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How to Work on a Drawing Composition?

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"Drawing is an illustration of the soul. The better you draw, the stronger your soul gets." - P.S. Tavishi

Whether it’s about drawing imaginative creatures, real-life objects like cars, birds, plants, or cartoon characters like superheroes and villains, you are obsessive about what you love to draw. You try to achieve realism by rendering the full nature of what you perceive. It also includes the objects’ mass, texture, and even color, most of the time.

When you take inspiration from real-life, you realize how various objects exist at certain places to complete the whole scenery. They are a part of a bigger composition separated by spatial relationships. Now here arises a visual thinking problem.

When you draw from life, what should be drawn first - should it be objects and forms or the setting? The best solution is “Everything should be drawn simultaneously”.

In case, you focus only on one aspect then it becomes pretty complicated to decide the placement of other elements in the composition. So, working on the whole at the same time is the best approach you can go for. It doesn’t take time to adapt but it does take lots of practice. As you indulge, you’ll begin to conceive mental pictures of what you are going to create, so your drawing process becomes easier.

To help you out with your drawing composition, this article offers you some mind-bending exercises. These are pretty basic but are effective in stimulating your mind towards the concept of spatial relationships.

Human anatomy drawn using basic shapes

Human anatomy drawn using basic shapes

How to begin with the forms

The cylindrical shapes of cold drink cans, pipe, and tree trunk are clearly identifiable, but can you see this shape in a human’s thigh or forearm? Can you replace a human’s chest with an upside-down cone? Can you build an apartment using a pile of cubes? Can you build a whole human using only the cubes?

Take a page and draw objects that seem to have masses. You need to show an illusion of three-dimensions. You can do this using basic forms like a sphere, pyramid, cone, cube, cuboid, cylinder, and prism. The aim is to stimulate your vision to reduce the real-life objects into these basic elemental forms.

Take inspiration from Luca Cambiaso

Luca Cambiaso was an Italian painter and the leading artist of the 16th century. He is among the first few artists to draw human forms using simplified forms. His method can help you draw a figure into a three-dimensional illusion with only the help of basic forms. Here are two drawings from his collection.

Drawing inspired by Luca Cambiaso's work

Drawing inspired by Luca Cambiaso's work

One of Luca Cambiaso's original drawings

One of Luca Cambiaso's original drawings

How to begin with graphic space

To understand how to use your graphic space. Let’s start with a practical example where you are going to draw a room using only simple forms like squares, rectangles, and curved forms to give it a three-dimensional look. Here are the steps:

  1. Draw a rectangle and imagine it as a room space.
  2. Consider a point exactly one-third above from the bottom side of the rectangle and draw a horizontal line in mid. The line should have an equal gap on both sides.
  3. Join the horizontal line to the bottom sides of the rectangle with two diagonal sides.
  4. Finally, draw two vertical lines upward on the line in step 2. They should touch the top side of the rectangle. That’s it. You have drawn a tilted plane similar to a floor plane.

Isn’t it great? You have drawn a three-dimensional design only with the help of lines. You can draw more similar designs using only basic elements like a ball (using spheres), a cupboard (using lines), and so on. Here is the image of the final design.

A three-dimensional floor plane drawn using lines

A three-dimensional floor plane drawn using lines

To draw further, you can use the viewfinder to decide the right place for your objects as I mentioned its usage in my previous article.

How to begin with spatial relationships

Italian Renaissance Art created by John MacTaggart

Italian Renaissance Art created by John MacTaggart

The above image is an exemplary reference to the usage of spatial depth. The Renaissance art (revival of European art and literature) was known for its spatial illusions created by moving from foreground to background. The picture plane was assumed as a windowpane where the forms were displayed receding back into the pictorial space.

Art style during Baroque Era.

Art style during Baroque Era.

Next came the Baroque Era. Baroque was an architectural style that flourished in the early 17th century Europe till the 1740s. During this era, artists created illusions both in front and back simultaneously. The illusion makes you perceive an active image that seemingly is moving into your space.

We initially discussed forms, now we need to learn how to compose them in one picture. For effective composition, it’s important to consider the space around them and with respect to other forms.

Composition Guidelines

While drawing objects, it’s important to figure out their basic form. Similarly while composing them together, you need to consider the following guidelines. They are applicable to both fine arts and design. They can be used independently or in combination with each other.

  1. Balance - create equilibrium in the left and right, and top and bottom.
  2. Emphasis - establish a focal point to support your intention.
  3. Unity - create a composition where all the inclusive elements share an apparent visual relationship.
  4. Rhythm - draw a flowing structure with no particular emphasis on any object, rather the elements share equal importance.

As an artist, you are free to mold these rules for fine arts. However, for design and illustration purposes, it’s important to abide by these rules.

Here are some exercises to help you grasp these rules.

Example for Exercise 1

Example for Exercise 1

Exercise 1

  1. Place an object on the top of the table. Your table should be against the wall. Look at the table from its front edge perspective. Draw its front edge that’s going to be parallel to your page. Now study its top plane and draw the object. This will go from front to back.
  2. Now instead of the front edge, look at the table from the wall side. Draw the same drawing with a different perspective. You’ll notice how going from front to back and vice-versa changes the closeness of the object in your composition.
Example for Exercise 2

Example for Exercise 2

Exercise 2

Divide your page into the half with a lightly visible line. On one side draw a geometric or organic shape. Mirror this shape on the other side symmetrically.

Here, you have created the symmetric composition. This composition promises balance in your composition. You mirror equivalent elements that share equal visual weights with respect to their central vertical axis.

Difference between Symmetric and Asymmetric

Difference between Symmetric and Asymmetric

Example for Exercise 3

Example for Exercise 3

Exercise 3

Divide your page into the half with a lightly visible line. On one side draw a geometric or organic shape. Mirror this shape on the other side such that the new object is totally opposite of the original one. This is an asymmetric composition. In this, you need to draw objects just the way they appear totally opposite of yours in a mirror. The objects don’t share the same appearance on both sides with respect to their central vertical axis. You achieve asymmetry through equal distribution of the object’s visual weights through weight and counterweight.

Example for Exercise 4

Example for Exercise 4

Exercise 4

Draw three varying sizes of a basketball, cupboard, car, building, cloud, or plant. Use size, order, color, contrast, pattern, and position to place them into a visual hierarchy. The composition should be able to direct the viewer’s attention in a way you want? Do they view what you desire them to see first? Does their attention flow from first, then second, and finally to third as per your desire? Do your drawn object’s attributes (size, color, order, and so on) encourage the viewers to see the composition in a hierarchy?

Example for Exercise 5

Example for Exercise 5

Exercise 5

Draw one large image of any object such as a tree, car, dog, or human. This will be the focal point of your drawing. Draw other objects which are not standalone and instead, support the large object. Here you are giving emphasis to your composition. Most of the drawings have a focal point, where one element is exclusively emphasized while other elements are in subordination to it. The “emphasis” factor let your viewers know from where to enter into the composition.

Example for Exercise 6

Example for Exercise 6

Exercise 6

Draw five to seven geometric or organic shapes. You can also draw their combination in any way you prefer. Place them into compositional flow such that the viewer sees them either from bottom to top or from left to right. It can also be a diagonal flow, curved flow, or zig-zag flow.

Conclusion

Try out these exercises to transform your mind from drawing basic forms to bringing them into a composition. In composition, you need to majorly consider the spatial relationships between objects and how can they together create an effective visual placement. I have given a few examples in this article. I urge you to do your own research as well and deeply understand this important drawing concept.

That’s all with the drawing composition. Thank you for reading.

Summary of Composition by Anita Green

how-to-work-on-a-drawing-composition

© 2020 PS Tavishi

Comments

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 19, 2020:

Excellent guidelines. Thanks.

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