An Intangible in Painting: Strong Compositions


In creating art (particularly in painting), strong composition is one of those “intangibles” it can be tough to get a grip on. Composition isn’t one of those things that just “jumps out” at the average observer, but it does make a painting appealing rather than giving an impression of somewhat awkwardness. Strong composition is something that at first, you will have to consciously work at; after a while, it will become one of those artists’ instincts you don’t even give a thought to.

Here are a few tips for strong compositions:

• Always create a focal point. Every painting should have a focal point, or area that the viewer’s eye is automatically drawn to. While it doesn’t have to jump off of the canvas, all other elements of the painting should lead the viewer’s eye toward the focal element.

• Vary the tone values.
In every painting, it’s suggested that you break down the tone values to three: light, mid-tone, and dark. You may want to consider creating a thumbnail sketch of this composition, checking to see how much white, grey, and black it has. A strong composition won’t have an equal amount of these values, one will always dominate the others. For instance, a good mix is two thirds (light or dark), one third (the opposite of what you used in the first value), and just a tad of the mid-tone. This gives great depth rather than a bland or monotone look.

• Make sure there is an odd number of elements. In design, this is true whether it involves creating art, or hanging a grouping on the living room wall. An even number of elements naturally has the viewer counting things off in pairs; an odd number adds complexity, makes the viewer think about what they’re looking at.

• A painting should be warm, or cool – not both. Creating either a painting that offers a cool or warm feeling is fine, but don’t use cool or warm tones equally – one should dominate.

In creating strong compositions, it’s also important that you avoid getting stuck in a rut. Vary your focal points, put the horizon in different places, create your art on both landscape and portrait canvases for variety. Create unity in your work so that all of the elements flow seamlessly, giving the observer the feeling they belong together. Can you teach yourself to create strong compositions! Absolutely.