Top composition concepts in painting!

golden ratio

Any activity has its own principles and rules that must be followed in order to achieve high results. Fine art is not an exception. Without knowledge of the rules of composition, perspectives, etc., you will not be able to do a professional qualitative work.

All this need to be learned. Moreover, you should not forget about the constant development of drawing skills. Let’s talk about the foundation of fine art – composition.

What is a composition, and what is it like?

When we take pictures, we choose the most successful angle to get a good shot. That is, we are looking for the point from which the objects that we want to see in the photograph will be best seen. The same story is with painting. It is equally important to find that successful perspective that best conveys the idea of the imagery. Only unlike photography, we ourselves can distribute objects on a sheet and change their sizes. And for this you firstly, need to master the basic principles by which the composition is built.

So, first, a little theory about the composition itself.

To be going on with, you need to understand what composition is and why it is so important.

Composition is the location of the depicted objects on the canvas. That is, the distribution of figures in space and their correlation. If you correctly position the objects, then visually they will be in a harmony with each other.

The painting composition can be divided into 2 types: static and dynamic. The first type conveys a sense of balance and calm, put in other words – static, and the second vice versa – movement and emotionality.

How to achieve static composition?

The feeling of stillness is created by straight lines: the vertical axis and the horizontal line. Scilicet, objects that are perpendicular to the horizon line should be located on the sheet.

How to achieve dynamic composition?

To achieve dynamics, we need to shift the angle of the vertical line, this will add movement to the composition. For clarity, i can give an example with a glass.

glass drawing

If you depict it standing on the table (the glass is a vertical line, and the table is a line parallel to the horizon), then such a composition can be called static, because the glass just stands on the table. And if you depict a tilted glass (that is, the angle of the vertical axis shifts), you will get the feeling that the glass is falling (dynamic composition).

The concept of focal point.

Focal point is what the viewer should focus on. By the general idea of the artist, this particular object should first of all catch the eye of the viewer. Artist should not only determine the center, but also make an accent on it, without violating the overall composition. Of course, there are options when the center is absent, but those are specific works and rather are an exception.

How to highlight the center?

There are tricks to help you highlight the desired object.

  1. The contrast center.

It is created using the difference between light and dark objects. The focal point is contradistinguished in color to the rest of the painting. It should be either lighter or darker than the rest of the image elements. Such a contrast will immediately attract the attention of the viewer. But remember that darkened objects visually appear smaller than light ones. Therefore, using this method it is important not to upset the proportions, otherwise you can destroy a successful composition.

  1. Axis.

You can use directional lines. They will lead to the center of the composition. Objects must be arranged as if they are strung on an axis and strive to the center. Or, you can use directed lines, if the artist’s idea requires it.

  1. Dimension.

The easiest way to show the center is to do this through the size of the image. Accordingly, if the object is larger than the others objects, then the viewer’s eyes will fall on it in the first place. You can do the opposite: the center of the composition may be smaller than all other objects on the sheet, which will help to achieve the same effect.

  1. Versatility.

At the painting can be depicted a lot of different objects. In this case, versatility will help us. With its help, you can convey the depth of space. We bring the focal point to the foreground, and all other objects to the background. You can do the opposite, by moving the center to the background. The principle is the same – only one object is in the background, the rest in the foreground. To enhance the difference will help the image blurring. It’s like in photography when only the desired object remains in focus. In your works you can use several techniques at once.

The main thing, while making the composition, do not forget to take into account the proportions and rules of perspective.

All objects on the sheet are subordinate to the focal point. The size of objects in the painting as a whole will depend on it.

The basic principles of composition.

We already got acquainted with some tricks that can be used to create statics or movement and attract attention to a specific object. Now it’s time to talk about the basic principles of composition, which every artist should know when starting work.

The integrity of the painting is a complete piece of art. By looking at it, a feeling of completeness should be arised. All objects must be united by one common sense and be in the same environment. This makes the composition harmonious.

The “Golden Ratio” or “Golden proportion”.

This is a concept that is the standard of structural harmony. In quantitative terms, it looks like this. If we take the entire length of the line as 100% and divide it into two parts, then the ratio of the segments should be 61.8% to 38.2%.

golden ratio

  1. Golden Ratio Spiral. It is also called Archimedean spiral. You need to imagine a spiral on paper and place objects on it.

  1. The diagonal method. It is applicable when objects of different meanings are depicted. Accomplish this, we draw a diagonal dividing the sheet into two triangles. From one of the corners of the sheet, we draw a perpendicular segment to the existing diagonal. As a result, on the sheet we got three different triangles. All significant objects we place inside them.

To create a harmonious composition, you need to correlate the scale of the objects with the proportions of the triangles: a large object in a large triangle, a small one in the smallest, etc.

The Rule of Thirds.


A simplified version of the complex “Golden Ratio”. In order to do that, divide the sheet into 9 equal parts by perpendicular lines. The easiest option to create a harmonious composition is to place a significant object in the central rectangle. If you are depicting several objects, it is best to do at the intersection of the lines of our rectangular grid.

If you need to select any objects, it is better to place them directly on the lines. If you draw a landscape with a clear horizon, then the ratio of sky and land will be 2 to 1.

The rules of ratio between perspective and flatness.

To create a sense of space, we can use various tricks. For example, if you depict an object closer to the lower edge of the sheet, then it will be perceived as an object located closer to us. If the object is far from the edge, especially with regard to the central location, it seems as if it located far away.

Viewers perception.

Now let’s talk about the viewers perception when looking at a particular painting. Indeed, for the artist the most important thing is to convey his idea with the help of art. Usually the human sight is directed from left to right. Therefore, it is best to locate the focal point on the left side. If a painting is with a dynamic composition, then it is better to direct the movement from the left edge to the right.

Dynamic works attract more attention than static ones.

When creating a masterpiece, it is important to consider what emotions you want to arouse in the viewer. The desired experiences can also be created by using lines. So, horizontal lines create a feeling of stillness. A vertical is an upward striving towards something important. Diagonals and inclined lines – create a feeling of removal, a path that goes into the distance. The broken and intersecting lines show violent emotions, unpleasant feelings or even aggression, as can be seen in the pictures where the battles are depicted. Smooth lines and bends symbolize peace, which is clearly felt in the landscapes.

How to make a composition of objects in a still life painting.

So, we figured out the theory. Now let’s look at a classic composition, such as still life, and think which of the tricks we can use when creating a masterpiece.

Initially, it is important to consider what we will paint and what our work will consist of. Even if this is just an educational setting, objects should not be randomly arranged, but should be subject to a single idea and theme.

When compounding objects, three points are taken into account:

  1. Format (horizontal, vertical or square)
  2. Symmetry or asymmetry
  3. Composition (scheme): triangle, diagonal or circle.

Now let’s check out everything in order. Let’s start with the format.

Horizontal is the most common. It allows you to arrange more items on the table. Drapery is often used to create the depth of the painting.

With the vertical arrangement of objects appears a sense of growth. In this format looks good object like flowers or tall elongated vases. The square format helps to focus the viewer’s attention on the center and creates a sense of stability. The round format is not very common, because it is not very convenient to arrange objects.

Now let’s see the schemes by which it is better to arrange objects.

Triangle. With such a scheme, the highest object will be in the center, and smaller ones at the base of the triangle.

Circle. This arrangement is good when you use the square format. With this scheme, there is no main subject that would stand out from the rest.

Diagonal. In a still life painting, such inclined lines will create a feeling of imbalance. Also, using such a scheme, you can create an emphasis on an empty part of the sheet, for example, by placing there a window.

The correct and incorrect arrangement of objects.

Items can be arranged symmetrically to create a sense of stability. Also, the static still life can be achieved by arranging objects close to each other. Asymmetric composition will show the dynamics. But here it is important to maintain the composition as a whole, or rather the balance in it. A free arrangement creates a feeling of light and freedom.

Creating a composition, you can use the rules of the “golden ratio” and thirds. Objects also need to be selected in a special way. It is better to use three sizes: large, medium and small. Do not line objects in one line and make sure that the axes and contours of different objects do not merge. To create depth it is better to partition one object with another.

As you can see, there are a lot of rules, and they need not only to be known, but also applied in order to learn how to create holistic harmonious works and fully convey the idea embedded in them.

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