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Good composition is like a suspension bridge; each line adds strength and takes none away... Making lines run into each other is not composition. There must be motive for the connection. Get the art of controlling the observer that is composition.
-Robert Henri

The arrangement of visual elements of a painting into an ordered scheme or relational organization is known as composition. A composition contains an infinite number of variables. All of these elements - color, shape, line, etc. interact with one another - each has it's role in creating a good design. A change in one of these elements can affect the entire painting.

Certain compositional strategies can focus the viewer's attention to important elements in a painting. The basic "tools" utilized are Circle, Line, Rule Of Thirds, Golden Section, etc.

   The Rule Of Thirds:

We will focus on the Rule Of Thirds, which is a simplified version of the Golden Section. It's a tool utilized by artists to visualize the support as divided into thirds. The four lines intersecting are known as focal points. The center-of-interest should be placed at one of these points. For instance... A horizon line in a landscape painting is often placed along one of the lines. An experienced painter may break the rule-of-thirds in order to better express a certain emotional or psychological message to the viewer.

The Rule Of Thirds

Place your center-of-interest in a pleasing location (a focal point) and arrange pathways to draw the viewers eye to that "sweet spot". This is what the viewer came for, so capture their attention! To maintain the importance of the center-of-interest, this area should not be blocked! You should not diminish its importance. This is the most predominant spot in the painting - the surrounding areas are subordinate.

One can further improve the composition by emphasizing drama or emotion, etc. with the use of color at the center-of-interest. Complementary and contrasting colors in and around this area will lead the viewers eye to the focal point of the composition. If possible, use strong colors and make the value contrast (Light to dark) strong.

In a landscape, value and contrast for the center-of-interest are subtle for many compositions because of gaseous molecules and water particals in the atmosphere - the color intensity is deminished. Your message to the viewer is contained within this middle-ground. This section contains the most important things in the painting. If done correctly, this area will show its dominance in the picture plane over the more subdued background. When painting landscapes, the foreground is typically painted with the highest intensities - capturing the viewers attention.

Although the "sweet spot" is front and center, the foreground should be treated with equal respect. It is the doorway into the composition and should be painted strong in value, color temperature and intensity. A strong foreground will catch the viewers attention and invite them in.

More Tips:
Introduction Page | Optical Mixing | Translucent Water | Color Contrasts
Hue, Value, Intensity, Color Temperature | Technical Tips | Value Scale
Red Power | Keeping Acrylics Moist | Brush Care | Color | Young/Helmholtz | Book Excerpt

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