Composition & WHY it’s so important

 In art, composition


Composition is the first step to developing a piece with any artwork. Before putting paint on a brush, you have to sit down and think, “what is my objective?” Composition is the way you, as an artist, communicate to the viewers. In this article, you’ll see how much of a difference composition makes when you change it around. Before we dive into that, let’s find out what composition is! Composition is how your subject is situated on your substrate. Let’s continue. 


Classic Compositions

What are “classic” compositions? Classic compositions are typically what first comes to mind when we talk about composition – centered, nothing unusually cropped, and balanced. Those are pretty much the three ingredients of a classic composition. If you look at almost any Renaissance artists, you’ll see those elements in their paintings. Hint hint, this is why we call them classic – it’s because of the classic artists that used them. After a while, these compositions can become pretty static, it becomes “same old, same old.” That isn’t to say you’ll end up with a boring painting – not at all! Classic compositions are important to practice from, and we have proof throughout history that they don’t make up a boring painting. Classic compositions usually say “this is the subject. That’s all.”

A classic composition that is balanced and centered, without cropping.

Spot the elements! This classic composition has the subject centered and balanced, without any cropping.

A cropped, classic composition.

A cropped classic composition. Why is this considered classic if its cropped? Because the figure is still balanced and centered. The crop doesn’t change the message besides having the viewer focus more on the face that the rest of the figure.

A classic composition with the rose included.

This composition now includes the rose. With the rose, the message now has a deeper meaning. The model looks pensive and sinks into the chair, with a rose in hand. Was a lover lost? We have now made up a story, and it was from how we decided to crop the image.
















Contemporary Compositions

It wasn’t until Georgia O’Keeffe came around that experimentation with composition became a thing. Think about it this way: Georgia O’Keeffe was painting during the turn of the century in the 1900’s. Before and during her time were masters like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, among many, many others. Even Van Gogh had compositions with elements taken from the Old Masters. Why? Because artists during that time didn’t even think to play around with cropping. Can you image? It didn’t occur to them that they could crop a figure’s face in half. That’s why O’Keeffe is dubbed the Mother of Contemporary Art; O’Keeffe started to play around with cropping so extreme, that her flowers became almost abstract. Check out how our message can change when we crop one of the poses we had during a live model session at the studio.

A contemporary composition, in which most of the image is cropped.

By cropping most of the image, we have left ourselves fractions of everything: her face, shoulder, chest, chair, and background. Although the model is cropped, the picture is perfectly balanced with color. The reds are centered in the image, and the white colors are hugging the image from top and bottom. The model’s hair interrupts the symmetry, and it calls for an interestingly composed image.

A contemporary composition where almost everything is cropped.

The composition where almost everything is barely cropped, in this case, the face, legs, chairs, hands, and the background create a different feel from all the other compositions we have. The rose is the only part of this image that is not cropped. What kind of message does that give?

A contemporary composition

We can change the message of the painting by shifting the focus elsewhere – like the rose. We’ve now taken the model away by cropping her face out. Shifting the focus away from the model now gives the rose significance.

A contemporary composition in which negative space plays a key part.

Negative space plays a key role in this composition. By leaving the negative space on the left side, the viewer can’t see what the model is looking at. This kind of composition can also make the viewer a bit uncomfortable because of its close and unusual crop.




















These few examples can give you an idea of how much fun you can have with only one subject. What’s more is that we haven’t even done all the compositions you can do with this image, and you still have enough material to do more than half a dozen paintings! If you’ve ever come to a live model session, and you’re not feeling the whole model set up, try to focus on a key point that captures your interest. Maybe it’s the models ruffles on her wrists, or her makeup. The message your composition displays can also be a reflection of how you feel. Maybe you want to practice drawing hands, and that’s why you chose to crop everything but the hands. The message doesn’t have to be a story, it could simply be because you felt like it.

You have so much freedom as an artist, it’s kind of crazy.

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  • […] the Old Masters are rich in details: try to ignore them and see the “big picture” – the composition, to see how the artist achieved balance. Notice how everything on the canvas is perfectly […]

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