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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