Art composition tips for beginners

Composition rule of 3rds

The notion of a composition can be associated with a number of possible elements and guidelines. Some of which are more modern and others that date back centuries. Fundamentally, what is composition? And how will you benefit from understanding the following art composition tips for beginners?

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 important?

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

Leaving your art unexplained or confusing. The composition provides a structure with a focal point to keep your viewer engaged in the artwork you have created.

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 a 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.

With some easy composition methods.


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 the 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 thirds 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.

Such as small medium and large objects or elements. Or near and far.

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.

Such as finding the center point or looking for similarities and clusters of information.

Not allowing this sense of order to happen, forces the viewer to naturally keep moving through a painting. Bouncing from one element to another never really being able to find a stopping point.

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.

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.

Formalizing your art 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

5 thoughts on “Art composition tips for beginners

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