- Lesson Details
In the Foundations of Composition video lesson series, world-famous artist and instructor Glenn Vilppu offers you a rich understanding of the complex subject of composition in fine art. Glen lectures, demonstrates, and analyzes the Old Masters in his usual straightforward and concise style as he digs down to the practical tools of composition and how they can be applied to your own work.
In this fifth lesson, Glenn discusses the use of geometry and structure in composition, in relation to the frame and other elements within the picture. You will learn a powerful and organic approach to structure that does not confine your work to rigid rules, but instead lends it to a sense of order and grace.
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world-famous artist and instructor Glenn Vilppu offers
you a rich understanding of the complex subject of composition
in fine art. Glenn lectures, demonstrates, and analyzes the
Old Masters in his usual straightforward and concise
style as you dig down to the practical tools of composition
and how they can be applied to your own work.
In this lesson, Glenn discusses the use of geometry and
structure in composition in relation to the frame and
elements within the picture.
You will learn a powerful and organic approach to structure
that does not confine your work to rigid rules, but instead
lends it to a sense of order and grace.
subject. I've sort of hinted at it a little bit and this
is the one thing that usually you take and see and books on
And in many respects it's a minor thing.
And what I find is that even if you listen to lectures on
art historians, they will talk about well here this is the circular
composition or this is a square or a triangle composition. Okay
the term that this is usually given to and
the more quote more advanced thinking about it is
Okay, it's architecture of a painting. Now one thing that
you have to keep in mind, this is the
we don't talk about really very often is that the Renaissance
art had actually had a lot to do with religion. Not just the
fact that they were painting, they were painting religious
subjects, but that the whole shift into neoplatonic idea
that came from the Eastern Church from the Byzantine where
it was a collection of really Greek manuscripts and thinking
what have you and that really influenced Renaissance thinking.
And so this what we called the neoplatonic, part of
this was the philosophy
and they felt that mathematics
was the language of God.
Okay, so they were very very much involved with the
mathematical relationships and things in paintings and that
carried through into the idea of the sphere. The symbols. They
felt that the basic symbols of triangles, spheres, boxes,
cylinders. Not cylinder so much but the box square was an
integral part of creating a sense of solidity and
universalism of the paintings and it's true in that what we
have this sort of a natural affinity for seeing these
simple volumes. And so artists have used these things and
it has taken on all kinds of ramifications, so I'm not
going to go into the mathematics of this stuff.
There's whole theories and books written on dynamic
which is great. It's interesting and it works, you
know, 3.14 going on, proportional things,
but beyond that
there is a - there is a simple basic structures that artists
do use and have used and
work with. So let me go through some of this stuff. Now first -
now probably the most universal one used
very very simple. I do first break and I've already been
talking a lot about artists breaking things in half.
Okay, the idea of the pyramid.
This is used
constantly and we've already, I think I pointed out some.
Okay, you have this and if we take and carry this even a
little bit farther
what we create
is basically the pattern, the pattern that you see in Greek
you find that they created a repetitious pattern with
this and so what we have is the primary thing here. We start
them break this down and we start to see
the thing like this. Now what this takes and generates itself into
is that we end up with compositions and one of the
I took and showed you - not one of the first one but one of the
ones that shows you a detailed actually of the Cézanne
well what we saw was
that we had a group of figures, triangle on the
left, triangle on the right and a small group in the back, this
taking and making a larger triangle. We had the figures
taking and going out to the side the left same basic idea.
With Cézanne we saw this. Okay. Now this really
what we start working with them is that these groups of
as we build often and we take in the idea of the movement and
then how how we take and make transition from one from group
to another group and I will take and show you some of the
Nicolas Poussin which are very very clear.
We find that -
we looked at some of the Piero della Francesca.
a lot of the paintings you will see with the artist will
take in deal with
Come through, then using like the center of the circle is
becoming a square.
And we find that this point that here becomes a very very
strong focal point of the picture.
Okay, so these become, these become things like even in
dealing with portraiture artists have traditionally used
the place right above center is being an important point
for portrait. Okay, so we work with the geometry. I
not all the time, but I will take using and working on a
canvas I will take and use a square
coming through here
and using that line, that break up right there
as a major element and that this your eye taking and
traveling to that point and then using the square in the
opposite direction as a secondary major point and then
building from these points and so everywhere and
different artists will take and play with this. I will take
and make everything in my picture if I possibly can work
off of these points that are created within
this kind of a structure.
It can be
arbitrary. But what the idea is I try to tie everything down to
some really clearly defined elements within the picture
as based on basically on the frame itself and I make
everything work off the frame, any line that I take and carry
through on picture, I will make the points everything tie into
these things so that there's no loose ends.
And so this is a big -
how far you want to carry that is an individual thing. I do it
because I enjoy doing it
and but these this geometry type thing is it really is
different patterns artists will take and use we can do we can
look at say an El Greco. Even he takes an intensity to a
lot of zigzag things like this. Well at the same time taking and
these points here becomes important and this actually may
end up being a circle or square here and it may end up actually
having a circle within it.
And now oftentimes this is dictated by the architecture
You will find that the different elements of these
start coming through. We look at the Piero della Francesca. He
would really very very clear and precise about this stuff.
And in fact, he would take and do paintings where he would have a paintings where he would have
a certain meter or measure and make everything work off of
So it can be carried really to extremes.
But it's the idea of seeing, seeing these they're there
and often times like I say a lot of time you read books you
see are secrets of the great masters were talking about this
to me going into great length.
It's not far, as far as I'm, it's not the composition.
It's the sort of a way of helping to organize points. It
does give an aesthetic look or an aesthetic feeling to the
picture. It's not negligible, but it's not really the
movements and the flow and the dynamics of the picture.
And that's what - so I draw a distinction between
the architecture of a painting and the composition itself. So
let's take and look at some paintings where we can see what
I'm talking about.
that what we have here is a triangular form.
This is very very very
basic shape. But let's just analyze this thing a little bit
Now ghost this down a bit so you can see what
I'm talking about now notice how we're taking and going in
space. Both sides we got this
building going in
the figures the main figures here are all
on a line.
And the overall building of this character here now what we
get is a
rough idea first of a triangular built form.
Nothing rigid about this, but he's definitely -
how we start to breaking this thing start to Breaking this thing
Come across he's building,
building these planes going across here so, but let's take a
little bit of time here and analyze the composition but
it's within a very thing now the point here is that the
subject is the massacre of the Innocents. That sword is going
to come down and chop that baby's head off. Okay, so now
let's just take and work with this.
First of all, we've got the baby
coming through, notice that this is not just on the horizontal.
This baby is
actually going in in space,
going over, feel the legs coming out.
But this is a diagonal space. You noticethat it
corresponds to also the diagonal must be created with
this woman's leg. Her mother's leg. The drapery is coming out
on both these things see the symmetry that's being created
here. Okay take and visualize the pull.
In other words basically the center or the center of the
it's starting to build within this now the actual
movement of the figure.
She's going in.
You can see
as we start to build the
lines building up,
she's going up, this whole thing building building up. She's
digging her claws into his back. He's pushing her head
He's a pretty a dynamic - pretty dynamic strong expressions
in space. He's got ahold of her hair pulling her back. Now as
he's building up to this now I was talking earlier saying
about how everything ties together. Okay, we get the line
this arm, look at this arc this arm. This is carried through
into the action of the next figure. Figure's taking and
going back. You can feel everything that's building in
here, taking and leg going in look at the next drapery. This is coming
Part of coming through, going in. you.
Then this whole billowing
drapery coming through so he's creating. He's creating this
these lines the arm here going back.
if we take and let's taken carry through some of this stuff to
Okay taking the sword which is an important element here.
Now some difficulties often you're taking and dealing with a
photograph is that
we could have very easily have a cropped image. So it's hard
get the exactness of the frame, but you'll see that this point
here lines up pretty much with what we're dealing with in the
figure here, the rough going across, going back.
The arm here is going to take and come down and tie into
and it's not necessarily a contour, it can be the center of the line. This is
taking and lining up with the roof here. This is going to go
back up and work off the frame where we have this tower in the
back. This is taking and going to come down because I got
this guy's leg pushing down. Everything's tying
If we take and we build, if we start to build these lines, we
start to build, see where everything is going. You can
see the pull of the stuff as we go through now
the vertical here, this is a critical story point here now,
what we have is this vertical is coming down.
Where this guy's got his foot on the baby, that's where the
action is, the looking down at this child.
He's going to swing that sword and come down chop off the
baby's head and we can feel all of these lines now are taking and
coming through. Here we find the line center part of the leg
here taking and coming down. This is also working off the
same point right here.
And as we take and start feeling these lines going
across, he's pulling these things through. Notice that
you've got the vertical,
this is part of the structure now.
He's working with these things. And as you look at this, you can
see this is pretty much a square here.
Coming through, this baby carrying this thing straight
We have another series of figures and here.
I'm not sure if this is not supposed to be the portrait of
the artist himself.
But you can see there's a - there's a fitness to the whole
thing. Now let's - I want to go to the next Poussin because that's even
Okay, but you have now
very clear-cut coming through. Notice that he's actually notice that Wheezy actually
even giving you the key in a sense to the whole thing. says to the whole thing.
So what you've got is a group of figures here,
And he's actually this is becoming a cone through here.
Here we have a squarish box type form in here.
We have another group. So what we're dealing with are a series
of groups of figures.
We had foreground,
we're getting into a middle ground and then we've got it
He's taking and drawing through all these things. So when we
draw this or when you compose this, the
problem becomes up taking and carrying one group into the
next group. So notice that we can go down and start to - let's
all of this little stuff going on down here children playing.
All of a little bit of activity. Coming through.
Get this beautiful rhythm being created with this child. Simple
Pulling, pulling around, carrying through into the next figure,
holding onto mommy's arm.
Now as you draw this
and this is part as you're drawing from the Old Masters follow
lines through. Up here I'm dealing with the rhythm but
also notice that this line is carrying right into
the next figure behind.
Okay, but also we're taking him playing with this figure who's
leaning back, the looking up is taking a part of the idea of
the transition of getting us to see and deal with the next
group, but she's also leaning over. So this is a progression
now, so you get the movement here. She's turning, looking
back, going up,
going back up here. Okay. Now we got this parade going this
way. So we're seeing now she leaned back, get the next figure
here. And these guys are marching, feel through the line,
guy's sword that he's carrying, a leg. All this movement the next
figure here is actually turning.
So we're feeling there's a very clear sense of the
group. We're seeing the other groups, but the lines from one
group carries into the others. So now we take and come through.
One of the things that Poussin did in composing his pictures
is he would take and make
little clay models
and actually build stage
flaps so that he could take and control the light within
And then he would take and he could move these clay models
around. He would also actually take and put clothes on these
clay models and are very small scale.
Okay. So now you can see the group, we can see how it's all
turning, going in, we can get a sense of this movement taking
falling through, going in. This is all taking and building
Okay now as we keep going through this thing, we've got this
whole group on the left, or excuse me on the right. Okay now is given on the right. Okay now
notice that this figure here this group here is outside of
those other groups, this is
in a total separate space got this rock. This is outside of was blocked. This is outside of
this and we can feel the lines building, building
pushing up, creating the idea of leading your eye into.
We find here that we've got even this model here we
find things are building, leading you in. Go the lines coming ATU in get the lines coming
Everything sort of lends itself and sort of flows one thing into
the other yet we have very distinct groups. We have foreground.
You actually have three different groups in the
foreground. We can think of thes eones in the front here as flaws in the front here as
being part of the secondary group. Then you've got a middle
ground with these figures going across the page and then we
have the background and these are all working within a very
very rigid form of structure the.n then
But it's verticals, horizontals, he's coming through lines. He's coming through
space. He's coming down.
The break up going across and we can feel the way he's working with
the arc, this is part of this whole thing carrying through. He's
got a theme, he's building.
all the stuff tying together
and even getting the perspective as he's coming
But if you take off my diagramming, just look at
You can see very clear, the very clearly defined sets of objects.
You see the squares,
circle it's really giving us a central point to this whole
thing. This lovely lovely sort of arranging of the whole
thing. Now let's look at a different one here.
very very famous painting.
Now if we take take the circle.
Okay and we take and we come across from here,
the center of the circle,
and we find now that we're building and pushing up. Okay, as we're
building up within this we're dropping. This is a burial.
Coming through, these figures are taking and leaning down as
this figure goes in but you can see the sort of sense of this
spherical form coming through.
Actually if you take and and
if you go to Rome and to take and
look at the antiquities, I'm trying to think it was the
Roman baths. I remember being in there that we saw the same
kind of thing in terms of the
the rooms being built in such a way that this became
half of a square to a circle type thing. Exactly
exactly the same feeling that you're getting here. And if you
look at the way these build you notice he's doing
adding everything up, building
And we start building these sense of these spheres, half
circles, taking and building off of these forms. And of course
the whole point is then is the raising,
we're seeing the Christ figure then sense of elevation as we
build a new thing but this is all
loose geometric type of form, but he's taking and building
It's very very effective giving you a solid sort of sense of
structure to the thing would be especially effective if you're
looking at this inside of a church where you already have
effective. If you're looking at this inside of a church where
you already have that same basic structure so it fits, it
works right with the architecture.
strange painting. Now I'm going to make a few points here.
The figure is
rising up. Notice now that there's nothing to break that
line on the left hand side.
He's rising up.
Okay, so as this is rising up
okay now the figure, this figure is taking and going this is the
Laocoon. It's the
the father defied the gods
and they're sending down these the serpents to take and kill them
Okay, as we're rising here and there's several other
elements too, notice that the background is high and it's
dropping down as that background drops these figures
Okay so what you're getting in the center here is a
sort of a variation on the thing. But as this is dropping
notice that now these figures as we start coming across
this is dropping and I'm going to go in tight on so you
can see a little bit of the designing that's taking place
Look at the lines that he's creating, dreaming
coming through, and then he's taking and dealing with the
volumes. Well you look at the volume you see that he starts carrying
these things through.
Creating rhythms, it's highly - now it's actually
useful to know that El Greco start about it's an icon painter.
And then he went to Venice
and he studied
well he was influenced, I don't think he studied with but was
Tintoretto and Titian. But look at this line pushing down. So as
we're pushing up on one side, look at the designing of these
rocks going down the other side. Now as the figure is
going back in,
of the head
going through and then the next figure taking and going
So now as this is - as we're getting these designed he's really
pushing pushing this stuff going through. Now
look at the
clouds and we started out talking about clouds and El
Greco in the View of Toledo.
So we're going through all this stuff is building in the
opposite direction now, we're going up
a building, going through
and now we have these figures. Now there's - within the
reproduction here there's actually a second figure here
that was an accident. The painting was cleaned very poorly. So they
ghosted - they brought outa figure that's not supposed of picking that's not supposed
to be there, but you can take and look now you can see that this leg is
following through he's taking and building up, building up to
the point in here and all this is building up. This is taking,
working opposite what we got going through in here, down.
He's taking in all of these elements now is taking and pulling
and coming up.
These are extraordinary paintings that you can see - if
you see the originals
very large, but if you'd look at the designing of them he's
taking and going
very abstract. He's pulling these forms one through,
straights in the center, contrasting shapes on the
outside, coming through, building things up. Everything on the left-hand
side of this figure is going up.
Then as he starts to go across we find that on this side we
start to drop and these lines now start to build and
coming through here, look at the arm here. You see it he's
building one form fitting into the next form and
it's sort of an anatomical but not really. Now he's got going
through then and we can feel these things going back into
and but the main thing you really feel this lifting on
one side, lifting on the side. The background is dropping and
these figures now are lifting.
So in a sense, they're sort of a feeling for a geometric
organization. Although it's not all that strict, yet he is
tying things together, he is taking and pulling, it's fairly loose
so we can feel where things are building one on top of the other
and he weaves in sort of a pattern of shapes that take
gives a thing a fitness. Everything feels -is sort
of a fitness, a rather strange fitness at times but really an
This is a very different look.
This is Bottocelli.
Now this could have been used just as well for the whole section when we were talking
about a three-dimensional space and two dimensional designing, but let's take,
let's take a look at this as a thing.
Now, first the space again, now again all of these have had very
limited space basically going across the picture, like a stage.
Now this first one on the left-hand side, she's looking up, gesturing up.
Now very elegant sort of flowing movement, coming down, through,
the young and the beautiful.
This one is looking up.
The next figure we're taking and just going backwards now, going up backwards,
pushing back first here, pushing down, get the arrow is actually pushing down.
And looking back all in black, complete opposite, but at the same time we've
working within a fairly strong, two-dimensional arrangement of figures.
Notice now that we're also, as we're coming forward, there's a
diagramming of the space here.
She's seated in a very, very clear space.
You feel this robe coming in front, coming forward.
The foot is coming forward here and it goes just behind the foot of this figure.
Notice that the shadow now, the simple lines coming through.
Now, if you look at it overall structure in here, what you have
is a group, we're moving from this, from the left to the right.
Okay, look at the, I've mentioned about the complex forms being contained
within a simple contour well the cast shadow now comes across very simple.
We have this, this movement coming through, he's picking up, coming through,
and again, all of this, the outside contour here are really quite simple.
We see where he's building this thing up.
So all of this now is moving across.
Now we take from here, look at the line coming through.
See he pulls the figure, designing.
Now, here we have a center.
And what you can see is even the sculpture that he's created on the
back creates, helps to create this sense of center that we're working on.
So this becomes and it literally is the center of the painting
as we're coming through.
And so he's building, he's building on this, but all of these forms, now
you can see are building up within this thing.Notice that this, that
general line there coming through to the robe is going to also take and work
with the figures or the background here coming down.
So now as we build the rhythm, this is taking and building up within, so you get
this general feeling of fitness through.
He's coming through, coming in.
And we started to come across now see even this.
Not quite sure what all the story is here, but we look at this barn thing he's
taking, coming back, falling down where he's working with the shadows, creating,
simple outside contours, overlapping of forms, diagramming the space.
His foot is on this carpet.
So you knew exactly where he's standing, coming in.
Again, the verticals taking following through.
And so we're constantly constantly building and building this picture on a
series of verticals, diagonals, through.
And again, very, very simple, very, very, very simple contours then
as the movement comes through.
The next figures are taking and coming back and we're getting a counter movement.
Taking and going through and building more.
Take and bring the painting up.
You can see you, you, you get a very sense of this space and the volumes
that he's taking and working with, but these are very distinct groups.
Now, as we break this down a little bit,
first, the big thing is of course automatically you can see
that okay here got this cross.
So we got going down, obviously down and over here we got obviously up.
So we're getting, we're getting the play of differences.
The mass on one side, the mass on the right, space on the left.
You notice that the way he's building these forms, we got the
figures are taking it and doing
the same kind of pattern.
This is really dropped out now.
If you look very carefully now at the detail here, I'm not sure it'll
come through and, I think, but this is actually been a really good reproduction.
You can see the actual stretches and the plaster where he was taking
and drawing these geometric shapes
to take and carry through.
So you can see now, as he's coming through and building, taking and dealing with
these very close to being a tangencies, coming in, each head is different
yet they have a similar look to them.
You can feel the coming through the way he works with these volumes.
Notice that the subtle things, like here the arm is coming out,
the cross in the background, pulling straight through on it.
The way he builds these forms, one into the other.
There's a geometric one, two, three.
And then we start the next group here you have five and we're dealing
over here with a, I'm not sure what the numerical thing would be on this
side, but he's constantly taking and building mathematics into his paintings
and so work at these points and he's
- and you feel it when you look at the things, you can feel the sense of order
and clarity within the work, as he's also, I'm just noticing how we get this
taking, coming down. We've got these taking and coming down as we start to
deal with these figures, pulling out.
And with this hands pushing down, hands going up notice in the
background as this carries through into the design of the robes.
Now this is a kind of involvement that becomes individual
preoccupation with choice.
Some artists love it.
Others, could care less.
But it does, it does create a look to the painting.
And that's the whole thing that we're dealing with.
The experience that's created.
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1. Lesson Overview7m 29sNow playing...
1. Overview and Lecture11m 19sNow playing...
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2. Detail of the Massacre of the Innocents7m 33s
3. The Triumph of David7m 41s
4. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz2m 51s
5. Laocoon5m 57s
6. The Calumny of Apelles5m 47s
7. The Queen of Sheba in Adoration of the Wood4m 0s