Friday, February 29, 2008

Composition: a range of perspectives

Daffodils #1
pen and ink and coloured pencils on Lana pastel paper, 14" x 11.5"
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

It's the last day of February and time for a round-up of composition and design posts to date by me and others. I'm really pleased by how this project triggered others into investigating composition - my posts on this topic have been some of the most popular in the 2+ years since I started this blog. I think that shows that there is definite interest in how we can all improve our knowledge and skills in composition.

I'm including in the summary below links to:
  • my own posts for the composition and design project - so far! I need to do some more over the course of the year (see also the note at the end)
  • links to posts by other people working in the visual arts and crafts fields on their blogs.
  • Not all of the links by other people relate to my project - but they are helpful nevertheless! Not all of the links are to recent posts. For those that aren't the aim is to include those that are helpful.

These are posts which comment across several aspects of composition and design
Book reviews


The best pictorial compositions are simple. Simple shapes are easy to recognize and remember. Busy pictures with lots of little separate shapes have less impact.
James Gurney Gurney Journey Shape Welding
Form and Texture
Nothing specific noted

Principles of design

Finding the crop and the focal point
Proportion (including rule of thirds)
The composition and design project - the story so far

Having said all that I am of course, using an image for this posts which seems to break a number of rules (centred subject matter; daffs just touch the edge of the paper) - did I tell you 'rules' can be broken? I like it - what do you think?

So this is the story so far.
  • I still need to review current/modern books which help with composition and will do this soon.
  • I'm still thinking over different options for how I can translate my research and my work publications such as 'a checklist for composition'.
  • Also, I'm afraid after my big push on composition and design during January and the beginning of February, I rather lacked the stamina to continue to do the research around how to apply compositional design elements and principles to different genres. However I have still this in mind to do this year - just a lot more slowly! I decided in the end that I wanted to avoid having 'rushed' posts so will take my time on this one.
  • Please comment below it you have any suggestions or particular recommendations as to any links or useful books which you think should be included around the main genres of:
  • figurative
  • landscape (but see below for an early contribution from American Artist)
  • still life.
Landscape composition
  • American Artist - Plein Air Pointers: Composition This comprises extracts of text from:
    • CARLSON’S GUIDE TO LANDSCAPE PAINTING by John F. Carlson (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York) Excerpt from Chapter 11: Composition—The Expressive Properties of Line and Mass
    • COMPOSITION OF OUTDOOR PAINTING by Edgar Payne (DeRu’s Fine Arts, Bellflower, California) Excerpt from Chapter 2: Selection and Composition
    • THE ELEMENTS OF DRAWING by John Ruskin (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York)
      Excerpt from Chapter 3: On Composition
    • THE WATSON-GUPTILL HANDBOOK OF LANDSCAPE PAINTING by M. Stephen Doherty (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, New York) Excerpts from Chapter 3: Planning Your Approach and Chapter 12: Scale and Focus

Note: If you think one of your posts should be included in this summary but that I didn't find it please contact me either by leaving a comment or get the details from here. Note I used Google Blog Search to try and make sure that I didn't miss anybody. You might want to check whether your blog has been found by Google and/or whether you make your topics clear in blog titles or through the use of blog labels or categories - as this is how Google tends to find the posts.


  1. I gasped when this image appeared on my monitor. It is so ethereal and full of light and color. The way you rendered reflected and ambient light with those variously colored hatched lines is stunning. Yes, I noticed the composition rules you broke , and no, I don't think that matters one iota. Those rules are conventional guidelines to be learned, understood, and broken when the occasion or impulse calls for it.

  2. I like it too. I've also seen lots of vase and floral compositions with the vase in the center. What makes them work is the emphasis in the "sweet spot" using values and/or color, usually on a single flower. The lightest white of one of the daffodils seems to fall almost on this very spot.

  3. I was stunned, too, by the daffodil drawing! But, I disagree about the comp being unruly.

    The vase is slightly off center, but you may see it as mostly so. I see the rule of thirds being used very well, and patterns and continuity of strokes masterfully done.

    I am no fan of flowers, BTW. My wife will put them on our table, and three days later I will say, "when did you put those there?"
    It was the composition than thrilled me.

    Funny you should link me, as today I posted on values and organizing grays. I noticed at my post that you linked that I made a promise to follow up. Thanks for the nudge, and I sense that many of us will be revisiting our composition regimen because of this great post.

  4. Katherine, this is another great post. Thanks for taking the time and effort to search out all the links and pull them together.

    I doubt anyone got as much done on composition as they wanted. Like a good meal, it keeps you hungry for more. Keeping with that analogy, this post could be several courses!

  5. There's lots of great information encapsulated here...thanks very much for this. And I was also blown away by the beautiful daffodil picture!

  6. Wow, you are really doing wonderful things with this impressionistic approach, Katherine. I think your daffodils are stunning and I love the illusion you have created with values and straight lines that magically comes together as a soft, fragile cluster of daffodils. I'm impressed!

    I'm also impressed by how productive you make me as I follow you on the learning trail. It's lovely to be included and I can't wait to see where you lead us next.


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