Art composition tips for beginners

The concept of composition in art is a multifaceted and dynamic one, encompassing a wide array of elements and principles that have evolved over time. It is a fundamental aspect of art that bridges the gap between the ancient traditions of artistic expression and the modern innovations of creative thinking. But what does composition truly entail, and why should beginners in the world of art endeavor to grasp the art of composition?

Composition, in essence, is the intentional arrangement of visual elements within a work of art, be it a painting, photograph, sculpture, or any other creative medium. It involves making deliberate choices about how various components such as lines, shapes, colors, textures, and more interact with each other to convey a particular message, evoke emotions, or engage the viewer’s attention. A well-composed piece of art captures the viewer’s gaze and imagination, guiding their eye through the piece and eliciting a specific response.

For beginners exploring the realm of art, understanding the principles of composition is like unlocking a secret language that enables them to communicate with their audience more effectively. It is the foundation upon which all other artistic techniques are built. By delving into the art of composition, budding artists can enhance their ability to express themselves, tell stories, and create visual impact. It empowers them to bring their creative visions to life, shaping their artistic journey in profound ways.

In this guide, we will explore key art composition tips tailored to beginners. These insights, both contemporary and steeped in tradition, will serve as a compass for those embarking on their artistic adventures. By mastering the art of composition, newcomers to the art world can harness its potential to captivate viewers, infuse their work with depth and meaning, and embark on a journey of creative self-discovery. Whether you’re a painter, photographer, or sculptor, these tips will offer valuable guidance in your pursuit of artistic excellence.

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems. Let’s discover them together and move one step closer to making some great art.

What does composition mean?

If you are new to art then it will come to no surprise that at some point you will hear the term composition.

At first glance, it may seem like something complicated, perhaps a term used for experienced artists only.

Composition simply put is the way in which elements of language are put together in an orderly manner to create a coherent story, sound, or visual effect.

To compose something is to place elements in a manner that will help a viewer, reader or listener to understand the message you are hoping to deliver in your actions.

Why is composition in art important?

Without a structured form of composition, it is difficult for your viewers to understand what it is you want them to see as the main focus.

Composition in art holds a pivotal role, serving as the backbone upon which the entire aesthetic experience is built. Its importance stems from several critical aspects:

  1. Guiding the Viewer’s Eye: A well-composed piece directs the viewer’s gaze, leading them on a visual journey through the artwork. It establishes a path for the eye to follow, ensuring that the viewer absorbs the intended message or emotion in a controlled and deliberate manner.
  2. Creating Visual Harmony: Effective composition balances various elements like color, form, and texture, creating a cohesive and harmonious visual experience. It prevents the viewer from feeling overwhelmed or confused by an abundance of visual information.
  3. Eliciting Emotions and Reactions: Composition is a powerful tool for conveying emotions. The arrangement of elements can evoke feelings of serenity, excitement, melancholy, or awe. It enables the artist to communicate their intended message on a visceral and emotional level.
  4. Enhancing Communication: Art is a form of communication, and composition serves as the language through which the artist speaks to the audience. It ensures that the artist’s intended narrative or concept is clearly conveyed, transcending potential barriers of interpretation.
  5. Creating Focal Points: Through composition, artists can emphasize specific areas or elements within their work. This establishes focal points that draw the viewer’s attention, highlighting key aspects of the piece and guiding them towards deeper contemplation.
  6. Establishing Rhythm and Movement: Composition dictates the flow and rhythm of a piece, creating a sense of movement or stillness. This dynamic quality can imbue the artwork with a sense of vitality or tranquility, influencing how the viewer engages with it.
  7. Adding Depth and Dimension: Through techniques like perspective and spatial arrangement, composition can imbue a two-dimensional artwork with a sense of depth and three-dimensionality. This illusionistic quality enhances realism and immerses the viewer in the visual world.
  8. Conveying Meaning and Narrative: Composition plays a crucial role in storytelling within visual art. It enables the artist to arrange elements in a way that conveys a specific narrative or concept, allowing the viewer to decipher and engage with the underlying message.
  9. Showcasing Technical Proficiency: A well-composed piece demonstrates the artist’s mastery of their craft. It showcases their ability to manipulate various elements effectively, highlighting their technical prowess and artistic skill.
  10. Setting the Mood and Atmosphere: Composition significantly influences the overall mood and atmosphere of an artwork. It can make a piece feel serene, energetic, mysterious, or any number of other emotions, allowing the artist to evoke a specific response from the viewer.

In essence, composition is the vehicle through which artists translate their creative vision into a tangible, meaningful experience for the viewer. It bridges the gap between artistic intent and audience perception, making it an indispensable aspect of artistic expression. By mastering the principles of composition, artists unlock a powerful tool that elevates their work from mere imagery to compelling visual narratives.

A strong composition does not necessarily require great artistic skills.

However great artistic skill with bad composition will always let you down. Keeping this in mind makes understanding the rules of composition potentially one of the most important factors in the creative process.

The difference between a good composition and a not-so-good one is often very small. Yet significant enough to send off the impression that you are still in the process of exploration. Rather than an accomplished artist. Some examples of this are especially prominent when working with reference photos.

Relying only on the entirety of a photo. Rather than adapting large portions of information to simplify them into what is important and less important. In the following paragraphs. We will look at how to avoid some of the mentioned issues and what you can do to make sure you have composition covered.

It is important to remember that these are art composition tips for beginners. Therefore they will not apply to advanced artists and conceptual artists in the case of complex composition techniques.

Let’s take a practical look at composition using a few different scenarios.


Rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds by default is probably the most commonly used method in the composition of visual arts and photography.

It is possible that you have already applied this rule without even knowing it. Imagine a sheet of paper that you have folded into 3 equal parts horizontally and then vertically.

What you will end up with is four points of reference that are placed off-center from the center of your paper. These four points are what we can refer to as the focal points of interest in your artwork.

Let’s unpack this idea with a few examples.

Example one shows a clear focus point on the eye of the bird as well as the leg on the bottom right point. This is intended to emphasize both a connection with the bird through eye contact and to exaggerate the notion of movement.
Art composition tips for beginners. Rule of thirds.
Example 2 uses the same image only with a different point of view. This time zooming out and introducing more of the landscape. Notice that the eye contact remains true to the point of interest only this time it is found at the bottom right corner. The full extension of the bird spans across the bottom third line and creates tension focusing on the wings.
In the third example, I tried to have a bit more fun with the concept and zoomed out even further from the bird while introducing new elements of the landscape. Always aiming at keeping the eye contact of the bird on one of the four connecting points of interest. This time it is on the top left corner. I have maintained the balance by keeping the horizon line low and level to the bottom third of the image.

Why don’t you try this out for yourself by following these easy steps?

Try to keep your design as simple as possible until you are happy with the composition. Keeping your options open can lead to surprising results.

Art-composition-Rule of odds.

Rule of odds

I am sure that you have all seen this example before. An image or composition is more visually appealing when it consists of an odd number of elements instead of equal numbers.

More often than not this rule applies to 3 elements and sometimes 5 or 7.

What happens when you break the symmetry of composition?

You can direct your viewer to a foreground, middle ground, and background for example. Causing this instability stops our brains from finding pairs and creating a natural order of things.

Art composition tips for beginners. Rule of odds.
Try to understand what your brain is doing when you look at these two images. Think about how you feel as you shift from one to the other.

Using the rules of odds helps you work out problems with scale and proportions.

The application of the “rules of odds” in art is a valuable technique that aids artists in addressing challenges related to scale and proportions. These rules are rooted in the principle that odd numbers tend to create more visually appealing and balanced compositions compared to even numbers. Here’s how the use of odd numbers can assist in resolving issues with scale and proportions:

  1. Creating Visual Interest and Balance: Odd numbers inherently introduce an element of diversity and asymmetry to a composition. This diversity captures the viewer’s attention and prevents the eye from becoming fixated on a single element. In terms of scale and proportions, this means that incorporating an odd number of objects or elements can help distribute visual weight more evenly across the composition.
  2. Avoiding Symmetry and Predictability: Even numbers often lead to symmetrical arrangements, which can sometimes result in a static and predictable composition. By contrast, odd numbers introduce an element of surprise and dynamism, encouraging the viewer’s eye to move around the artwork. This dynamic quality can be particularly useful when dealing with scale and proportions, as it allows for more flexible arrangements.
  3. Creating a Focal Point: The use of an odd number of elements naturally lends itself to the establishment of a focal point. One element can stand out as the central focus, drawing the viewer’s attention and allowing for a clear point of emphasis. This is especially beneficial when dealing with objects or figures of varying sizes, as it helps anchor the composition.
  4. Resolving Scale Discrepancies: When incorporating elements of different sizes or proportions, the rules of odds can guide the artist in determining how to arrange them harmoniously. By placing elements in groups of three, for instance, the artist can create a balanced visual relationship that avoids overwhelming discrepancies in scale.
  5. Maintaining Proportional Harmony: Odd numbers can be employed to establish a sense of proportional harmony within a composition. By organizing elements in groups of three or five, for example, artists can achieve a pleasing balance between various sizes and shapes. This ensures that one element does not dominate or detract from the overall composition due to a stark difference in scale.
  6. Facilitating Spatial Relationships: The rules of odds can be instrumental in managing the spatial relationships between elements. By using an odd number of objects, artists can more effectively distribute them across the composition, ensuring that there is an appropriate amount of negative space and that elements do not feel cramped or congested.
Art composition tips for beginners. Rule of odds.
Take a few seconds to look at these 3 examples. Notice what happens to your perception of the image as it gets layered with more information. Please excuse my simple sketches for this explanation.

And finally, the rule of odds is a way of stopping the viewer from naturally trying to find order in the artwork.

The “rule of odds” is a potent artistic principle that serves as a deliberate departure from the human tendency to seek order and symmetry in visual stimuli. By intentionally incorporating an odd number of elements into an artwork, artists disrupt this innate inclination, leading to a more dynamic and engaging viewing experience. Here’s how this rule operates to prevent the viewer from imposing rigid order onto the composition:

  1. Disrupting Predictability: Humans have a natural inclination to seek patterns and symmetry. Even numbers often lead the eye to anticipate a balanced arrangement. Introducing an odd number of elements challenges this expectation, introducing an element of unpredictability and encouraging the viewer to engage more actively with the composition.
  2. Provoking Curiosity: When confronted with an odd number of elements, the viewer is compelled to search for relationships and connections between them. This curiosity drives deeper exploration of the artwork, as the mind actively seeks to make sense of the arrangement.
  3. Creating Tension and Movement: Odd numbers introduce an inherent tension within the composition. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the interplay between the elements, moving from one to the next in an effort to find coherence. This dynamic quality injects energy and movement into the artwork, preventing it from feeling static or lifeless.
  4. Fostering Emotional Engagement: The rule of odds can evoke a range of emotions and reactions in the viewer. The inherent tension and unpredictability can lead to a heightened sense of intrigue, prompting the viewer to invest more emotional and cognitive energy in deciphering the composition.
  5. Encouraging Interpretation and Interaction: The presence of an odd number of elements invites the viewer to actively participate in the artistic experience. They are prompted to interpret the relationships and meanings behind the elements, forging a more interactive and immersive connection with the artwork.
  6. Allowing for Individual Perspective: The rule of odds grants the viewer a degree of agency in their interpretation. With an odd number of elements, there is no singular “correct” way to perceive the composition. This openness to interpretation invites a diversity of perspectives and allows each viewer to find their own meaning within the artwork.
  7. Facilitating Visual Balance: Odd numbers inherently disrupt the symmetrical balance, allowing for a more dynamic equilibrium within the composition. This can lead to a visually engaging interplay between elements, preventing the eye from becoming fixated on any one point.

By employing the rule of odds, artists wield a powerful tool that encourages viewers to interact with their work in a more active and exploratory manner. This technique serves to challenge preconceptions, provoke thought, and ultimately, create a more compelling and memorable artistic experience.

Oddly enough. The viewer will find a sense of pleasure in the fact that they can continuously revert to the artwork. Without ever feeling bored.

Here are a few more examples that relate to art composition tips for beginners.

Dominant and subordinate focus points

dominant and subordinate shapes

The pyramid composition in art

 The pyramid structure
“The pyramid composition is one of the most fundamental compositions in art and photography. In a portrait that follows the pyramid composition, the subject’s body forms an upright triangle shape, with the head in the top center of the vertical space and the shoulders and body expanding below to form a wide base. The pattern is balanced and symmetrical, making it easy for the human eye to follow. ” Reference*

Framing your focus points

By now you may have noticed that there is a common rule that all these examples follow.

Use these examples in your art to highlight and frame the important areas of interest within the artwork.

These areas of interest are also separated into zones of importance by the nature of their placement in the composition.

Knowing how to translate your ideas in a clear and informative manner suggests to the viewer that you are composing with intention and purpose.

Often resulting in more successful outcomes.

When should you break the rules?

As with most things, rules are there to serve as a guideline.

A way of understanding how to create a sense of order or familiarity within a tried and tested environment. It is important to understand and use these guidelines to your advantage.

Once you have control over these methods. It is easier to explore different angles and effects on a case-by-case basis.

Exploring and experimenting with composition will often generate more interest in the overall impression of an image. Then if you stick purely to the “textbook” explanations.

If all fails just use your common sense.


In the realm of artistic expression, the rule of odds emerges as a transformative principle, reshaping the way we engage with visual compositions. By deliberately introducing an odd number of elements, artists invite us to relinquish our natural inclination for order, igniting a journey of discovery and interpretation. This dynamic interplay disrupts predictability, infuses energy, and sparks curiosity, fostering a deeper emotional connection between viewer and artwork.

Through the rule of odds, art transcends mere imagery, becoming a vibrant dialogue between creator and audience. It challenges us to seek meaning in the seemingly disparate, encouraging individual perspectives to flourish. This principle grants us the freedom to explore, interpret, and immerse ourselves in the rich tapestry of visual narratives.

As artists wield the rule of odds, they open a portal to a realm where creativity thrives, and where the boundaries of perception are pushed and redefined. In this dance of oddities, the viewer is offered not just an image, but an experience—an opportunity to journey through the artist’s vision, unearthing layers of emotion, narrative, and resonance.

In this way, the rule of odds serves as a testament to the profound impact art can have on the human spirit. It transcends the boundaries of the canvas, resonating with us on a deeper, visceral level. It is an invitation to explore, to question, and to connect. Through the rule of odds, art transcends the confines of its frame, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those who bear witness.

To wrap this up.

Art composition tips for beginners are just that and nothing more. You are encouraged to take this information with a pinch of salt and explore other possibilities inside your creativity.

Creating a strong composition does not have to include following strict guides all the time as long as you are aware of why and how you are composing your art.

Leaving results to form random outcomes is a great way to unleash the creative side of your work. Understanding the guidelines will help you navigate through your work. Use this to make informed decisions when it is necessary to enhance value to the final outcomes.

This blog post is part 8 of a 12-part fundamentals course for drawing & painting. If you would like to see what has happened in the past weeks. You can click the links below for more information.

Drawing Fundamentals: Weeks 1 & 2

Observation drawing Week 3

Drawing People & Faces week 4 & 5

Drawing from the Imagination Week 6

Color theory and methods of color application week 7

David Lagesse. local artist in mauritius


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