Composition in Art (Part 2)

Hello Again, and welcome back to The Muse !

On our previous post we spoke briefly about Composition in Art in an introductory way. On this post we would like to dive in further on the elements that actually make a painting well composed.

What are the elements of composition?

In order to organize visual components in an artwork, artists usually follow some of the compositional rules that would make the work more appealing or intriguing to the viewers.
Composition gives layout and structure to each art piece, and also affects the way the subject is perceived and understood. It leads the eye of the observer through the image and emphasizes the focal point. In Western art there are some general elements of composition that throughout the centuries were the guiding points for artists in achieving successful visual presentation.


Provides a sense of dynamism depending on whether symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial balance is applied. Having a symmetrical arrangement adds a sense of calm, whereas an asymmetrical arrangement creates a more dynamic feeling. Simply It is sense that the painting “feels right” and not heavier on one side.


Links all elements of composition together, but sometimes parts can be made to look awkwardly out of place.


Relates to a sense of motility achieved through the arrangements of objects that guide the viewer’s eyes. There are many ways to give a sense of movement in a painting, such as the arrangement of objects, the position of figures, the flow of a river. You can use leading lines (a photography term applicable to painting) to direct the viewer’s eye into and around the painting. Leading lines can be actual lines, such as the lines of a fence or railroad, or they can be implied lines, such as a row of trees or curve of stones or circles.


Is a more generalized ‘beat’ of an artwork. In much the same way music does, a piece of art can have a rhythm or underlying beat that leads your eye to view the artwork at a certain pace. Look for the large underlying shapes (squares, triangles, etc.) and repeated color.


Is related to all the elements being arranged as to point to one spot, and if this element is not present the piece may seem to lack in unity and dynamics. The viewer’s eye ultimately wants to rest on the “most important” thing or focal point in the painting, otherwise the eye feels lost, wandering around in space.

Contrast and pattern:

Both are important as long as the motility and rhythm are concerned. They relate to dark/light and color contrasts, or repetition of lines, shapes or colors in addition to textures.
Paintings with high contrast—strong differences between light and dark, for example—have a different feel than paintings with minimal contrast in light and dark.
Pattern is regular repetition of lines, shapes, colors, or values in a composition.


Affects how things relate to one another regarding size, distance, and scale whether big or small, nearby or distant.


Deals with difference. Our drawings and paintings should include some variety.

Planning Your Composition:

We should plan our compositions before we attempt to execute them. We need to know “where we’re going” with our artworks. We should plan the final result before we set out to create it. We can change our ideas as we work if we wish, but we should have a general idea of what we want the finished work to look like before we dive in.

In most cases, planning a composition involves creating small drawings that lack details. These small drawings are often called thumbnails or preliminary sketches. Thumbnails should be created quickly and should be approached with an attitude of experimentation. The more thumbnails that you create before starting on the final surface, the better your chances are at creating a successful composition. As you create your thumbnails, be open to trying different things. Experiment with the positioning of subjects and with the balance of positive and negative space. Consider how a viewer’s eye may move through the work. Try vertical-based compositions and compare them with horizontal ones. Experiment with different colors. Keep your mind open.


  1. Rancière J., (2006), The Politics of Aesthetics, p.116.

Written by: Hiba Mohammed

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