Let There Be Light!
Basics of Composition
First Thoughts when choosing a Costume
The Sun, Part 1
Basics of CompositionBehind the Art
by Annie Rodrigue
Composition: Why is it so important to think about it first?
"Composition is the harmonious combination of forms and space." I could have tried and I just wouldn't have found a better sentence to explain it. Composition is the reason why we keep looking at an image wondering why we think it's so good. We cannot really see it, but it is such an important part of the work! I have to admit, though, that composition has always been my pet peeve. That's what takes most of my time when I'm working on an illustration. In the following paragraphs, I will try to explain the basics of composition and I will also give a few tips on how to place elements in your illustration without having to redo your work all the time.
I'm sure many of you have seen this grid before. The rule with this grid is as follows: The main focus of your illustration shouldn't be in the middle, but where the lines cross in this grid. Because your main subject isn't in the center of the piece, your eyes have to move around the image to understand it. I'll tell you the truth--I don't use it all the time. It depends on the subject and what feeling I want to create with the piece. If you want your work to be about a symmetric subject, chances are you will want to break the grid rule.
I will spare all the details about perspective because this can easily cover another article, but it does have an important part to play in composition. With atmospheric perspective, not only can you give depth to your artwork, but you can also give more contrast to the elements you want people to focus on and give neutral colors to neutral elements. Also keep in mind that the type of perspective you decide to use in your work will have impact on the whole composition (2 pt view or 3 pt of view perspective). Choose wisely!
Negative space will play an essential part in your piece. If your main character is surrounded with empty space when everything else is crowded in your illustration, you don't have any choice but to notice it right away. So, well-planned negative space can change the whole meaning of a piece. A good trick to understanding negative space might be to study some well-known illustrations or painting. There are not tricks on how to use negative space. It's all a matter of practice, really.
No, I'm not talking about the frame you'll buy for your next painting! Deciding what kind of shot you'll use can change the mood of your illustration drastically. Will it be a close-up of the face of your character? Or maybe it's waist-up? Or you want a full scene where the character takes almost no space at all? Sounds like we're preparing a movie, doesn't it? Well, it's pretty much the same idea! An illustration is like a still frame of a movie, after all. A well-framed illustration will make it easier for the viewer to understand what's going on.
Use the wrong color on an element, and you can completely change the meaning of a piece. Putting too many different colors can even make your illustration very confusing. A nice composition will include a limited color palette that will amplify the subject. It will also accentuate the mood. We will also cover color in details in another article. There is so much to say in that department alone!
Action / Movement
I know some might not agree with this, but I do believe that a good composition will have action or at least a bit of movement in it. I'm not saying that a portrait is a bad thing either, but a portrait where the character seems like it's moving its hand, holding something, or even just looking at something will have more impact than if he or she is doing nothing. But more importantly, the action will have an essential part in your work if it accentuates what is going on in the image. (Example: You want your character to pick up a flower and you want the focus to be all on the flower because it's special. You need the action of your character to show what he or she is trying to do, but you also have to make sure the action is not taking over the subject.)
That's a lot of things to take into account, isnít it? It's also hard to imagine that we can think of all that in our work on the first try! That's why we need to figure out shortcuts or tricks to place everything in our work before starting the final version of our illustration.
The first thing that comes into mind: thumbnails, which we covered in our preceding article. Thumbnails take only a few minutes, so it is easy to redo a particular part of an illustration or trying many poses for characters in a short period of time. Try it out!
My second tool: the copier. I'm aware that not everyone might want to use this trick, so feel free to try it out and see if it's for you. I basically do collage with my own drawings. I copy my first sketch two times and I cut things out from my second copy and move it around my first copy. I use regular liquid paper to hide things I don't want anymore and I tape things I've moved around. Of course I only do this when I work the composition. Once I know where I want everything to be, I can copy the collage to have a clean version without the tape and liquid paper and I do my final illustration using my collage as reference. It's a tool I don't always use, but it can be very useful at times.
What's Up Next?
We'll see how to prepare our canvas for a watercolor painting. What paper to use? How to transfer our final sketch onto the watercolor paper? Should we ink before painting or is it the other way around? Stay tuned!
I know I have covered a lot of new things without giving much details in this article, so if you have questions, feel free to drop by the EMG-Zine forum for more information!
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