good composition in art attracts the viewers

What is good composition in art? How do we design successful paintings?

A good composition arranges the art elements in an enticing manner. It draws people into the painting. They enjoy looking and spend more time viewing the painting.

Artists don't copy nature or photographs. We have an artistic license to move and arrange the elements in our paintings to create a pleasing composition.

Artist design their compositions with:

center lines are the #1 rule of composition

Center lines can make or break our compositions.

Good composition avoids the center lines of the painting, both horizontally or vertically.

Place the main subject to the left or right of the vertical center line and above or below the horizontal line.

Also, the horizon line of a landscape painting should be above or below the center line.

Good composition in art puts the subject off the center lines.The main subject is left of the center line.

When the main object is on the center lines, it cuts the painting right in half. The viewer sees two paintings instead of one cohesive painting. They feel uncomfortable and don't know where to look.

A subject right in the center of the painting is like diving into a deep hole. The viewer looks at the subject and then it's hard for their eyes to move to rest of the painting.

use the rule of thirds for composition in art

The rule of thirds is the easiest rule of composition. 

It places the focal point about one third of the way into the painting. The viewer's eye has space to move around to the other areas of the painting.

how do we use the rule of thirds?

Divide the painting surface into thirds.

The rule of thirds makes art composition easy.Using the Rule of Thirds

Draw two lines up and down and two lines across the painting surface.

This makes nine equal spaces. This works whether our painting is oriented either horizontal or vertical.

Place the focal point at one of the intersections.

We may use any intersection, left, right, top or bottom intersections.

In the example painting, the Scrub Jay is located at the intersection of the top, right lines.

The viewer's eye is drawn into the painting. Then there is plenty of space for their eyes to move freely in the rest of the painting.

The rule of thirds makes composition so easy.

more tips for good composition in art

We are well on our way to an exciting painting after we position the main subject. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

watch the lines in our paintings

Parallel lines close to the edge of the canvas pull the viewer's eye away from the focal point and often out of the painting.

For example, a tree trunk close to and parallel with the side of the canvas would not be a good composition in art.

In this painting, the lighthouse is well away from the side of the canvas. It tilts slightly to the center of the painting to keep it from being parallel with the edge. The top of the lighthouse is subdued to keep the viewer's eye in the painting.

Lines are an important element of good composition. art by Carol MayLines are important in composition.

Lines going directly out the painting will lead the viewer's eye right out of the painting.

This is especially true of lines going out the corners.

The horizon line on the right side of the lighthouse has less value contrast and softened edges to keep the eyes inside the painting.

A good composition will break the horizon line.

Use a bird, a tree, a mountain or something to break the horizon line. A long, straight horizon with no break gives the viewer a highway to travel right out of the painting. We want to keep the viewers inside the painting.

Notice that neither the lighthouse, nor the horizon are on the center lines of the painting. That's using good composition.

More on how to Paint Good Art

what's a tangent?

A tangent is when two items are just barely touching each other. It makes the viewers feel uneasy. Artists call it kissing. Keep objects from kissing each other or the edge of the canvas.

Move items farther apart or overlap them instead of letting them kiss.

Variety is very important in our paintings

Variety in the sizes, shapes and colors keep the viewer's interest.

Vary the sizes, shapes and colors thru-out the entire painting. artist Carol MayVariety Is the spice of life.

Repetition is boring. So we don't repeat sizes and shapes thru-out the painting.

We want large, small and medium items throughout the painting, never all the same size.

The turtle occupies a medium amount of space. The water takes up the most space. The other items take up the smallest amount of space. This gives the painting variety.

The same goes for color. Don't have equal amounts of warm and cool colors.

The painting is yellow, orange and blue. Each color is used in different amounts producing variety in the painting.

placing people or animals

The viewer's eyes will follow the line of vision of a person or animal.

Good composition says, place people or animals facing into the painting.The hummingbird is facing in.

Position them facing into the painting.

The hummingbird is looking at the flower thinking about lunch. That keeps the viewer's eyes inside the painting.

If the critter or person is looking out the side of the painting, their line-of-sight will carry the viewer's eyes right out of the painting.

That's not what composition in art is supposed to do.

Notice the turtle in the painting above is looking into the painting. He has plenty of space in front of his face to look into the painting.

What does Wikipedia say about composition?

group items with odd numbers

Things look better in groups or near other items.

Single items are great for the focal point but in other areas group the items together.

Grouping the items makes it more comfortable for the viewers.

Numbers such as three, five or seven are more pleasing to the eye than even numbers.

Even numbers like two, four or six are stagnant and unexciting to the eye.

So, no matter if its trees, rocks or apples, good composition in art will use odd numbers.

It helps to keep our paintings interesting and it keeps the viewers looking longer.

geometric shapes

Geometric shapes are too static and non-artistic. Shy away from using definite geometric shapes like a square, circle or triangle.

Use your artistic license to change geometric shapes. But what if you have a building that is rectangular, a mountain that is shaped like a triangle or a lake that is a circle?

Move the view of the building to change its shape or camouflage it with foliage or shadows, etc. Put whoop-de-dos in the mountain to change its shape. Meander the shoreline so it's not a perfect circle.

We artists trust our instincts

We have an artistic license to change and move things around for good composition.

  • The rules of thirds and center lines are the most important composition guidelines.
  • When we paint, we will pick up the variety of other tips. It all comes with practice.

When it feels right to you, it will please the viewer. That's what composition in art is all about.

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