with two, three is right out.  This rule applies to three trees in a row, three or four flowers, hills, people etc. Change them up.  EVEN IS WRONG.  The viewer’s eye will be drawn to evenness and it is probably something we don’t want them looking at.  Even if we do, we’d like it to be interesting and even is not.
  3. Don’t have an element that will cut off the corner of your canvas.  It just chops off part of your picture and we lose it.
  4. No line straight up the edge.  This is another version of no. 3.  We are diminishing the size of the canvas by cutting off the side.  Sometimes we want to put a tree there to give us up-close space.  In that case, be sure to bring limbs down and across the top to integrate the tree into the picture, not just the trunk.
  5. Don’t paint an exit out of your painting.  Here we are talking about a definite line with light and dark value going straight off the page (ex. horizon line).  Because of the difference in value, the element will catch the eye of the viewer and it will go wherever that line takes it.  You want to keep your viewer in your painting and not lose them to the painting next to it (It might be mine.).  There are several ways to keep your viewer.  Stop the line before it goes off the page.  Turn the line.  Blur the values as the line approaches the edge.
  6. It is important to have large interesting shapes, but there must be a hierarchy of shapes.  They should not compete for our interest.  Don’t have two large shapes the same size or the same brightness (same interest level).
  7. No kissing edges.  Often shapes will nudge right up next to each other (for instance a house and the tree next to it).  Either move them away from each other or let them overlap.  NO kissing.
  8. Your main interest (say a head in a portrait) should not be too large or too small for the canvas.
  9. You should not center a road or path in the center of your piece and make it so strong that we feel we cannot escape from it.  Soften it along the way.
  10. Additionally while you do need a strong center of interest or focal point, it should not be so strong that our eye moves from it to the other interesting parts of the painting.  (bulls eye)
  11. Be sure that you don’t place a very attractive element at a corner or near the edge.  This will entice your viewer near the edge and he may escape.  REALLY, it happens more than you might think.  Just move it over a bit.


1.   Have three to five interesting elements in your painting that work together to tell a story, show a scene, give us a feeling etc.  Usually one of those is the center of interest and the others support it.

2.  Use the Golden Mein when deciding where the center of interest should go.  To do this, pretend to draw a plus sign on your canvas.  The optimum place for your center of interest is where the lines cross.  Placing it in one of those spots will keep it out of the center (an absolute NO NO) as well as away from the edge (see No. 11).

3.  As you arrange your center of interest and the other elements of your painting,  give your viewer some guidance in the form of a light path, a road, a water path etc. which will make sure that his eye enters your painting, travels around to see all the great things you have created for him and ultimately lands on the center of interest.  Don’t forget to give him a way to go around again and notice something wonderful that he missed the first time.  That is the way to hold onto him and hopefully make him want to take it home with him.