Composition: It's Complicated

Episode 128 · June 6th, 2020 · 36 mins 30 secs

About this Episode

We touched on today’s topic in our last episode when we went briefly over through some important design elements. Basically we were talking about composition—how to arrange the visual elements on a 2-d surface so that they “work.” This is complex because each aspect of a composition affects others in subtle or not so subtle ways. Even a small change often necessitates revision in other parts of the work. In this way, composition can be thought of a problem-solving, whether it is figured out in advance or during the process.

It is important to not settle too quickly on your composition. Poor composition is perceived by viewers right away, causing a feeling of confusion, imbalance, and a sense that the artist has lacked intention. As the entry point for your viewer's attention, a good sense of organization and structure is essential. Although it is often a only minor addition or change that brings the work together, finding that last decisive move may require a lot of patience.

While intuition plays a role in finding good composition—an arrangement simply “looks right”—for strong and consistent work we also need a more intellectual understanding. Having a flexible and developed visual vocabulary and an awareness of design principles are important for creating and evaluating your compositions. Being willing to edit, or remove unnecessary aspects of your work, is vital. Feedback from another person is often helpful too, since we can lose sight of the big picture while immersed in the details.

Composition is so challenging that many artists settle into one approach that works and stay there for years. It can be hard to step away from something you have developed. But remember that compositions convey meaning, and if you don’t allow them to change over time, your meaning becomes overstated.

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