- Lesson details
Composition is a concept with ideas and rules that can be played with or ultimately broken. Regardless, it is good to understand the different ways to compose your painting and the effects those decisions have on your painting. In this lesson, Ben lays out the rules and lists a few common types of compositions.
Landscape painting in a studio compared to painting on-location are completely different experiences, each with their own set of challenges to face. Painting landscapes on-location means you’re faced with constantly changing natural lighting, as well as nature, but the experience itself can really make your inspiration flow.
In this painting course, Artist Ben Fenske teaches you the fundamentals of landscape painting through a series of lessons. These lessons include easy to follow instruction, analysis of famous landscape paintings, and demonstrations shot on-location, to help you better your painting skills.
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and a few ideas related to that. In general
I don't think there are rules of composition.
However, there are things you can identify that might help you
think about composition.
So there are things that I would say are do's and don'ts of composition but
those are things that can be broken.
You don't need to follow those but just to be aware of them
is the important thing. So general rule I think composition is a very personal thing and it's
it's something that you can develop as you go along.
But here are just a few things to help you identify what you're doing
when you're composing a picture.
And so if you go outside and you're dealing with, let's say, you have a tree.
You find a subject that you like.
You find a tree and there's a little path here.
And there's a mountain behind it and you like all of this stuff here. You find
this spot and it looks it looks amazing. So you’ve -
there are some other trees back here. There’s another line of trees.
There's some - another tree here, coming up. And I would say there's another, maybe another tree branch or
something here. And you found a spot, you like it, you don't know
why you like it, but you do like it and you decide you need to paint
there. And there's some clouds in the sky
and those are looking great too and you see some of the shadows going across the
landscape and everything just looks great.
Now the first decision you have to make in terms of composition is how
much of this are you going to take in?
How much of this scene are you going to place on your canvas?
What format canvas are you going to use?
Are you going to use a very long,
narrow one? Are you gonna use a square canvas?
Are you going to do a vertical composition, horizontal composition?
Those are all choices you need to make. Are you going to take in a lot of
sky, a lot of ground?
One thing I generally I tell people to watch out for or be aware of is
how much of their field of vision are they taking in on their canvas?
So a lot of people will go outside and there's this giant scene in front of
them and they say you know what,
there's so much stuff out there.
I just want to focus in on something.
And they'll focus in on there's a tree back here,
let's say, and they’ll crop their canvas in about to here, taking all this, this is our field
of vision, all this, all this stuff here.
And I would just generally say if you really like that tree,
just walk down the path and get closer to it.
It's going to - it'll then fill up more of your field of vision
and your picture will have a little bit more depth.
So that's the first thing, try to take in a little bit.
Just try to be aware of how much that you're taking in.
What amount of your field of vision?
So that's the first idea really. And that's just about about cropping.
So you can take in just a little bit.
I'm imagining that's maybe four degrees of your field of vision, wherein reality
you see a much wider range, you see maybe 40 or 50 degrees.
You can even go - get wider than that even. So just - that's the first thing to
be aware of when you're outside and you got your canvas, you found your
spot now just how do you start thinking about cropping it or placing it on the
canvas? Okay, another concept or something, another thing to be aware of just in general
is - I guess we could do it here - how much -
let’s say you realized actually you want more more of your field of
vision. Now how much sky do you want?
Do you want a little bit of sky?
Do you want a lot of sky?
A lot of times what happens is people,
they see the subject matter.
They see the subject as the tree for example and
the mountain. And they see that as the subject matter
so they want to fill the page with the subject matter.
But you might get a better feeling or the feeling that you got when
you arrived at the scene,
maybe the thing about it that you really liked was the fact that it felt really
open. If that's the case,
you might want to have a lot more sky.
So you still have your subject matter,
which is your tree and your mountain somewhere,
but now the composition starts to feel maybe a little bit more how you felt
when you selected it. So this starts feeling a little bit more closed in.
This composition starts feeling a little bit more open.
There's a big sky. This kind of big sky
composition is often used when there's a a large flat plane.
If your subject is a mountain,
for example, you might want to have just a tiny bit of sky showing.
So to get the sense that you're looking up at that mountain,
you might want to just have a little bit of sky.
That will again, it'll give you that feeling that the mountain is really big and that
might be the feeling that you're going for. Where in this case the feeling that you're
going for us is big openness.
So all of these things or a lot of these things can be decided by cropping,
pulling in, pulling out or pulling in on what's in front of you.
So again you can have a - you can take the original scene here,
you can have a really vertical or sorry horizontal format here.
Pull out more like this. Or you could include more of the ground.
You might think about where does the painting start? Is it
Ten feet in front of me?
Is it 20 feet in front of me, is it 100 feet in front of me?
So these are all things
to take into consideration. And this is just mostly dealing with cropping and format.
So I would again just try to avoid cropping into too narrowly.
I'll try to avoid or just be aware of how much sky you’re taking in.
Both on something like a mountain and something that's more open.
And yeah, that's really the first step in deciding how much of the scene that you're going
to take in. Okay, let's look at a few other ideas
about composition. Alright I might be able to just flip this around.
Unless the texture is too distracting.
Let's look at the concept of linear composition.
So linear composition really just means you're looking at not the masses,
but just big lines in the composition.
And so you might have a let’s say a hill in the foreground going at this angle
and you might have a mountain in the background coming in at this angle.
You might have a path going up and into the picture like this
and you might even have a few more hills there
and you might have some clouds kind of coming off in this direction.
This is a sort of linear
way of looking at a composition.
It's basically - you're not thinking of things in terms of values, colors, or masses.
You’re just thinking about the lines and angles in a composition.
And so when you're out there looking at your scene you are just looking at it just
at this level. So taking away the concept of messes, values, colors, and just stripping it
down to this level of lines.
And you could just ask yourself,
is this an interesting composition just on that level?
And you might say okay actually if I had a tree
right here, that might make it more interesting because then I will start to intersect some
of these lines and break those lines up,
and that might be interesting. You might also say like for example,
I want to make sure that these lines are going in different directions.
Maybe I want - maybe I want a strong line leading into the picture.
So you can just start thinking about these lines
or this linear idea of a composition and usually good compositions will work just on this
level. So just the main strong lines.
Now let's compare that idea of linear composition to an idea of mass composition.
So let's say we’ve got the composition,
we’ve thought about it in terms of linear
composition and you like the way it's working
and you want to start conceiving of the composition in terms of mass and
values the tree again. Okay,
so you want to start thinking of it in terms of
of masses so it's working on a linear level.
Now you might have to pick the right time of day or right lighting conditions
or interpret the masses in a way that the masses start to have a
beautiful arrangement. And so you can start to think of big areas of light and dark
for example, just on a very simple level.
And in this case there might be this - might be sort of the end of the
day and the sun is setting behind us.
And there might be a shadow of a mountain casting
that's cast over this foreground.
And it's throwing all of this -
the mountain behind us that's throwing all the foregrounded shadow,
putting this road, including this whole tree and now the composition becomes more about this
dark shape. This abstract dark shape.
Against this light shape see you start to conceive of it in terms of masses.
And you ask yourself, does that pattern of light and dark look nice?
Is it pleasing is it?
Is it balanced? Because this big mass
idea of a composition is really what somebody will see
across the room when I look - when they're looking at a painting they see these
big abstract shapes of light and dark. Maybe there's another shape or two in there.
Maybe there's another shadow over here.
And so you wanted to find an arrangement of dark and light
that's pleasing. So on that level
os it pleasing, is it balanced?
Is the abstract shape of the light against the dark,
is that nice, does that make a nice abstract pattern?
So here we've got an idea of linear.
And here is an abstract or mass idea
of composition. So two ways to look at it and I would try to see your
composition both as linear composition,
these strong lines at the main forms.
Even though they might be obscured a little bit when you start
conceiving of it as a mass. These strong lines probably will still exist.
So yeah, that's just idea of mass conception vs.
linear conception and composition. Let's look at a few ideas about
dark versus light shapes and how you might want to think about them.
So just a few more examples.
So again the the idea of linear composition,
you might have interesting shapes of objects.
Tree for example tree with different sky holes and interesting shapes and again you might have
a road coming back into the picture.
Leading back into the picture. Lower that down.
Looking to horizon maybe.
And you're thinking about this linear Concepts is your horizon.
Is it going slightly, is it completely level across or is it a little bit angled, is
there a slight slope? Thinking about maybe a mountain in the background.
Okay, so again on that - just on that level of linear,
is this pleasing or is this interesting?
Also on this level you might see how objects go behind
each other so you might have clouds.
And you want some of the clouds to be up here behind other clouds,
this level without adding any values or color or anything else just on
this level. You can see that you have overlapping forms.
Maybe let’s put on some trees.
So you might have a tree that overlaps the mountain or group of trees.
And you might have some trees that overlap the clouds.
So you have a series of overlapping forms just on that level it will start to show
depth in the painting. Even without adding values in color and you might think about some
of these ideas of perspective linear perspective.
So converging lines, diminishing sizes of objects so making sure that you're the big clouds are
in the foreground.
The small ones are the background.
So diminishing sizes, overlapping forms, linear perspective. Maybe there's some electric poles here diminishing in size
if they go back. The edge of a field coming back and just again emphasizing that
idea of linear perspective. So you can look for all of these
ways just to show depth on this linear level of composition.
So overlapping forms, converging lines,
and diminishing sizes. Now you can take the idea of the mass the mass conception
of composition and start to overlay some values on it.
So in this case maybe again we have off for ground shadow.
Maybe this tree is actually casting a shadow
onto the road. It's a side light.
So this is all becomes a dark
mass. So you still have the interesting shape there,
still have the overall form, still have the diminishing sizes as you go back into
space, but now you're just adding the idea of value.
And the idea of value in a compositional term.
In this case meaning are the masses making an interesting pattern, two dimensional interesting pattern?
Maybe there's some darks here.
And maybe everything else in the painting is very light.
And so you just have these two shapes of -
It's two dark shapes against
a pretty big light shape. And in this case we have maybe one fifth of
the painting is relatively dark and four fifths of the painting is relatively light.
And you just have to again at that level conceive of it and say is that
an interesting design? This shape,
this dark shape with this little dark shape.
Is that interesting against the white shape?
Just abstractly, purely abstractly is that interesting?
What you want to try to avoid is having equal
sizes of things at this level. So we can draw the same scene,
The tree again, same tree, same mountain, same middle ground tree,
same road. Now you could conceive this a little bit differently in terms of
abstract light and dark shapes,
for example maybe a storm just passed and the sun is behind you.
And put in one of these clouds.
So there's a big storm
that just went over, sun is behind you and now you have a situation where you
have a very dark sky.
It’s a really amazing effect actually,
dark sky effect. Very very dark sky and everything on the ground illuminated by the sun
that's behind you and maybe a few shadows in places,
but in general you have this dark sky against the very light ground.
Or this could be a snow affect, you could say maybe it just snowed in covered
everything in white. Either way you have this big dark shape against this big light shape.
Now you have two shapes
that carry equal weights. You have the light and the dark are sort of balanced
equally in this composition and that's something to watch out for because generally it's more interesting
to have either more light and less dark or more dark and a little bit smaller
piece of white. When you have anytime you have symmetry in a composition
it's something you have to be aware of because it's not -
it's usually not as pleasing as asymmetry.
So that's just on a value level. Let's look at a few common types of
into the painting. And there's a couple of very common devices that painters use.
One of them that you'll probably be able to recognize right away,
it's very commonly used,
It's the idea of a road or could be a river.
It could be train tracks.
It's anything, but it's the idea that there's a path or a road or river that
leads into the composition or into the painting.
It's a way of sort of letting the viewer almost walk into the composition.
And you can have trees or whatever else but the idea is that the viewer
would enter the composition through this road or this could be a river.
So that's one common way of getting into the composition.
Very common. And again, this is
working because of the the idea of linear perspective these converging lines.
going back into space. So that's one common type.
It's a road, road or stream.
Another way of getting into the composition would be looking at the foreground.
And this would be a type where there's no road,
there's no stream, there's no path to use to get into the composition.
In this case, we have a diagonal
foreground and this helps get into the composition or into the painting.
simply because one of these corners down here
is closer to the viewer than the other corner.
So in this case you have a diagonal foreground and let's just say - let's put
a little tree here. Foreground and there's a bunch of grass,
let's say it's a field.
So we have a foreground, we have a middle ground.
This is the middle ground and a background is a mountain.
So in this case, the middle ground is actually touching one of the corners and
the foreground is touching the other corner.
So for some reason that means the viewer can't really enter here.
They can't walk into the middle ground.
So they need to - they need to walk across
the foreground this way, diagonally into the picture.
So that's another - that's another way of getting into the picture.
So that's road and this would be - I would call this diagonal foreground or corners
that are at different levels of depth from the viewer. So this would work even if
this corner was even ten or 20 feet closer to the viewer or could
be ten or 20 feet closer to the other, this corner,
so they just have to be on different
depths. In this case this corner is way into the middle ground.
It could be miles away, this corner.
Let's look at another common idea how to get into the foreground.
And that's kind of a variation of the road
I would say. And that is where you have opposing diagonal lines.
You have a road - or sorry foreground coming this way.
You have another hill coming this way,
another going this way and this idea of a sort of zigzag pattern
going back until maybe reach horizon or mountain and so that's another way of getting into
the picture, bringing the viewer into the picture.
Something to probably try to avoid is to have a wall
or something that looks like a wall
and that would stop the viewer from entering the picture.
So let's draw out a little field down here and there's a wall
and maybe there's even a tree on our side of the wall.
And we can see beyond it and maybe there's some hills
and some mountains but there's a wall here.
We can't get past it.
And this could be a literal wall or it could be a wall of trees.
It could be a section of middle ground.
That's evenly - that's even across the the painting.
So this is the idea of the wall and again,
it could be - this could just simply be a wall of trees or bushes or
shrubs. It doesn't allow the viewer to enter.
You can't get in there, you want to enter but you're stopped
and you feel like you're in prison or something.
So this is something to be aware of to avoid and you could solve this problem
by just making a little doorway in a wall.
or maybe taking the idea of a road and making a little pathway into the background.
So something to avoid is the wall.
There's another way of getting into a picture
and there’s probably lots of ways.
These are just a few
common ones and this one I would just call foreground shadow.
So. And it basically works like this:
you have a a background somewhere,
you might have a tree in the foreground,
some middle ground, some more trees,
but there's not a road leading in and there's not a clear way to get in
the picture. There's no wall blocking you,
but it’s not obvious how to enter the picture.
And what a lot of painters do is they make a - find an excuse that there
will be a foreground shadow so that whole foreground
will be in shadow. And they're good could be an object behind you casting a shadow
here or there could be.
Light coming from the side the tree could be casting a shadow.
But either way the important part is that the foreground is all in shadow.
Some clouds up here. And somehow that allows the viewer to enter the canvas.
I'm not sure how that one works,
but it's a very common device
used. I think it's - yeah
I'm not sure how that works.
So here are four ways to get into a picture, one to try to avoid,
the wall. Okay, let's look at a few more
types of compositions, there's lots of different types of compositions people come up with names for
them and they try to identify specific types.
I'll just point out a few.
I don't usually tend to think of composition in this way.
There's one or two of these that I do use.
So a lot of people will talk about a circular composition, a triangular composition.
Those I don't tend to use.
You can find books on composition and there might be tens or hundreds of types identified.
Common one used in landscape is the L composition.
And that's just the idea that there's a mass or an object on one
side and something in the foreground creating a sort of L shape.
And then of course, there's probably things back here,
but there's a main
shape of a sort of an L that's one.
So you - it's kind of like you’ve half framed another picture in here.
So that's one idea. The idea that I often use is something that might be called a
steel yard. And that's just the way of looking at balance him in a painting.
And you think about placing all these different masses and you want them to balance
out and you think of almost like a fulcrum somewhere,
think about fulcrum and think of this idea, if you have a giant weight on this
side. And you have another weight not as heavy and you need to balance it out
where would you have to - you have to put that may be over here.
And so it's about balancing the weights of objects.
And so you might start out with a tree
and this might be sort of a dark
object and in your composition start carrying lots of weight,
so - it's all the way over on one side.
Here’s a horizon back here and maybe a little - some trees.
So now now the composition is weighted
I would say to the right.
And it’s off balance. So this is currently off-balance.
It's going to almost tip over to the right.
And so you need to introduce something with some weight over on the other side of
the canvas. And the weight of an object, the visual weight of an object is
not always about size. Sometimes it's about size.
Sometimes it's about an intricate shape will have more weight visually than a more simplified shape.
So let's look at that intricate shape idea. Now if I put a if I place
a A person sitting on the grass over here even though they're very small,
that shape of a human being, the intricate shape cut-out, your eye will give that more
weight than something like a rock or tree.
It's more intricate shape. Something that if this is a green, mostly green and blue landscape.
Something that is bright red will have a lot of visual weight.
So it’s not always about the size of the object that's going to help balance at its
about placement and visual weight and this is something that you'll just have to develop
as you go and get better at balancing things out.
So maybe there's a few trees over here in the middle ground
that start to balance out
this big weight over here.
One thing actually no - that's good
let’s leave that there. So this idea of weight and balance is another idea.
And the steelyard composition can have all sorts of things balanced on it.
All different sizes, shapes, and objects all sort of balancing on a big scale. So I
like to use that idea a lot just of balance.
Then again that's in terms of shape,
type of shape, and color. Let's look at a few things to try to be aware
of and I don't want to tell anybody that they couldn't
work, these things couldn't work,
but I've seen people do these things without being aware of them and they don't work.
So we could just call this maybe the don’ts, so here’s are some of the do’s and we can
call some of these the don’ts.
Let’s look at again, let's look at that idea of overlapping forms or not overlapping
forms. So let's look at - let’s do two here.
So I mentioned before this idea of overlapping forms.
So let's make a little tree again.
I got tree, we have a horizon somewhere.
And so a background row of trees
or Mountain and let’s say let's start to put some clouds in the sky.
Let's do the same over here.
We’ve got a horizon, we’ve got a tree.
And it comes time to in the painting to start putting the clouds in the picture and
they're moving all over the place.
Like they always do. And you have to decide where to put them.
Now do you want to put the cloud -
this is going to sound simple,
but do you want to put it here,
almost like kissing the edge of this tree,
or do you want to make it appear as if it's going slightly behind the tree.
or do you want to place it out here away from the tree all together?
I'm so I would say overlapping forms will add up to the painting right away.
So this is kind of going behind the tree.
You can't see part of that cloud.
Placing it here doesn't add necessarily depth on a linear level,
but it's not distracting either.
Placing it here, it’s going to be very distracting to the viewer.
It doesn't quite make sense.
You want to either pull it out here or push it behind the tree a little
bit. And the same thing for anything in the foreground.
Let’s say again, let’s put a little -
let’s put a pole in this painting, it’s a telephone pole or something,
electric pole. So nice vertical element if you want to put it here,
or do you want to step
one foot to the right and see it in your field of vision
right here. Or do you want to step another few feet
and have it actually overlapping again the form.
So here we've got one overlapping form.
One that does not overlap nor is it touching and here we have a again that idea
of this - two forms sort of visually touching when they're actually on different depths of in
the landscape. So this is again something to avoid, this is fine,
And this will actually show depth on a linear level.
You might want to notice as well
this pole or element, it's starting at a different base height than the tree.
Over here they start at the same level.
And again that stop - that doesn't create depth and this does create depth.
Let's do a few more don't or things to be aware of when adding elements
in. And let’s put a mountain back here now. So again,
let's take that idea of your adding clouds to a picture,
here's something to avoid again.
You look out and you see a really nice cloud,
it’s a really nice shape, it’s something like this let’s say.
And that's great. It works, it works fine.
And then you're saying to yourself,
I need another cloud in my picture.
And so you put another one in.
Well if you don't pay attention sometimes.
You repeat the shape. And it's very distracting to the viewer.
It's not pleasing at all.
So you might have done a better job this time overlapping some of the shapes but you’ve
repeated the size, not always the size,
but the actual shape. I’ve said before that diminishing sizes
also create depth. So let's sort of better version over here. So here
we got our cloud again, less interesting shape
it might be. So we want one further away from us or lower on the horizon.
We want that to be
smaller, probably, so a different shape.
A different size. And we want it to be a different shape.
So let's make - just to add interest,
let's make a long narrow cloud.
And what's left this one over
let’s let the tree overlap it a little bit.
Okay so now we have a lot, there’s a lot more interest in this scenario than
there is here. Let’s say now we want to add even more clouds to the sky.
And keeping that idea in mind of diminishing sizes
and different sizes. I'll put a small one back here.
Again looking for a slightly different shape than these two.
And let’s put a small one here.
And something that people often do is they start to,
instead of overlapping that one again,
they kind of make the clouds go up and over it.
So in this case, we want to give me an idea of overlapping forms the want
one of the clouds to appear like it's coming from behind the mountain.
So just to review, I got overlapping shapes,
overlapping forms, something sitting in front of other things.
We've got different shapes, unique shapes,
and we have different sizes.
Things to watch out for here are two things that are the same size
or two things that are the same shape.
And the other thing to watch out for here is two forms almost touching each other,
just barely touching each other.
It's better to pull them apart or set one in front of the other.
Let's look at a few more ideas of things to try to avoid. Okay,
let's do another one here,
let's take a - maybe a little bit of this and say okay,
we have a tree in the foreground.
It's really nice. Coming down here.
And there's a tree on this side as well.
And it's maybe even a slightly different shape.
But now you've created a symmetry in the painting.
Here's the foreground. What's like over here?
And try to do this without so much symmetry just by changing things a little bit.
So we can have one of these shapes
or trees coming further into the picture.
And the other one not as far for example.
Same concepts really, now we just have spaces that are not as equal here,
so just avoiding symmetry. I think symmetry is probably almost always to be avoided.
So again in terms of symmetry,
you can introduce other elements.
what's a Maybe you've got a foreground here and there's a middle ground that starts
here and there's a mountain that's about here.
This I would say is probably a bad choice because you have the size of your
mountain is the same size as your middle ground and your foreground.
So you can avoid that
by just maybe taking in a little bit more of the foreground.
And maybe starting your foreground here
and maybe your middle ground is slightly smaller and then your mountain is again a different
size. Let’s see. I don't want to make these the same size, which I just did.
So let’s make the mountain even bigger. So make this a big mountain. So now I've got
a - these three different sizes, background, middle-ground, foreground.
Here, they're all equal and that tends to be boring.
So just symmetry something to be avoided, always look for asymmetry.
different sizes and shapes of everything, look for things
overlapping and try not to repeat shapes.
It's a very difficult thing to do.
People do it all the time when they're interpreting a tree for example,
they will come around here and its - trees are very difficult to draw a line
around and interpret. Trees in the foreground are. So a lot of times people come up with - come up
with shapes like this. Like they'll say okay
there's a lump of trees, lump of leaves.
Here's a clump of leaves.
Here's a clump of leaves.
Here's another clump of leaves and another one and pretty soon they have
five or six clumps of leaves that are all the exact same size.
That's all what you want to do is look for just the differences of everything.
So you might find one like that size and you might find another two that are
kind of grouped together. And then maybe a smaller one down here.
So you don't have the same repetition and size.
See how these are very very common mistakes and you can just step back every once
in a while and ask yourself
am I repeating a shape, is my composition symmetrical?
Am I repeating a size?
Do I have another tree in this in this painting
that's the exact same size.
And if so, am I doing that intentionally, if it's intentional and you're aware of it
and you think it's going to work
then go ahead and try it, if you're not aware of it,
but it's something to think about and be aware of and it probably is not going
to work to have two things the same size.
It's much better to have slightly different sized objects.
So let's make it another tree.
And again this might sit at a different depth in the painting as well.
This one starts here, this one starts here.
And it's - maybe this one is even going off the page a little bit or off
the canvas. Whereas this one is completely on the canvas.
So that's the basic idea.
They're always looking for asymmetry.
So always trying to be aware of when you're creating symmetries.
And always look for very different shapes so the more different you can make your
shapes the more interesting your painting will be, same thing goes for angles.
So you don't want to have just two more here
two more little compositions. In this composition,
I might have a hill going like this
and then maybe I've got a mountain kind of going like this and there's also sort
of, there’s some clouds and they start to - the way they're arranged
they start to also create that same diagonal feeling.
And it might be nice to have different angles in your painting.
So you might have the first one to go in this way.
You might make sure that your mountain has slightly different angles.
And maybe you want the sense that these cloud shapes are almost going off in this
direction. So you have opposing angles and different angles.
And you might have some
tree trunks coming up in this painting and maybe they're all sort of
parallel. You want to avoid that so you want to have some - let's just make these
go right off the page.
Let’s instead have some go over at this angle.
Not right to the corner
though. And one maybe almost straight up and down.
Just so there's different angles. Here
we have the same angles repeated, two verticals and three
The similar diagonal and in this one we're looking for different angles.
So this angle to this angle,
this one to this one, the angle of the clouds going this way.
So again, it's just it's that idea of repetition.
So try not to repeat angles, try not to repeat
sizes of objects, try not to repeat actual shapes.
Like in the clouds here. And try to avoid symmetries.
All these things could work and I wouldn't want to stop you from making compositions that
have symmetries or have repeating sizes
but if you're not aware of it,
then you're not doing it on purpose and people have a tendency to do things - do
these patterns and usually it won't help their composition.
So that's just a few things to be aware of
when you're composing your picture, when you're designing your shapes.
Let's look at how different artists have handled some of these concepts of composition.
Let's look first there here is another painting by Timkov,
deceptively simple painting here. Let’s first look at the big light and dark break up in
this painting. So If we look at the lightest mass if we had to break this
painting down into light and dark we would see that we have a big white mass
for the sky. And the rest of the painting is relatively dark.
So big light mass in the sky and then a dark mass, all of this is a
kind of dark mass relative to the sky. So in this case we have roughly
one fourth of the painting very light and then three fourths of the painting darker than
the - clearly darker than that. Or we could say that we have maybe a fourth of
the painting is very light and then we have another mass which is maybe -
comprises maybe two-thirds of the painting and then a smaller
dark shape so we have these different
proportions of masses. As far as variety is concerned, we've got lots of things going
on. So if you noticed that none of these trees are at the same height.
They're all slightly different heights. This one
is the highest they're all the treetops are different heights. Which makes a lot of interest
in a painting. We also have lots of different shapes, we've got some sort
of pointy trees, sort of rounded out tree,
one that's kind of a square and a point and so there's a lot of variety
built-in to the shapes.
What else can I say about this painting compositionally?
I guess I could point out again that all the shapes, everything is a little
bit different so he doesn't repeat a sky whole shape ever.
We have different sizes. So all of the houses are slightly different sizes.
The tree trunks are always spread out at different sizes, different intervals.
So they're not - there’s not the same distance between them.
So there's variety everywhere as far as shapes, as far as distances between them, as
far as heights. Let’s look at another painting. Okay.
This painting is a clear example of a road painting.
The road composition of the - road idea of a composition. So here we have a road
taking your eye back or getting the viewer into the picture.
It's also interesting that the horizon is fairly low in the painting.
So there's an idea of a bigger sky.
Okay onto the next painting. Okay, another another good example of a road leading the viewer into the
painting. Pretty clear-cut example. And that road seems to continue through this forest and then it
pops out again back here leading the viewer all the way to the background.
Oh, man. So here's another example of a composition.
And there's a couple things going on here.
We have that idea of the road or stream
leaning into the picture. We also have this idea of almost a zigzag formed by
these overlapping forms. As they go back so that the forms just they keep overlapping
and overlapping as they go into to the distance.
It's also - there's also another compositional device that William Wendt did quite often.
He did the - instead of one diagonal in the foreground
he often did two, one on each corner.
So in the middle of the painting you're already closer to the middle ground or in -
let me say that differently so
if you look at this point yeah,
how to I explain this?
Let’s look at the corner here? This point is closer to the viewer than this point.
Okay, this is - this bush is closer to the viewer
than this point right here because of the shape of the hill.
So that's an idea. That's a example of that diagonal
foreground hill, but in this case he just does it twice: one diagonal on each corner.
So there's at least three compositional ideas going on here if not more.
He's also got a variety of shapes and sizes and he's got a variety of spacing -
let’s just look. So even though he's got these two
foreground diagonals, this one is clearly bigger than this one for example,
so it's not quite symmetrical and this stream which is kind of in the center
of the painting, it’s actually more to the left of center.
I think he must be looking
uphill and often when you do that,
when you look uphill or downhill you tend to have a small
amount of sky. So if you're looking up at a hill or a mountain or
down from a mountain or hill you tend to have a little piece of sky.
Okay, here's a and Arthur Streeton painting.
I think this might be an example of there is a diagonal here, a general diagonal.
There’s a general diagonal here in the foreground
but I think this is more of an example of foreground shadow.
up a book about landscape painting
and analyze the paintings. Ask yourself
is this a road composition,
is this a diagonal foreground,
is it a L composition?
What makes the composition work or not work. Your second assignment is to go outside with
a sketchbook and make thumbnail sketches. Find a scene the interests you and try to compose
it in different ways. Take a look at what happens when you crop closely in on
your subject or if you pull out a little bit on your subject.
Also, see if you can come up with an L composition for that subject or a
road river composition. See if you can even find a diagonal foreground composition for that
same subject. Composition is a big topic and it's something that you will learn about as
you go and as you develop as a painter.
But be aware of it right from the start.
Free to try
1. Overview of Composition1m 10sNow playing...
Watch the whole lesson with a subscription
2. How to Decide Where to Crop9m 18s
3. Common Ways to Compose a Painting19m 5s
4. How to Pull the Viewer into a Painting10m 24s
5. Types of Compositions26m 56s
6. Analysis of Composition in Master Paintings10m 29s
7. Assignment Instructions1m 19s