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It’s all about composition

In the visual arts, composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ‘ingredients’ in a work of art, as distinct from the subject.

Composition is how the Elements of Art and Design – line, shape, color, value, texture, form, and space – are organized or composed according to the Principles of Art and Design – balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, unity and variety – to give a piece of art structure and convey meaning.

Composition is different from the subject matter of a piece of art. Every piece of art, whether abstract or representational, regardless of subject matter, has a composition. Good composition is essential to the success of a piece of art. Done successfully, good composition draws the viewer in and then moves the viewer’s eye across the whole artwork so that everything is taken in, finally settling on the main subject.

The point of a composition is to pull the eye of the viewer across the artwork, taking in individual elements to finally focus on the main feature or focus – this could be anything from subject matter to emotional effects. Compositions are created by the artist. You can plan out your composition. 

Along with composition, artists can use juxtaposition in their artwork. Simply stated, juxtaposition means things side-by-side. In art this usually is done with the intention of bringing out a specific quality or creating an effect, particularly when two contrasting or opposing elements are used.

Below are some common composition layouts. Remember, composition is not about the subject, but the general layout of all the pieces working together. These are quick sketches to illustrate the overall layout of a composition. I tried to keep them simple and not detailed to help show that these can be applied to any piece of art with any subject.

  • Triangles are strong and create feelings of stability and presence.
  • S or curve shapes help lead a viewers eye across all parts of a composition.
  • Radiating lines pulls a viewers eye into a focal point.
  • O shaped composition create feelings of harmony.
  • L shaped compositions are not symmetrical, so they add interest and balance to a piece of art.
  • Cross shaped compositions help emphasis a subject that falls within the in center of where the lines of the cross meet.

activity iconActivity 1-Sketch out your next project using one of these composition layouts. Share your sketch on the blog!

This is just one basic set of composition layouts. Composition is another larger subject that we will take beyond the basics in many blog posts. Be sure to come back often and read more about this subject on the blog.

You have completed Section 3! Great job.

Questions? Email us! 

Preview of Part 4:

  • Critiques.

  • Write up your own critique that incorporates applying these terms and concepts to the design you will be critiquing.

Go to Part 4