Visual composition is a very important subject to study and try to master as early on as possible, because good composition often makes a good image. I admit that I need to practice consciously being aware of this! and also begin to familiarize myself with the terms used within analysis of an images composition. If i understand how critics or other artists analyse a illustration, I can tailor my art to focus on improving my use of these principles, then I can create better images. Simple as that, so lets jump in...
Composition can be quite a complex nut to crack and when you do try, your not always sure what is waiting for you inside because there are many different rules that can be utilized to different affect; so I wont talk about them all.
Generally one of the main rules most artists use as a guideline for composition is the rule of thirds.
I remember my art teacher attempting to teach me about this in high school, which by the sounds of things is quite a rare occurrence. Back then I was the sculpture kid, so I didn't pay too much attention to it...
The idea is to divide your canvas into a three by three grid, giving you nice equal parts. You would then place the focal point and sub focal points at the intersections of this grid to help generate a more interesting picture, its all about how your eye interacts with the information withing the boarders of the canvas.
As a novice with no understanding of this rule, you might often center focal points in your image, but this rule breaking is usually considered a bad thing; if your subject is in the middle of the image, it’s considered static.
Your eye is drawn to it but then has nowhere else to go from there because the
object is equal distance from all sides.
However, it can be used effectively in certain cases where the artist knows when best to break the rules, such as when emphasizing balance or symmetry.
David Peterson from digital-photo-secrets.com thinks "Rules that are broken for a good reason often make the best works of
art. It shows that the creator took time to understand their craft in
such a way that they can bend the rule. That’s a true artist."
In his article he discusses why the rule of thirds works and tell a little bit about its history, pretty interesting.
For those seeking to critique another painting and understand what makes
and illustration work or not work, there are several terms commonly used amongst visual designers to understand that question and ultimately break down composition, finding out why an image may impact you as much as it does
and how to repeat that affect in other works.
I found an interesting tutorial that attempts to outline these terms and show how they are used by, analyzing old masters paintings and seeing how these principles were utilized to effect.
In the video the lecturer basically outlines these terms or principles, and how they can be used to to great effect in an image.
Hierarchy - The arrangement of structured importance in an image - So you want to place your focal point at the top of the hierarchy, and make sure that order is not confused.
Rythm/movement - The position and spacing of objects to create a sense of movement. I.e giving the impression that objects are literally moving within the 2D plane or it can be talking about stimulating the movement of your eye over the canvas. This is a deeper subject because with the tools you can apply, you can control the kind of eye movement you want to viewer to use when viewing your image. Be it a slow meander around the page as the lecturer goes on to explain, or a harsh zig-zag from from point to point.
Variety - An artist should aim to include elements with different characteristics, lacking uniformity - because we find uniformity boring to look at. The variety does not need to be bold however, for example it can be best served subtly when emulating nature.
Unity- a feeling of wholeness in the image, when all the elements exist in harmony with the vision of the image making it all feel like it belongs there. It can be used intentionally, for example when a large character is placed amongst small surroundings, it can help make that character pop out.
Balance- Even distributions withing the image plane, while retaining the necessary hierarchy thats been established.
Lines - markings or edges creating strong directions, curved or straight. vertical horizontal and diagonally.
Contrast - Opposing ideas used together to add interest; here are some examples to think about that were provided in the video -
Tonal(light vs dark)
Edges (soft vs hard)
Colour (warm vs cold)
Shape (round vs square)
Line (curved vs straight)
Scale (small vs large)
Detail ( heavy vs light)
Alighnment (good vs evil)
structure (simple vs complex)
Thinking about shape and scale, one rule that uses these well is the rule of Framing. This rule basically makes use of objects to provide a natural frame for your focal point.
Such as objects in nature like trees, archways, mountains, clouds and holes. If you place these around the edge of the composition it helps isolate the main focal point in the hierarchy fro the outside world. Effective use of this often results in a more focused image that draws you eye naturally to the main subject of interest. This can be quite difficult to achieve, but when done right it is very striking.