Powerful Shapes and Forms = Powerful Compositions

Composition is king! But the “how” of that ascension to the throne starts with basic steps — simple things you can do to put your painting compositions on the right path.

Here are seven lessons in the basic areas you should take into account when designing your composition — whether for a drawing or painting — all having to do somewhat with the importance of shapes. Thanks to artist Robert Reynolds for informing this list with a keen painter’s eye. It helped immensely.

East of Cambria by Robert Reynolds

Nothing Good Comes from Stasis

Robert Reynolds | Compositions | Artists Network

Storm at Sea by Robert Reynolds.

1. Be aware of static shapes. The completely dark, opened doorway or window into a building can create static shapes that immediately become “visual traps.” Varying the static shapes with graduated tones can add interest and take away the static hole created.

2. Dividing a composition so it has a number of equal shapes, horizontally or vertically, can lead to a static composition as well. Be alert for horizontal or vertical lines that unintentionally slice a painting in half or break it up into equal shapes.

Nothing Steals Attention Like…

3. Be alert that placing interesting shapes or elements on the edge of your composition could steal interest from the center of interest in your composition.

Long Shadows / Irish Hills by Robert Reynolds.

Long Shadows / Irish Hills by Robert Reynolds.

4. When learning how to paint strong compositions, creating perfectly shaped triangles in the corners of your composition can draw the viewer’s attention away from the center of interest. If triangles are unavoidable, soften the edges or stagger the forms.

5. Dividing your design into too many similar shapes is apt to produce an uninteresting composition. Likewise, be sure the negative spaces between shapes are not all the same width or height. There is a case to be made for occasionally repeated shapes in a composition. This will, in fact, hold it together. For every rule, there is always an exception.

6. Unless it is your intention, be careful not to include so many tension-creating shapes that the composition becomes busy or irritating.

See Abstraction in It All

7. The abstract components of a painting are a very important consideration. A representational painting is only as strong as its abstract components, so when you are evaluating your works be sure to look at your compositions with an “abstract” eye.

Bonus Tip: Practice, Practice and Practice Some More

Like all things, the more you put these steps into practice, the more they will seem natural and, eventually, become second nature as you create. Don’t worry about getting a composition perfect — that’s a race you can never win because perfection is a myth.

Instead, just don’t let your artistic momentum with compositions go to waste. Further your composition know-how with the Composition Confidential Kit.

This bundle includes a video workshop featuring 10 key composition lessons from top artists, a grid window tool to create the perfect proportions and 14 composition formats for successful landscape paintings. Enjoy!