Composition exercises

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  10 October 2009
Wink Composition exercises

Composition exercises!

Hello everybody, lately I and Matthew-S started more intense conversation about composition and started something like a workshop or class to discuss about this stuff so visually as in words. Some people wanted this to be more public thing and I agree. So I copied below everything concerning composition from our previous conversation and I hope anyone interrested will read and post images with given exercises or post his/her suggestions to further exercise/discussion about composition.

Welcome everyone and let's get started!


Me and siiilon was discussing composition and here I am writing a little about it, I'm no pro though so take what you can learn from this and keep studying about it yourself.
I decided I wanted to add the info in siiilon's sketchbook so some of you other guys could get the information too.

My teacher always told me that I shouldn't place things in the middle, this however was in decorative painting but I do believe that the rules are there no matter what category u are in though and comes back in everything that we paint.
Always remember though guys that the rules are there to teach you but they are also there to be bent upon, otherwise it all just gets boring.

In composition you have tool called Golden Ratio (I hope that's what it's called in English?). this Golden Ratio tells you where to place things on your canvas.
Preferably this is to give your piece a flow and also put things so that the focus are not entirely on the object that you paint.
There's a a ceratin flow to think about, you want they eye to wander in the piece that you are creating.
Me and siiilon talked about this earlier. This golden ratio is good tool to make you lead the viewers eyes where you want them to look.
A simple Golden Ratio would look like this, I bet there are other designs out there but this kind of thinking works for me and it is what I was taught.
I also bet that there are also some rules that some artists still don't wanna teach to the young and struggling artist. Not sure why this is? I remember I had a lot struggling to understand how you build depth with color back in the day. No one told me certain rules about it and it sure takes time to learn a lot of these rules.
Both learning them and understand them/

Simple Golden Ratio.
This quick picture shows where the placement should be concerning the golden ratio, placement of interest.

This one shows the direction of interest, pick one arrow.
Now this is just a suggestion of direction because from this ratio you want things to move or should I say point inwards you canvas. Understand?

Something pointing towards a certain direction should go from that golden ratio, this i why they place the head in portrait painting with direction to the side which is more opened.
You cannot have a head pointing outwards from the canvas placed in the middle of your canvas.
Maan this is difficult to describe.
I really should have made more pictures lol.

This third one shows what I talked about above, preferable placement of the figure during a portraitive placement. Exaggerated of course because portraiture are usually more squarish rectangle high position shaped.

This fourth shows bad placement

Now in these three I made some quick overpaints based on the golden ratio, u know I like this kind of golden ratio because it opens up for perspective.
remember to bend the rule though because sometimes it works better differently.
It's a powerful tool though to have in the back of your head.
ok I am just gonna post these here.
Perhaps if you have some questions we can have them after this.

lol I bet no one wants to read all of this, damn much rambling haha
btw what I did was just to open up the direction the vehicle is placed, this takes from the ratio dicsussed upon and places the objects inwards from the direction to where it points, right?

oh my I might get back and edit a little, hopefully the typing is not 100% bad.
keep up guys you sure are improving, especially you siiilon, soon you gonna teach us here in cgsociety.
Mattias (Matthew)

EDIT: To see the original ugly images from which these comopisionally enhanced versions was build follow these links :
My Skethbook
My Blog

Last edited by siiilon : 10 October 2009 at 08:29 AM.
  10 October 2009
Vyse-soa :
Dont know, if I get it.
Are these three overpaints based one of the arrows in this diagram.

So the first two are following the direction of arrow No.3 and the 3rd of No.4?
Is it that simple, or did I get something wrong?

Siiilon :
Vyse-soa: I gues it is as easy, but the problem is to put it into real workflow when you are not absolutely sure how the whole should look like. And on the top of all of that there are other rules like on this link which might serve well together with this FAQ going on here.

Mattias: Thanks man so much, those images are worthy tousands words, though I need time to process this. One big question arose in my mind watching and thinking about this issue : I see you mostly putting the focal point (subject matter) in one of those cornes of golden mean rectangle, but I am also interrested about objects stretched across the whole canvas. How to view these? Let say it's a concept of that war machine or a creature, and not environment itself. I gues it's much harder then, to realize what is a bad design of that subject and what is simply a badly set camera view.
And about this overpaint, it's not absolutely according to the golden mean, is it? Isn't it one of those cases when it's better bend the rule?

Just adding to the conversation, those pictures above I put to the extreme but I think it is just easier to see it when pushed to the extreme.
Usually you don't have only a truck in the scene but rather you have a forest in the background maybe dark weather and rain coming in.
Don't think I should have put a rule to the ratio, it's just a means of work to put interesting balance into your work. In my case it usually is to add perspective, that's what I like most with painting. the possibility to put depth into it makes it so grand imo, makes us the creator.

I think it would be easier to make exercises, maybe post some more pictures or maybe I can make some and ask you what kind of composition that would work best?

siiilon, you are right about that overpaint, looking to the angle on the cannon and all though it for me would preferably. However in your case with your pictures I do believe you focused on the vehicle. Still though it could have opened up a little to the ratio.
Perhaps I could show a more subtle version. However there's always this thing that I think you sometimes have to choose between adding perspective or add depth with maybe color or tonal.
The constant choice makes it hard to teach this I believe.
You see photos all the time that put things in the middle to make focus, you gotta understand that something put in the middle really puts the thing paint in focus.
Perhaps that thing should be better put a little bit to the side.
It all depends on what more you have in the scene.

In the case of your vehicles siiilon. maybe some of them could also have more vehicles in the bakground. This makes it a more grand army.
There's so much to put into consideration.
I really don't think that deep but if you really wanna be good guys you have to put everything into consideration.
let me know what to do, if we should have an exercise?

vyse-soa, the ratio is just a tool. the arrows was jsut to show you prefered direction.

siiilon, btw the goldern rule doesn't have to be those corners but your vehicles rather suggested that looking at the direction they were pointing.

I looked at that link above, looked breifly at the first page because the others weren't working. I guess you call it Golden Rule. However the focal point he made in the description. it really can be placed anywhere on the ratio(rule), you know it all depends on the direction.
Snif I am bad with explanation.
See if I can do some more bad pics later.

This probably needs time though, add some more questions and I will try to answer.

Siiilon :
I am very thankfull to Mattias for this extraordinary effort and I am inviting anyone willing to take part in this process of exercise. Yes, I am going to do these exercises aimed to composition, and although those first 3 artilleries were just artillery studies, there was no intention to make them more interresting than references; now, when I came across those studies, I will use this material and really play with them to enhance composition. No details, just keeping the basics in mind try to apply the above mentioned composition rules. I have allready some ideas prepared and this evening I am posting several overpaints together with comments and questions.
Since this is my sketchbook, I would like to post some COW concept progression here, so I hope this won't mess this topic too much I will like to talk about composition and design in this concept too anyway, so I hope anyone willing will post suggestions, comments, questions, answers, overpaints, his/her own stuff to poit to, etc.
If there will be more people wanting to go through the upcomming exercises, I suggest making an isolated thread like "daily speedpainting" is (Although I see no problem been it here for now).

I think it would be easier to make exercises, maybe post some more pictures or maybe I can make some and ask you what kind of composition that would work best?

Yes please

The constant choice makes it hard to teach this I believe.

Don't fully understand what do you mean.

I looked at that link above, looked breifly at the first page because the others weren't working. I guess you call it Golden Rule. However the focal point he made in the description. it really can be placed anywhere on the ratio(rule), you know it all depends on the direction.

Sorry, but I really have no idea what you are talking about here again xD


Some additional thoughts:

There are other compositional tools:

  • rule of thirds
  • value
  • color
Would love to hear your thoughts on those

With choice I mean that it is in the end up to you, how you want to do it.

The link was referral to that Philip Straub link you posted above.

ok then, how can you improve this composition?

And here's an example with small adjustments.
This first one, there's no open space in the direction to where he is looking.
Now, what you can do in this situation is to open the space a little, makes you ponder about what he is looking. It also opens up to the direction that he is looking at, you don't want your piece to get too crowded, or should I say stuffed.
First one/

Second one fixes the too filled composition, opened up to the left, gives the space I was talking about. Small adjustment.
Let me know what you think, hopefully these shows a little about the direction I posted about, above yesterday?


Here is my first attempt, I overdid it a bit, but I am looking forward to your insight.

I am following with another images ...

NR43: I believe that this image describes the rule of thirds, just without unnecessary lines, but the essence is there I think. As for the color, value and other elements of composition, I hope we can get there one by one.

Here is another one, these overlaping objects serves well. Perhaps not these mine, but I starting to feel their potential.
My Skethbook
My Blog
  10 October 2009
Hey siiilon the first attempt is perfect.

The second one I can show you here, you want the action to get back into your canvas, not pointing outside.

the first one above fixes the composition with a big change

This second one changes the picture with a small fix, to get action back into the canvas. I guess I am talking about direction. Sorry if I don't make sense, usually I keep talking about a lot of things. Happens unfortunately in real life sometimes aswell. lol

I like you siiilon, usually people you pm with don't respond and don't answer you but you have really been giving me good feedback aswell here in cgsociety and my blog when I had comments on.
keep up the good work.

ok I will be back tomorrow again.

That's wonderfull Mattias, this tight communication, I feel again learning something. Not meantioning how fascinating this composition starting to be (so as the perspective started been lately). I will keep posting composition sketches until I get my head around it (at least to get rid of the most horrible mistakes xD ). Thank you for your constant effort.

Here is another one, I tried to ballance it, but I think I fill it too much. But anyway, I will rather post 20 attempts instead of 2 to keep having enough material to talk about.

the composition in the sketch with the figure gesture on white background can also be improved without changing the pose completely.
Make the character look to the left, bend the torso and arms a bit. Then add negative space to the left (as you mentioned).

Only saying this because there was a certain elegance to the first gesture, which was totally lost in the 2nd figure.
What do you think?

tricky one, the one with the 3 artillery trucks.
all the barrels point from left to right, which is the natural flow of the eyes of every viewer already. I think the detail on the middle one isn't enough to pull the eye back? Maybe a bit less detail on the one on the right? Blurring it a bit will also increase DOF... You'll have to see what works best.
My Skethbook
My Blog
  10 October 2009
Wonderful idea.

Nr43, the figure was just to show composition, guess I ran out of time lol.

siiilon, Not sure I have much to add but keep em coming.
-Genious what you did with the trucks in the exercise 3.
keep up the good work.

Last edited by Matthew-S : 10 October 2009 at 05:01 PM.
  10 October 2009
Matthew-S: the same way as it is great to see what is false and how could we imporve it, I would also like to know why is something good. Those two my images you marked as having a good composition wasn't done according some "composition template", bacuase I am not clear about how to make it happen, I reduced the rules to just "keep the eye in the image". And further I see that there is something more like : what is eye doing inside the canvas? Does it rest on one place, or is it travelling steadily across the "focal points", or does it have some main anchor and still here and there leave that place and wander a while to less strong focal points? What makes the eye stop at some point and have a good feeling been there? Does it have something to do with ballance? Exactly for this purpose I chose your compositionaly enhanced version of a guy above to show my thoughts leading to understand a very good feeling I have observing this image.

First of all I decomposed the process of image observation into these main phases :

1. preliminary phase - first peek into the image :
I read that eye has a tendency to enter the image from it's corners and mainly from the left ones. From which corner the eye enters what it will follow?
2. steady phase - ballanced situation - whether leaving the canvas or resting on the main focal point, or travelling regularly across the checkpoints(focal points).

1. there is a high contrast curve from the down-left corner leading the eye right onto the guy's face.
2. The eye stops there, but then realizes the guy's viewing direction aiming to a face in the foreground, but at the same time it realizes there someone else on oposite direction.
3. Now a magical moment happens, I feel it is a beautifull ballance in the way those two secondary person's heads stealing attention, but equally. No problem since the gretest contrast remains on the central guy's face, but it is the tension between those another two that stimulates your peripheral vision. It gives the sense of depth, there is not only the central guy, but rather "guy in the crowd". But it is stil that central guy who remains important.
This is what I think about this, I am interrested what you guys think about it
My Skethbook
My Blog
  10 October 2009
oh my oh my to know why something is good is the hardest question in the world, u gotta remember that a picture can still be good eventhough it really breaks all the rules there is.
Abstract paintings are the proof of that but it also comes down to what interests you and what you prefer in the picture or painting.
I have a painting in front of my laptop here from "Maurice Esteve" a painting named "Fresselines, now this painting has colors all over the place and should according to color theory not work but I still like it a lot.
You asked me about what makes the eye stop and find interest, this I believe lies within what you find interesting.
I know a lot of people who posts in these forum and also in Sijun finds detail very interesting, they adore it I believe.
Now I on the other hand don't really understand too much of it ánd to explain why should probably take a lot of typing, too much.

Here's a contradicting piece, how could you improve this one?

Here's one I made with perspective, do this one suffer from bad composition or could it work?
  10 October 2009
To expand a little on leading the eye.

This is not entirely made by choosing composition, to lead the eye you really have all the categories at your disposal. Drawing, perspective, tonal, scale, and color.
In a grey environment you can have an orange blob and that is what the eye will draw attention too.
The composition rules within the back of your head will help you place the objects in your environment.

ok gotta go
  10 October 2009
Thanks Mattias for these, here is the second.

The first one seems a bit challenging, I will do it tommorow. I learnt here to better prepare myself before painting, here I fiddle too much without intention, I messed up so perspective as lightning and after correction I end up with blurry image with too much and nothing at all.

CU tommorow
My Skethbook
My Blog
  10 October 2009

Putting 2 complementary colors right next to eachother creates color contrast. This will attract the viewer's eye.

Putting a high value tone (a lighter shade) close to a low value tone (a darker shade) will create tonal contrast. This will pull the eye even stronger than color contrast.

The hard thing is to find the amount of contrast that works best...
  10 October 2009
siiilon, wow what you did with the perspective piece is awesome, gotta admit that I have problems with overlapping and scaling objects interesting...
Still think it is problematic to focus on a character without making it flat and still have a neat composition.
I continued on yours siiilon.
  10 October 2009
It's encouraging seing you don't give up my poor attempts, I feel then more energy not to give up my own things in the future. Like Andrew Jones, J P Targete or Marko Djurdjevic once said, that you need to have the belief into you're going to handle it towards the finnish, and then you will. Anyway, I am sorry for I can join back to this activity only starting monday, I'll be busy with the COW now, I want to make it appropriately. There are only 3 days ahead so I have to hurry up .
CU, Michal
My Skethbook
My Blog
  10 October 2009
no problem. Am busy myself so let's just keep it opened for the future this thread.
I think you probably now more than me already about this anyway lol.
  10 October 2009
Hey Mattias, I like your selfdestructive sense of humor , how could I know more?

Anyway, here is a superb conversation on this topic, just the way I imagined it here, have a look at it, I really recommend everybody!

edit: and here is another great one
My Skethbook
My Blog

Last edited by siiilon : 10 October 2009 at 01:33 PM.
  10 October 2009
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