Art Composition Glossary of Terms
This is the flat surface within the borders of your picture, in which you draw or paint. You control the picture area much in the same way you would if you were to take a photograph. Your camera allows you to frame the picture you are going to take within a certain border. You decide if you need to move closer to get a larger close up image, or move further away to include more objects in your view finder. Imagine you picture area this way. How do you want to use the space on your page? Use the picture area effectively by deciding where you are going to place an object or objects before you begin your work. Plan your picture. What size are you going to make the objects? What is your point of interest, or focal point? Is the size and location correct? Does it create the effect you are trying to portray?
No matter how small or large the artist makes an object, if it is the only thing on the picture area, the viewer cannot help but to be drawn to it. It is after all, the most important thing on the page. It is the only thing on the page. It is your focal point. To complicate matters, more objects are placed in the picture area. The viewer will not know where to go if the artist does not establish some type of scale of relative importance among the objects. This can be done by deciding the size of the objects, placement, colour, texture, detail, fading, foreground attention, etc.
Overlapping can be a good way to organize objects into interesting, unified arrangements. Almost everything we see on a daily basis is in three dimensions. Therefore, parts of the objects we are looking at could be partially blocked, or hidden by another object. If the artist partly conceals a portion of an object, they are in fact overlapping to create the feeling of importance. The piece we can see in its whole form is the more prominent object, the secondary objects are less important, and are partially hidden.
Depth can be defined as the illusion of distance or a third dimension. To create a strong sense of reality, you must have a sense of depth in your picture. Perspective is one way to create this feeling of depth. The objects are drawn or painted smaller as they go back further away from the eye. Another way to create depth is to overlap the objects. These methods work, but work better if done in an interesting way. For example, it is not very interesting if objects are lined up in a row, crowded, or arranged in an obvious design. Vary the objects, make them interesting, be creative, and experiment. Think and plan your work before you begin. The illusion of depth will keep the viewer interested in the picture.
This word used in the art composition means the direction the viewer’s eye travels when looking at a picture. The artist is creating a line so to speak by arranging forms or objects in the picture to have the main line leading the eye to the focal point. It is very important that the artist control the speed at which the viewer travels through the picture. If the picture is not planned out, any strong lines the viewer may see could lead them to a portion of the picture that is not important, or may even take them right out of the picture altogether. The eye should move through the picture smoothly and with rhythm. The artist should think, are the lines confusing? Do they lead your eye to the centre of interest? Are the lines crowded together? Are the lines creating the atmosphere you are trying to portray, or is the picture getting overworked, or confusing? It is good to ensure the lines of the painting flow, as you want them to at the sketch stage of the picture.
Just as depth, lines, and picture area, value is a key element to creating effective artwork. The overall value the artist gives a picture creates the mood the viewer will see and feel. Happy, ‘good feeling’ high key pictures should have value that is lighter then a picture that creates the feeling of sadness or despair, low key.
Values that create a mood in a picture should be consistent. The viewer’s eye will travel to the area of the picture that has the most contrast of values. If the object is surrounded by values equal to it, the object tends to disappear, and will loose its effectiveness as a focal point. The basic value plan in most pictures is light against dark, dark against light, dark and halftone against light, and light and dark against halftone. Good use values will create a painting that is not going to confuse the viewer. Again, the best place to see what values are going to create the mood you want to set is in the sketch stage.
Forms and Space:
Because real life forms appear to us in three dimensions, the artist has the challenge of recreating this effect in the forms on the paper surface, which is two-dimensional.
To do this, one must realize that every form needs space in which to exist. Each form on the paper takes up space, and space surrounds the form on the paper. Every picture must have this illusion.
When there are several objects in the same picture, the objects should be drawn solidly, and a relationship must be shown between the objects. You need to show which objects are nearest, which are farther away, and how close together they are. You have to have room in your picture for each object to exist as it would in real life. Forms occupy space, and space will exist between and around the objects.
Drawing objects on a flat surface as they appear to the eye is called perspective. Objects will appear to recede into the distance and give the effect of depth.
Our world is filled with a variety of forms, textures, and surfaces. If we have the eyes to see them, they create richness in our lives. An artist, through their pictures, can create a descriptive form and texture in their work to enable the viewer to see what they felt. A picture that contains a solid construction, and is well composed is not complete without texture. Textures can be created by soft strokes used to depict cloth, or clouds, while hard surfaces can be portrayed by using a firm rigid line, in a barn board, or building structure. An artist should feel the sandy beach, the soft grass, the woolen sweater or rocky mountain range. They must be able to feel it in order to portray it to the viewer, to touch their senses. Forms and textures are interpreted by the artist to create a mood or feeling in the viewer. Each artist will handle the subject their own way, with their own style. Texture within a picture should be just that, it is used to enhance the art, not overpower it. Texture must be combined with the other elements found in a picture to create balance, and not overpower. Creating form is the first step that will allow texture to exist. An example would be fabric. Once you have the form, the texture can be applied to allow the viewer to see soft flowing silky material, or a rough, tweed-like surface. The form could be the same at the beginning of the picture, but the over-al effect will be much different with the added texture.
Artists should experiment with textures on different surfaces, paper, canvas, or board. Work freely to learn through experiencing, discover techniques with washes, lines, light, dark, thick paint, thin paint, mixed media. Watch the effects you create through experimenting. What feelings are conveyed? What senses are touched? What mood is created?
Lines, shapes, gestures, and colour, and value can set the mood for the painting. The artist has control of what they want to viewer to see and how they could feel when they see it. They can show the viewer what they felt while creating the picture, and create an atmosphere whether it is hope, despair, pain, glee, heat, cold, excitement, or calm, the viewer will ‘feel’ something when they look at the art. colour, tone, edges, art composition, and value are all-important elements in each painting or drawing. We experience the subjects with our senses. We use hearing, scent, and touch to tell us about the subject. Mood is the total impression we get from the whole picture, the feelings it creates, the memories it may bring back. People have desires, prejudices, hopes, fears, aspirations, attitudes, and reactions. Artists have the ability to touch on many of our senses and allow the shapes and forms to come alive to us through their work. The artist is able to communicate to the audience through their unique appreciation of the subject what is important to them personally and creatively, and allow the viewer to feel.
Forms look different depending on the position or viewpoint from which you see them. Changing your eye level will change your view of the forms. This is one basic principle of perspective.
The rules of perspective are based on one simple rule. The further an object or portion of an object is from you, the smaller it will appear. Objects diminish as they go back. The height and width decrease proportionately.
If you were to look at telephone poles, or fence posts, the poles will be smaller and smaller as they go off into the distance, they will loose the colour and details in the wood as they get further away. The space between the poles will also change as they go off into the distance; the space will be less then what you see in the foreground. Pictures will have a horizon line. This is the place where the sky meets the ground in a landscape picture. The’ true horizon’ line is always the level of your own eyes and will change with you as you move higher or lower. If your eye level is 5’10” and you stand in a room, your eye level will be the horizon line of the room. If you are in the country, and your natural horizon line is blocked by trees and buildings, you should still be aware that the horizon line is there, and beyond the objects in front of you.
Parallel lines that are horizontal or level all appear to converge toward and meet at a definite point in the distance. This point is the vanishing point. It is on the horizon line and may be at any point on the horizon line.
To make your objects look real and to be convincing, the drawing must be in proportion. To create proportion, in an example of a building, study your subject before you begin your work. What are the buildings over-al proportions? Is it higher then it is wide? Is it square or rectangle in shape? Can I see the roof? Can I see one wall? Two walls? What are the size and shapes of the door or windows in comparison?
Establish the proportion of the largest mass, then the next largest’.save the details of the building for last. Make sure your drawing of the basic structure are in correct proportion to surrounding objects. You would not want a person in front of the building to be so big they would not get through the door. Nor would you want them so small that it will look odd in comparison to the door. All other elements of a picture, value, forms, space, lines, depth must be considered at the same time to create a picture that looks correct to the viewer’s eye. If something is not in proportion, the viewer very likely will see the oddity right away.
Rhythm and Design:
The simplest definition of design is when one, two, or three objects are repeated over and over. This can be in a brick wall, a fabric, wallpaper, tiles, etc. Design in a picture is when elements are rhythmically repeated. A good picture should be interesting and contain a variety of designs but at the same time, the designs should not become monotonous. In a case of repeated pattern in wallpaper, if that is all the viewer was seeing, they could become bored, or if it is a busy pattern, they could be confused. Placing an object such as a chair in front of the wallpaper will break up the monotony.
To create a rhythm in the picture, the artist can organize the elements in the picture. Rhythm can create moods such as peaceful or violent. The artist should maintain consistency throughout the painting, and decide what the most appropriate rhythm should be for the subject matter.
Art by Georgina Hunt.
Please see Art Composition