Composition in Two Questions


Composition can feel overwhelming with all the rules and theories. I find it helpful to distill it all down into two basic questions:

  • What do you want to say? (What is your big idea? What is the message you want to communicate through your work?)
  • How are you going to say it? (How are you going to arrange the visual elements in a way that communicates your message?)

That’s what composition comes down to.

I’ll give you an example. Here’s a photo I want to paint.

What do I want to say? I want to capture the beautiful contrast between warm lights and cool shadows… the interesting design of the overhanging tree branches and leaves… the turquoise blue of the water.

How am I going to say it? I need to push the contrast between light and shadow. I’ll use broken color and thick texture for the branches and leaves. Perhaps I’ll use a palette knife. I’ll push the color in the shadows-purples, blues, and greens rather than blacks, browns, and grays.

I’ll let you know how the painting turns out.

If you want to learn more, check out Composition Breakdown. It’s an 8-week deep-dive where you’ll learn how to craft more interesting compositions.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

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