Composing Your Painting

Composing your painting is one of the most important skills that you will need to learn when starting to paint. Your composition determines how you would portray your subject.

Being one of the more challenging aspect of painting, it is not uncommon for artist at beginner level to disregard a painting’s composition altogether. They become so confident of their subject matter and too absorbed in mixing colors that they conveniently “forget” to consider the final arrangement of the piece.

This is a pity, considering that a composition can potentially make or break an artwork. Contrary to popular-yet-misguided belief, composition is useful not only just in painting landscapes or photography, but the principles can and should be applied in other type of artwork as well.

Composing your paintings should not be a mystery if you can remember the basics. For example, a subject does not need to be centered in the middle of the painting all the time. A good balance can also be achieved by making the subject slightly off-center, creating a sense of informality.

You can also apply the Rule of Thirds, that is, paint the picture in divisions of thirds, instead of simply dividing the canvas in half. When you do you research well, you will find out that there are various theories that can be helpful in composing your paintings, but you should not feel forced to apply it all.

Every artist will have several compositions that they prefer to use, so take the time to figure out yours without rushing.

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Here is a simple exercise can help you better understand the power of a good composition and also discover what kind of composition you instinctually favor. Go to a search engine, like Google Images, or an art website, like Now try to think of a keyword of a picture that you would love to paint. If you like sceneries, for example, type it “mountains” or “sunset” in the search box.

Typically the result would be in the form of several dozen thumbnails of pictures related to the keyword. If you want to narrow down the result to a specific type of art, include the relevant keywords in your search, such as “mountain oil paintings”, “sunset photos”, so on and so forth.

Now, without paying too much attention to the thumbnails’ details, try to glance over the whole result page within a few seconds. Take note of pictures that seem to stand out or generally interest you enough to justify a closer look. Open them out in new tabs to see a bigger, more-detailed version of each picture.

Observe the composition of the subject matter, the shapes and colors used, and most importantly, observe your own opinions of the picture. If an artwork is eye-catching enough to win your attention over other works of similar theme, you can almost always bet that the composition of the subject follows one kind of composition rules or other.

And that is what a good composition is all about. It is designed to grab the viewer’s attention regardless of the distance or size of the artwork. In displaying your online portfolio, a good composition will make your artwork stand out nicely and pleasantly, even as a small thumbnail.

In real life, you would want to make you artworks appealing enough to attract viewers from a distance, especially when your works are displayed in art galleries along with works from other artists. Take your time and study composition well, it is definitely worth it.

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