easy composition in art: create appealing paintings that draw the viewers

what is a good composition in painting?

  • A good composition in art has the elements arranged in a pleasing manner that pulls the viewers into the painting.

The composition makes them feel comfortable. They will find pleasure and interest in looking at your paintings.

  • Artists don't have to copy nature or photographs.

We have an artistic license to move and arrange the elements in our paintings, so they will be pleasing to the viewers.

The rules of good composition help the viewers enjoy our paintings. Art composition is easy.

Use these easy composition tips when you design your paintings.

what is the rule of thirds?

  • The rule of thirds is the easiest and simplest rule of composition.

how do we use the rule of thirds?

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

Divide your painting surface into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Draw two lines up and down and across your painting surface.

This gives you nine equal spaces. This works when your painting is oriented either horizontal or vertical.

Place the focal point, your center of interest at one of the intersections.

You may use any intersection, left, right, top or bottom.

See the example of my Scrub Jay painting at the right. He is located on the intersection of the third lines.

The viewer's eye is drawn into the painting and can freely move out around the rest of the painting.

why do we use the rule of thirds?

The focal point is never in the center of the painting. This make good composition in art that allows the viewer's eye to more around to other areas of the painting.

If the focal point is dead center in the middle of the painting, it is like diving into a deep hole. It is hard for the viewer's eye to move to other areas in the painting.

the rule of center lines

Avoid placing main elements of a painting on the center lines for good art composition.The Rule of Center Lines

The Rule of Center Lines is a second rule of composition in art.

  • The red lines mean danger.

Don't put the main subject of your painting on the center lines either horizontally or vertically.

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

watch out for these mistakes

The Oyster Catcher in the painting below is dead-centered in the middle of the painting.

Example of poor compositionPoor Composition

Also, the horizon is on the center line.

If you put the main object or the horizon on the center line, it will cut the painting right in half.

Then the viewer sees two paintings instead of one cohesive painting. They feel uncomfortable and don't know where to look.

These two mistakes make a very poor composition.

  • Good composition in art always places the horizon line above or below the center line.
  • And, don't put your main subject in the very center of the painting.

more tips for composition in art

After you position the main subjects of your painting, you are well on your way to an exciting painting. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.

variety is very important

vary the sizes, shapes and colors thru-out the entire painting. artist Carol MayVariety Is the Spice of Life
  • Vary the sizes, shapes and colors. This is a very important item for good composition.

Don't repeat sizes and shapes thru-out the painting. Have large, small and medium items in the painting, never all the same size.

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

Use your dominant, focus color in a smaller amount. Use the supporting colors in larger amounts.

The focus color in this turtle painting is orange. Blue and yellow are the supporting colors.

placing people or animals

  • Position people or animals facing into the painting. The viewer will follow their line of vision.

Don't have them looking out the side of the painting. Their line-of-sight will carry the viewer's eye right out of the painting. That's poor composition in art paintings.

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?

watch your lines

Lines are an important element of good composition. art by Carol MayLines Are Important in Composition
  • Don't paint lines close to the edge that are parallel with the side of the painting.

Parallel lines close to the edge of the canvas will pull the viewer's eye out of the painting. Or they will pull the eyes away from the focal point.

  • A line going directly out the side of the painting will lead the viewer's eye right out of the painting. This especially applies to lines going out of the corners.
  • A good composition in art will break the horizon line.

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

In this painting the lighthouse tilts slightly to the center of the painting to keep it from being parallel. The top of the lighthouse is subdued, so it doesn't lead the viewer's eye out of the painting.

Neither the lighthouse, nor the horizon are on the center lines of the painting. The horizon on the right side of the canvas has less value contrast and softened edges to keep the eyes inside the painting.

avoid geometric shapes

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

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?

  • Use your artistic license to change geometric shapes.

Move the view of the building to change its shape. Or camouflage it with foliage or shadows, etc. Put whoop-dee-dos in the mountain to change its shape. Make a meandering shoreline that is not a perfect circle and etc.

group items

  • Things look better in groups or near other items.

Single items are great for the focal area.

In other areas of the painting, group items together. Then they are more comfortable for the viewer. That makes for easy composition.

use odd numbers

  • Numbers such as three, five or seven are more pleasing to the eye.

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

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

avoid tangents

  • If items are touching each other, overlap them. Don't have them just barely touching, that's a tangent.

Artists call that kissing. Avoid objects kissing each other or kissing the side of the canvas.

Overlap them somewhat. Then they won't feel disconcerting.

above all trust yourself

  • You are the artist! Trust yourself. Use your artistic license.

With these easy composition guidelines you can change and move things around.

If it looks and feel right to you, it will please the viewer. And that's what composition in art all about.



You might like these

  • Values in Paintings

    Color is fun, but use values in painting. The light and darkness of colors create strong, attractive paintings. Value is the backbone of successful paintings.

  • Painting Daily by Carol May

    Can painting daily really make you a better artist? Regular painting will put your art into overdrive! You don’t have to paint perfect. Just paint more often.

  • How to Mix Paint Colors

    Learn how to mix paint colors, mix your colors, don’t buy them. You will save money at the paint store. Create color harmony in your paintings by mixing colors.

  • Painting Art Terms

    Did you ever wonder what an artist was talking about? This glossary of art terms explains what todays painting artists are saying; supplies, techniques and more.