Composition Rules: The Art & Science of Better Visuals | Jen Dixon | Skillshare

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Composition Rules: The Art & Science of Better Visuals

teacher avatar Jen Dixon, Abstract & figurative artist, educator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Composition Rules: The Art & Science of Better Visuals


    • 2.

      What is Composition?


    • 3.

      Designing Visual Experiences


    • 4.

      Foundation: The Rule of Thirds


    • 5.

      Next Level: Division of Space & Creating Journey


    • 6.

      Taking it Further: Golden Ratio & Spiral


    • 7.

      Project: Plan Like a Designer


    • 8.

      Bonus Project: Learn to Draw the Golden Ratio & Spiral


    • 9.

      Final Thoughts & Thank You


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About This Class


Welcome to Composition Rules: The Art & Science of Better Visuals.

This class is somewhere between a beginner and intermediate level, aimed primarily at artists, and by the end you’ll be sailing through creating better visuals in all you do. If you’re a designer, illustrator, photographer… you’re still going to be able to apply what you learn with me to your craft.

Join me for a concise, but full investigation of why we learn to design our compositions according to traditional principles such as The Rule of Thirds, Spacial Divisions and Journey, and of course, The Golden Ratio. The projects will have you thinking like a designer so that the crucial beginning of a new painting or drawing expresses exactly the story you want to tell to the viewer.

You’re not going to want to miss this class.

Let me help you understand and apply the Art & Science of Better Visuals through Composition Rules.

For this class, you’re going to need:

  • Cartridge Paper or similar, anything cheap and plentiful.
  • Soft leaded pencils or charcoal
  • A ruler

And for the bonus project:

  • A selection of basic coloured pencils (bright, rainbow colours)
  • A square
  • A compass

I also recommend a notebook or sketchbook for taking notes, because there is a lot of information to absorb, but remember you can always watch again too.

I’m really looking forward to you being a part of this class and showing me your work.
Thank you for being here.
Let’s get started!


Note: All examples in this class are either public domain or the creation of the author/artist, Jen Dixon.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jen Dixon

Abstract & figurative artist, educator

Top Teacher

Whether you want to learn new skills or brush up on rusty ones, I would love to help. I have been a selling artist for around 35 years. In my own practice I use pen & ink, pastels, oils, acrylics, and watercolours regularly. My work hangs in private collections around the world.
I love what I do, and I teach what I love. We can do good things together here, so let's get started...

About me:
I’m an Ameri-Brit (dual citizen), living on the North Cornwall coast of the UK. I’ve been here nearly two decades, but have lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Berkshire (UK). I am studying Spanish daily with an aim for becoming bilingual. Hola, artistas.

My work covers everything from graffiti-influenced illustration & mixed m... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Composition Rules: The Art & Science of Better Visuals: Hi, I'm Jen Dixon and welcome to Composition Rules: The Art and Science of Better Visuals. This class is somewhere between a beginner and intermediate level aimed primarily at artists. By the end, you'll be sailing through creating better visuals in all you do. If you're a designer or an illustrator, a photographer, you're still going to be able to apply what you learn with me to your craft. Join me for a concise, but full investigation of why we learn to design our compositions according to traditional principles, such as the rule of thirds, spatial divisions, and journey, and of course, the golden ratio. The projects will have you thinking like a designer so that the crucial beginning of a new painting or drawing expresses exactly the story you want to tell the viewer. You're not going to want to miss this class. Let me help you understand and apply art and science of better visuals through composition rules. For this class, you're going to need cartridge paper or similar. Anything cheap and plentiful. Soft leaded pencils or charcoal, a ruler. For the bonus project, a selection of basic colored pencils in bright rainbow colors, a square, and a compass. I also recommend a notebook or sketchbook for taking notes because there's a lot of information to absorb, but remember, you can always watch again too. I'm really looking forward to you being a part of this class and showing me your work. Thank you for being here. Now let's get started. 2. What is Composition?: What is composition? Composition is the nature of something's ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up. In art and photography, it's all the stuff you want to include arranged thoughtfully. Congratulations, you're now a designer. Before you try to tell me, "I'm making art, I'm not a designer," you are a designer. I'm an industrial designer and an artist. Yes, there is a difference. But in this case, you are designing the experience for the viewer of your work. In this class, I will show you how to arrange compositions thoughtfully. You'll design and understand visual experiences. 3. Designing Visual Experiences: Now that you can define composition, let's dig into designing visual experiences. Here is a list of the eight principles of design. Line, the visual path that enables the eye to move within the piece. Line is not always drawn, but oftentimes implied. Shape, areas defined by edges within the piece, whether geometric or organic. Think city skyline or a mountain range, or the dominant object in work. The shape of a flower, for instance, could be a focal point. Color, hues with their various values and intensities. Texture, surface qualities which translate into tactile illusions. Tone, shading used to emphasize form. Form, 3D length, width, or depth. Space, the space taken up by the positive or in between the negative objects. Depth, perceived distance from the observer, separated into foreground, background, and optional middle ground. Let's go back to composition. The nature of something's ingredients or constituents, the way in which a whole or mixture is made up. To determine how to arrange the elements of your composition, you must even subconsciously consider the eight principles of design. Well, maybe not all of them for every picture, but they will guide your art. If something isn't working in your composition, chances are good that you can go back to the principles of design and find one that lead you to a solution. Now, we have a lot to cover in the next three sections before our projects. So before we continue, I suggest you make yourself a tasty beverage. 4. Foundation: The Rule of Thirds: The rule of thirds is a reliable, accessible, compositional formula that anyone can use right away. Align a subject using thirds to create more tension, energy and interest in the composition, rather than simply placing the subject at a central position. You've likely already seen it in your camera's viewfinder and on your smart phone. Here's how it works. This photo is a very graphic representation of horizontal bands in the landscape. The division when a grid overlay is added, is approximately in thirds if you consider the haze on the horizon. But there's more. Notice the placement of the tree. It too is in a one-third position. The photo gives us the pleasing composition through designed imbalance. Now let's dig a little deeper. In this example, the photo on the left is of a rock pillar in the desert with a background of additional interesting landscape shapes. The blue sky, white clouds, brown and orange, earth and sand are all interesting, but the composition itself is not. The pillar is confrontational in the center and may as well be a stop sign for the eyes. With minor adjustments using the rule of thirds, the composition becomes more interesting by becoming more invitational, allowing your eyes to wander through the rest of the scene more leisurely. The corrections made are simple to achieve. Drop the horizon to be a reveal of on-third land to sky, then shift the focal element, the rock pillar, to be either left or right of center on a one-third vertical line. Notice the sky opens up, background rocks stops fighting for attention and that pillar is no longer arresting. Now let's look at how to use this in art. Here's a landscape by John Singer Sargent called From Jerusalem. You can already see the banding he's created. I've placed a rule of thirds grid over top and his intentions become even more clear. The artist has divided the ratio of land to sky into thirds, then given us a high contrast cloud in the center top to focus on. Because he's chosen a pallet of subdued hues, the central placement just doesn't feel jarring. Finally, the details of the structures and growth occupying no more than two-thirds of the space from left to right. This is a simple but effective composition based on the rule of thirds. How about a more complicated composition? This work by Degas called The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage, uses the rule of thirds but also a little bit of artistic license. If we place a grid at a point where the two middle dancers heads are intersected, and the fingertips of the dancers to the right of them are just tickling the line, you can begin to see where are the other elements fall into place too. Now look at the elbows of these two dancers on the one-third line. The man and the auto-frame stringed instruments are on a one-third vertical line. These dancers only occupy one-third of the grid height and are on a one-third vertical. The bulk of the action doesn't even go beyond approximately two-thirds of the composition. Even the background is divided into thirds. This is just a first parse finding the rule of thirds throughout the work. But there's still more to this portrait. Degas is using a trick to stop time like a photographer documenting a busy scene. The underpinning of the rule of thirds is solid, but Degas breaks the rules about cutting subjects off at the edge. This adds to the tension and excitement of this frozen moment in time. But without the solid foundation of thirds to rest upon, the cropped elements would be distracting. As it is designed, the composition put two in the center of the action. Now the rule of thirds is a great place to start when working out your compositions. But it is definitely only the tip of the compositional iceberg. 5. Next Level: Division of Space & Creating Journey: Taking composition to the next level, now we're going to explore divisions of space and creating journey. So what is the story you are telling? Where are you taking me? Where do you want me to look first, second, third? How do you want me to feel along the way? Let's talk about journey. But not these guys. We're going on a journey and composition is a map. It's an arrangement of elements to direct the viewer. How do we make our map? Decide on a focal element, decide on two additional supporting elements, if applicable, determine the boundary of space you're presenting. This can be the edge of your canvas or paper, or even a manufactured border. Determine the best orientation for those elements in that space. Typically, this will be landscape or portrait, but increasingly popular is square format, thanks in part to social media platforms. Now, can you apply the rule of thirds? If not, here are some alternative divisions of space. There are lots of ways you can divide space. But what is the journey for the viewer? Let's look at Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses by Cezanne. It's a simple still life, a beautiful muted oranges, blues, greens, and the relationship of the elements act as a visual path of breadcrumbs till you reach the primroses. Like this. There is a visual journey across and up the destination is flowers. In Still Life with Cheese, Vollon invites us to weave through the elements, tumbling from top to bottom. But by using contrast, he sends us right back to his chosen focal element of a cheese. This got me thinking about the message being told by highlighting the cheese. Brie varieties were very popular in 1800 friends. By making it the focus, it's possible that Vollon is either making a statement on the wealth of the household or presenting a sign of the times. But whatever the reason, it's in spotlight. I bought myself some brie. I'm easily persuaded. Now back to the divisions of space and placement of elements. Shoes by Van Gogh is a beautiful example of a simple but effective composition with a fairly confined space. Notice the diagonal that the shoes sit upon. The shoes could also be plotted on intersecting off-center lines. The floor tiles also offer a pleasant visual by being painted not straight across, but at a playful angle. A simple subject, but very well-planned as a composition. Let's look at the journey presented by five unique examples. In the first, our journey takes us up the boardwalk and then our eyes scan the distant shoreline. Next, I wandering S shaped journey begins in the foreground left mingles right amongst the boats, then swings us out and then in again to what might lie beyond In the next heaven. This third composition keeps us captive in a circular journey by saying, look at my building, look at my mountains, look at my tree, and then look at my building again. In this bustling street scene, our eyes make a similar journey between the elements, but could take different paths amongst them. Then finally, a more complicated relationship occurs in the journey from foreground to middle ground to background in this lake scene. We may wander slightly different paths, but we still know where we're meant to look. But what if I can't find a journey? You may be creating a drawing or painting intended to document rather than move. There's nothing wrong with documenting, the work is simply serving another purpose. But by saying that even documentary drawings and paintings can contain many compositions or have mathematically pleasing elements. In this photo, there is a beautiful triangulation of elements, but the viewer is not taken on a journey. This is a moment in time and can be used as reference. It serves a purpose in its own way. 6. Taking it Further: Golden Ratio & Spiral: You've likely heard of the term golden ratio, or perhaps golden section, golden mean, divine proportion, Fibonacci etc. In design, we're taught that humans prefer odd numbers to even, off center to center. It's true, and even nature has examples that comply with this proclivity. I don't like doing maths. Here's just the basics. In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. Now, I could read that again, or here's what it looks like in its simplest form. One bit is bigger than the other bit backed up by maths. That dividing line between sections is important. If you want to apply it simply, say, you're sketching your friend in front of a national monument or other exciting location, stick them off center in the foreground using the golden ratio and your brain will love it. What makes this so different to the rule of thirds? The golden ratio is another way of dividing space. A chap named Leonardo Fibonacci, born in 1175, came up with a numerical sequence that solved a hypothetical problem involving the growth of a population of rabbits based on idealized assumptions. It just so happens that those numbers work perfectly in the golden ratio. Now you can see the relationship of numbers to spaces. Every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones. It makes more sense to me when listed in a line shown here. Now we can apply the grid as an overlay to this photo of a street scene and see that the focal point is at the root of the golden ratio grid. Now, in this painting by Monet, Bridge over Pond of Water Lilies, the balance of the work is in line with the principles of the golden ratio. Keep in mind as we look at these examples. I just don't necessarily use perfectly constructed canvases or paper that conform exactly to the golden ratio, but you can overlay the rules and use them as a guide for better composition because it's the relationship of the elements as a whole that is most important. Notice that the bridge's apex is resting comfortably at the division of spaces in the ratio. Although this painting doesn't seem to express a journey, Monet is inviting you to travel left and right out of the painting presumably once you've studied the lilies he's brought you to. Now let's look at the complex art of Mondrian. In this work, Composition 10, we can attempt to apply the golden ratio, but frustratingly, it only fits anywhere. Mondrian has done this very purposefully. He's creating tension and uneasiness through making the relationships ever so slightly off. If you look hard enough, you'll find a satisfying little gift in the composition, but his work is carefully crafted to keep you on your toes. Olive Trees at Tivoli is a peaceful landscape with a subtle story to tell. I've applied a variation of the golden section grid, which is very similar to the rule of thirds. Now, notice how the distant horizon lines up and the foreground elements also fall on the lower grid line. The middle ground is a stripe of land dividing the foreground and the sky. The focal element is the main olive tree, which lines up perfectly on the grid. The implied lower land trees on the right don't cross their boundary lines, and in this painting, we even get a journey where our eyes naturally sweep upwards from the near lower right to our focal tree, where we may pause to look around a little bit before finding the path into the distance to the horizon beyond. It's a little painting that gives a lot. Now let's look at the golden spiral. It's a logarithmic spiral that grows within the confines of the golden ratio grid. There are very slight variations on it mathematically, but for our needs in art, we'll generalize. Here you can see how to apply diagonal divisions into the mix, becoming larger from the center outwards using golden ratio mathematics. Now, remember that Mondrian painting. Let's have another look at it with this new spiral information. Here's an overlay which has the rule of thirds and the golden ratio and spiral. Notice how if we line it up, we can find both intersections at thirds and at golden points. He's even toying with putting lines in-between the rules. But look what happens if we shift the overlay to the left a bit. Suddenly the spiral fits inside a rectangle, and you can even see where the thirds and the golden points line up. Still that bit where he puts a line between a third and a golden rule just to keep you on your toes. This piece is very deliberately designed. This beautiful Madonna and Child painting is also using the golden ratio at the tender touch of mother and child's faces, and the face of the Madonna is at the beginning of a Fibonacci sequence. There's also a pleasing distribution of bulk in the 5, 3, and 8 squares, allowing plenty of breathing room without significant detail to distract from the focal point. Now, if you apply a spiral, you can see the deliberate sweep upwards from near the Madonna's knee through her arm and encompassing her shoulder, head, and pulling you to the focal point of their faces. We naturally journey through the picture towards the tenderness. Add in the combination grid of thirds and the golden ratio and spiral, and additional mathematical considerations become obvious. Nude with Flowering Branch is playful and flirtatious and lines up beautifully on the golden ratio grid. Shoulders are at the division and her face is at the focal point of Fibonacci numbers. Pop in the spiral and thirds grid and see how the flow upwards wraps around her, and her pubic region, nipple, and eye line up on a one-third vertical line. A simple pose, very purposely composed. Now one of my favorites is Odalisque. By now, you're probably already seeing things before I even apply the overlays. Checkout that spiral, her eyes are at the perfect focal point. The spiral sweeps around her body with a near perfect spacing all the way. The bulk builds mathematically as you travel from square to square, and the curtain is on a one-third line. Her arm hovers gently above a horizontal third, and her toes tickle the spiral. Elbow and bum-crack are on the golden ratio, and her other elbow at the far left flirts with the spiral, just as her toes do on the right. Even her face flows along in its own little spiral with lips on a one-third line, the face and ratio, simply stunning composition. In summary, composition is a learned skill. There are many formulas, learn them, use them, figure out how to take your viewer on a journey through your art. Now let's talk about problematic compositions. This is peacocks and it's a mess. I'll show you why. First, the main focal point spans the whole of the painting. Instead of being invited to look around, it's like being hit with a big feathery sledgehammer. Next are the confusing gazes of the characters. A good general rule of thumb is to never have a character looking out of the picture frame. It divides the viewer's attention instead of keeping them captive in your work. This has a bird flying away to the left, a big bird looking that way too, a tiny turkey following suit. What do they know that we don't? We'll never know. That's a bad move. There's a tension between the squirrel and the monkey and the middle bird on the right, but it's all too distracting. Our focal peacock gazes up and left at nothing in particular. It's like it's not even involved with the other characters at all. Now, look at the placement of the supporting characters, including the sunflower up at the top right. Squirrel and monkey are on golden verticals, and the others are all in their little golden boxes, but nothing feels connected. It's as if they've been plunked in randomly and have to fend for themselves for attention. How do we fix this? Well, I'd kill off the sky bird, the tiny turkey, and the squirrel. Give them participation badges and send them on their way. Then turn the left middle bird to look inward, tip the peacock's head down, and have monkey look at right middle bird who's obviously interested in him anyway. In doing this, you could create a loop of activity instead of playing the let's see how much stuff we can shoehorn into the picture game. But this isn't where the story ends. If we overlay diagonals, you can see that the artist may have put some thought into this car crash. Monkey and squirrel are on the same diagonal, sky bird and melon are also on diagonals. Then if you overlay another grid flipped horizontally, you can see that our feathery friend is on his own diagonal. What does it all mean? Well, besides looking a mess, not much. It's still got issues and can do with a rework of the entire composition. Now is still life to pick apart. This is Still Life With Shells and a Chip-Wood Box, and I still haven't figured out why the artist made it. If we overlay a rule of thirds grid, nothing really happens, so I lowered it. The only thing I'm seeing is that the box takes up two-thirds and the shelves occupy one-third of the horizontal space. There are awkward spaces above the box and to the edge of the painting, and I tried to golden ratio and came up blank. I can only justify a diagonal from one shell up to the box and its lid edges. Overall, I think this may have been an exercise in painting techniques rather than meant to be an engaging composition. 7. Project: Plan Like a Designer: Welcome to the main project where we're going to learn to plan our compositions like a designer. Now I have an industrial design degree as well as being a fine artist. I have a little bit of the discipline of being a designer and I bring that into my fine art as well. One of the most valuable things that I learned as a design student was about the importance of iteration. If you can just remember one mantra for this, it's iterate, iterate, iterate. What I mean by that is one is not done. You've heard the term one and done. No, that's not going to fly here. What we want to do is we want to begin thinking about our composition in all the possible ways that the elements in that composition can fit together. We're going to talk about thumbnail sketches. A thumbnail sketch is a quick mini view of our compositional options. Never settle on your first idea. There's no one and done here and if you do try and settle for your first idea, it will usually backfire because you haven't thought through the problem well enough. When most students start out, they think about the thing that they're going to draw and let's just look at this and we'll say, "Well, we're going to draw, I don't know, a pear." Oftentimes a student will just draw a pear in the middle of a page. Now that's fine, but it's not a composition. This is just a study of a pear. If you want to maximize your visual impact, you'll think about all the ways that you can show off that pear, the way that you want the viewer to experience that pear. That's where things like thumbnail sketches come in handy. A thumbnail, again, is just a mini representation. Thumbnails are also really useful for how you're going to figure out the orientation of the canvas or the paper that you're working on. Are you going to go landscape or are you going to go vertically in portrait format? When we think about thumbnails, don't always think about them in a singular format. I mean, heck, you can even put square ones in if you want. I know there oval canvases and all sorts of things that you can get into, but I would suggest that you stick with either landscape or portrait for now, maybe square if you're feeling a little bit crazy. That's fine. But what we want to do is we want to get away from the idea of having our pear in the middle and we want to consider the boundary of what we have for a composition. We want maximum viewer impact by planning this composition, by designing this composition. Maybe instead of having my pear there, maybe I'll start thinking about things like my rule of thirds and I might decide to drop my pear. Or maybe I don't want it that close, maybe I want it really far away. All sorts of things that we can plot out in our thumbnail sketches. Now what if we have something far more complicated than say, just a pear? Or as in the earlier video with Van Gogh shoes, you saw that Van Gogh shoes, he had a pair of shoes like that and he had his on a diagonal. But we also know that he could also plot them out on this off-center grid. This is where this comes in handy, is where you can just rapidly bang through a bunch of ideas. You can iterate, iterate, iterate, as I said and you can plan out, what would happen if Van Gogh had put his shoes on a portrait instead? That could have been really interesting. I mean, I loved it the way it was, but it could have been really interesting with just a little bit more space. What would that tell the viewer? Would that tell the viewer something more about maybe the story of those shoes, maybe a certain isolation or something like that? There could be more to the story. I don't want to speculate necessarily, but where you place an item within your composition can have an effect on the interpretation of the composition as a whole and the elements within it like what are they doing there? Why are they there? We saw in the peacock's painting that there was a terrible jumble of things happening all around. It was really difficult to get any discernible story-line from that other than, here's a bunch of stuff, boom. You have to pick it apart and it just makes you feel lost to have so much going on. If we wanted to spend a little bit more time, we could tear that one apart and do a bunch of thumbnails about it. I totally recommend that if you feel passionate about figuring out a better way of composing that particular painting, do a page of thumbnails. That'd be great. You don't have to draw the whole thing, but you can draw the main elements and decide if there is maybe a better way. Maybe you could find a journey through that particular painting. Maybe you could find a message that you can portray, something like that. But the important thing is you either take a soft pencil or you can get a piece of chalk or something like that, something that you're not particularly precious about. I wouldn't recommend necessarily doing thumbnails with something really accurate because you're going to get bogged down with detail and that's not what this is about. This is about quickly banging out ideas. Even with charcoal, you can get some ideas together. Now what if you've got something slightly more complicated than that? Maybe you've got say, a handful of trees that you want to put into a composition. Now your trees maybe they're nice, big, bushy things with stems. Or maybe as is a popular subject, maybe it's just a bunch of trunks of trees, birch or something like that. How would you go about putting those together in a composition? Well, you notice that I've already drawn and I said earlier in the class that we are drawn to odd numbers. It's just a design principle. Here I've drawn one big fluffy tree and here I've drawn three skinny trees. Now if we wanted to put the skinny trees into a composition, where might we place those? Well, being able to do a bunch of thumbnails is how we're going to figure that out. If we like things off center, I'm not going to put a tree in the middle and maybe another tree and another tree because that's terribly boring, and this is that very confrontational position when it's in the center. What if we decided to put maybe the main tree that's in focus, maybe put that on a one-third or a golden ratio line and maybe we've got another pair of trees just diminished in the background. Now we can see that we've got some visual journey where we're looking at this front tree and then may be traveling and looking at the woods behind or maybe the scenery, maybe there's a lake back there, who knows? This is your drawing, but we've given the eye something to do. We've looked at that one-third or that golden mean and then we've traveled further with those tree. I'm going to switch off that because I keep smudging it, but if we wanted to do something like that and maybe do it in, let's say, portrait format, how is that going to work out? Where would we place trees in that configuration? Well, that might require something a little bit more tricky. Maybe we would divide our canvas or paper, whatever the boundary is of your composition, maybe we would divide that and maybe this is now sky and maybe this is a horizon line and maybe this is visible land. Fine. Then what happens? Well, maybe we've still got our trees happening. But we've got something going on that further divides our space mathematically. Something else going on that's pleasing. I don't like having two clouds, I want to have three clouds, or maybe I'd blend the cloud. You can't even really tell, maybe they're wispy, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that whatever your focal elements are, you are doing something interesting with them. Now, you notice what I've done here. I've actually put them on a diagonal. Without doing these thumbnails, I wouldn't have even thought of doing that. It's just like I don't care. Well, I'm going now on a journey back, or maybe I'm following the journey forward, it doesn't really matter which direction you are looking. The important thing is, I've now got something that's showing. I've got a tree here, I've got a tree here, and I've got a tree here, all on this layout. Now, am I one undone? No, not even close. But I've got a much better chance of getting an interesting composition right, if I do something like that. Well, what happens if I drop the horizon line? Maybe that's my horizon. I'm still wanting to do something with trees, but maybe we're going to try the main tree here and maybe pop something here and something here. Would you even see the tops of these particular kinds of trees? I don't know. But now I've got a huge amount of what could perceivably be blue sky behind. Maybe land, and maybe diminishing focus going from a strong first focal element to a couple of supporting elements. You notice they're going in different directions, so that too provides some visual interest by having that arc. So it's so important to begin plotting out things in thumbnails. Again, if you have, let's say, a life drawing situation, where you're drawing a body. I taught life drawing for many years, and one of the things that I noticed more than anything is people tend to have a sheet of paper and they draw their subject right there. If they draw it too big, oftentimes the body just spills off the page, and that's fine. But that's a study that's not something that you would necessarily frame, or maybe you could use it as the basis for a painting. It's just a study, it's just a sketch. But if you want to make some composition out of it, then instead of just having a body floating, let's just say, feet and feet, and maybe a little body in the middle there. Instead of just having that and just white space all around, just paper space, why not take that body, and even if you leave that body in the same place, add in the elements around that person. So all of a sudden, now, if I had maybe the floor where it meets, maybe the wall. Actually, I'll bring that in because I don't like that there. That's the point that these thumbnails is we're figuring things out as we go. So maybe, and you notice now that I've put that on a bit of loose third. Now, my body, which was in the center and feeling a bit adrift before. Now, if I've added the corner of the room, and I've added maybe the pillows or structure that the person is lounging against. Now, this person has something that grounds them. They've got context, which immediately becomes a much more interesting drawing because you've added other compositional elements and you've done it with some thought. Now, I wouldn't expect you just to bang something out like that without doing a few more sketches at the same time maybe in a while. So if we like to maybe drop that line a little bit, what happens if the wall, nope, then their knee goes through the wall, and that breaks physics. We're not going to do that. Maybe keep our wall here. But just trying different ways of placing that person, and don't be too precious about it. I'm going to turn this one into a landscape. What happens if we really bring that person closer? Hello. Whatever the elements are behind them. Then maybe the wall goes through there, and there, different surfaces behind them. You can see where this is now helping me to plan out. What am I looking for? Do I want that person to be far away and not really a part of the foreground? Because what does that tell as a story if they're that far away? Yeah, maybe. What happens if I have a really close pair on a table and a body way far away? No, I'm just being silly. But you see what I mean? Planning out your composition will help you to get the right impact for your viewer. You do want to focus on a story, you do want to focus on maybe just reporting something in that documentary fashion that we spoke about before, and oftentimes that is what may be a life drawing. Drawing is all about in that classroom environment, is just about learning the proportions of the body and how we fit together as an organic unit. Or do you want to take it to the next level and have it be something that's the basis for a painting, or some more finished work of art? That's where learning to design and plan your composition is so very, very important. You can always, of course, be adding, as you've seen I've been adding thirds and sections to my thumbnails here and there. You can add even more compositional elements, different diagonals, and things. What happens if you sit something on a diagonal here, and maybe a diagonal up here? So you just really have to try these things, and there is no substitute, there is no shortcut for this. You have to do the work, basically. There's no easy way. There's no shortcut. There's no easy way to go from A to Z in this without planning it out. I mean, even here, there's four different, completely different options for a layout. Not completely different, so I could drop this person. See, I'm addicted to this, I just cannot figure out new ways of presenting the information. I don't like them in that area at all. So plan like a designer, make the most of your composition, and maximize the impact for your viewer. Whatever you're working on right now, I'd love to see you take the elements of your composition, whether it's maybe a landscape or a still life or life drawing, whatever it is, even abstract, because most abstract concepts still should have compositional considerations. Go ahead and bang out a bunch of thumbnails. Show us your sketches. Remember, they don't have to be anything full-fledged and detailed. This is just about mapping and planning in the earliest stages of working out your composition for your final work of art. You don't need to show us the final work of art, that's fine. That's yours, that's not what this class is about, but it is about learning to plan and learning to design that experience. So using the art and science to create better visuals. 8. Bonus Project: Learn to Draw the Golden Ratio & Spiral: Okay. Welcome to the bonus section, where we're going to learn to make a golden ratio. Get a trusty ruler, I'm using an antique Wonder Bread ruler, but the numbers don't matter. It doesn't matter if it's centimeters, or if it's inches, or anything like that. In fact, you don't even need to use the number side of your ruler at all, because as long as we've got a compass, we'll be able to find the middle points of any of the lines that we draw. I'm using one of my rainbow colored pencils because it just makes everything really easy to see once we start putting layers together and that'll come later. Just draw yourself a line, a nice crisp line with two defined beginning and endpoints. Then what we're going to do is we're going to find the middle point of that. You'll need your compass and you'll need to open it up a little bit wider than you know is going to be logically the center. If I do this and maybe flip it over, yeah, I'm definitely going to cross a middle point. Placing it on one end, just very lightly, draw yourself a little bit of a curve. Now, take it without adjusting the jaws, take it to the other side, and do the same thing. You'll notice you've got a little X now. That is the middle point of this line. Taking your square, first thing we're going to do, and because this line can be erased later, I'm just going to do a normal pencil. I'm just going to give myself something right down to the middle of that line. Now, without any math or numbers at all, I've got the middle of this line, which I'm going to call my A-B line. The middle point of A to B is right there. From that, I know that I can then begin plotting out the rest of my golden ratio. First thing I'm going to do is I'm going to go over here to B with my square, and I'm going to just take a line straight up, nice and square. Just off into space. It doesn't have to have any particular termination point at this time because we will get to that. I now have a right angle and now that I have a middle point, what I'm going to do is I'm going to put my point of my compass on B, I'm going to adjust that back because I'm on the center line now, so that is at the halfway point. I'm going to just lightly draw a curve, crossing through that vertical line that's shooting up from B. We're going to call that point C. Now I need to connect from A to C. We're going to do that with my square, which I'll flip this way because I can see that edge a little better, so a connecting line, and I'm just going do this one in pencil as well because this line doesn't matter and you can always erase it later. It's just a middle ground line that, that you need just to plot the rest of these things out. Now I've got this right angle triangle in place. Next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to find the golden ratio. Now, how am I going to do that? Well, first thing I'm going to do is I know that I've got that distance from C to B or B to C. I'm just going to go and put a wee bit of a line on my A to C line. Now, that is off-center and that's good. Next thing we need to do is open the jaws up till we get right up there to that little mark that we just made. I now have the jaws open a little bit wider on my campus and I'm going to take that straight down and intersect my A to B line. That is the golden ratio. From that point, we know that if we were to draw, I'm going to use orange because we want this one to stay, if we were to draw straight up like that, this area is larger, this area is smaller, this is the golden ratio on a single line. Now, what if we wanted to make this a more recognizable grid, like something that we could actually use maybe for our layout or whatever? I'm going to just take a line up, just to begin to square this out a little bit. Take a line up from my A line, and again, I'm just going to let it go off into space. Now, you can begin to see that it's starting to shape up a little bit. We know that we need a square on one side and a rectangle on the other, so how do we determine where the top of this should be? Well, if we've got one side of a square, then we can do the rest of it. Just having a look. Yeah, that is going to go right up to that point. I have taken an arc all the way up onto my A line, and that will make me a square. Well, I need to get this line across. Well, if I've got that measurement already in here, then I know that if I put my point on B and I carry an arc all the way up, now I've got two points at the same height on my A line and my B-C line. Now, I can cap my grid. Welcome to the basic golden ratio. Now, what if I want to take this a little bit further and I want to put in the ratio grid that looks a little bit like the rule of thirds? Well, that's really easy to do. All you need to do is get another line here and another pair of lines going horizontally. How do we do that? We've already got all the information we need to plot those out. We know we've got a square on this side and a rectangle on this side. That means if we were to flip it and have another line here, equally, that means we need to have this distance, which we know is our square distance, we need to have that coming from the other side. Now, just lightly, I've drawn those in. If I connect those, that's the middle section of my golden ratio. Now, if I want to get these other lines in place, I need to make that a slightly shorter measurement, so I'm going to use the rectangle side to get that. I'm just closing up the jaws till I get from B to that original golden ratio line. I'm just going to take that up and intersect my B-C line. Then I'm going to do the same from the top down and I'm going to do it on the other side as well, so from the top corner and then from the a corner. Now, I just need to make the connections, so going across, and again, for the second horizontal going across. Now you have the golden ratio grid. Let's push our grid just a little bit further. We've got a basic golden ratio grid, but what happens if we want to replicate the original ratio a few times over in this grid and make it a little bit more obvious in a spiral pattern? Well, we've got the original in place, so let's just go ahead and emphasize that. This is why we have the different colors. Make a mark on this side, a mark here. The top. The one thing I'm going to do is I'm going to change our direction. Originally we had our square on this side and we had our rectangle on this side. I'm just going to switch that just for the purposes of this demonstration. Now because we know that we've got a golden ratio, either way, we flip it. Now you can see the red line is definitely the golden ratio, but with the rectangle on this side, the square on this side. Now that we've got a rectangle here, we know that if we rotate it, look at what happens, we have a square and we have a rectangle. Let's make that another color still, just to illustrate it. This is why I have the different colors, so it just makes it really easy to see this. My lines might not be perfect, but I want you to be able to see the colors. Here we go. Now we've got a square this way and a rectangle this way. We know now we want to make another ratio. This one then, so we go from square rectangle to square rectangle, now we need square rectangle. But we don't have any marks already in place. So what we need to do, is just like we did for the beginning of what we've done, we need to find the middle point. We do that just as we did before with our compass. We find that middle point, make our mark. Can't pick these things up very well. If I do it from this side, you might be able to see a little better and my accuracy it'll be a little bit better because I've got more line to line my square up with. There we go. Just a little pencil line in place so that I've got a middle point on this line here. Now that I've got that, I can do like we did for our ABC. I can find that C point on a smaller scale. Just as we did with the larger original, we find the A to C there. From C, we intersect that line so now it's longer here, it's shorter here. You find where that crosses over the line down below. This would be our A to B line only now it's on a much smaller space. We again have a golden ratio. I'm going to do that one in pink. Now if I mark this one out, obviously my lines are offset slightly. But I'm doing that intentionally just so that you can see each and every one of the iterations on here. Now we have another golden ratio there. Now we're going to do one more. So spinning again. This time I want my square on this side and my rectangle on this side. Once again, finding the middle point, there we go. Right there. From that point which now becomes a miniature and even more miniature A to B line, and then C. There we go. Once again, golden section appears. Now we have, from our original drawing, got the square and the rectangle. The square and the rectangle. The square and the rectangle. Again, as we rotate the square and the rectangle. You can see how that spirals around. Now another way to divide this space was to use diagonals. If we wanted to do that, first thing we can do is we can look at the large diagonals, perhaps that one there, and the next rectangle here. We've got smaller ones we can do here. Basically, you can do as many of these as you'd like, and they're still going to give you sound mathematical diagonals to place bits of composition on. We can take something all the way from A to here and so on and so forth. You can see where those lines get plotted out. Which is very much like one of the examples we had earlier had in the videos. That being said, what about if we wanted to apply a spiral to this? Well, that's easy. Let's go from large to small. I'm just going to extend the jaws of my compass until I get this measurement here. The square section of my largest in the golden ratio. In order to get my first large bit of spiral, I'm going to make that mark there. Next, we're going to do this square here. We know we need to get quite a bit smaller, that should do it. Maybe just a sniff smaller, there we go. We begin to see the spiral develop. Next square down and around. Actually, I think I should have put my yellow line down there, anyway. Oh yes, notice I do as they say. I still know that that amount of space is correct, so I'm still going to use that as a measurement. Oh dear, but I can't. Can I? Sure I can. We can fix this because all I'll do is I'll find my new points. Now I know I can go from that point. I've made my new ratio going the other direction. So if I wanted to, I could just change that line right here and now, so I'm going to do that. There we go. We'll just ignore that one. Anyway, you can begin to see your spiral as it travels around. You could go further and further and further, depends on how much you want to put into this. But basically, you now have a golden ratio grid, you have golden ratio diagonals, and you have a golden ratio spiral, all on the same diagram, all done without a single number or any discernible maths whatsoever. We haven't used any numbers on any rulers, we've just used straight edges and a compass, and up until rainbow we colors in colored pencils. This can be replicated on any scale. If you need this for a large compass or whatever, as long as you can construct some big compass, then there's no limit to what you can do with this. I was even thinking earlier about what I would do to make even bigger compasses. I wondered if I had a couple of sticks, or a couple of rulers, or something like that that had the holes punched in them, I could very easily begin to make myself a homemade compass as large as I need it to be. Think of bamboo rods, or yardsticks, or anything like that. There's no limits to what you can do with this. Remember, the numbers don't matter, it's purely down to the formula in creating this square and rectangle configuration. The golden ratio, you don't have to be a mathematician to use it, and it's so handy for getting your compositions right. I hope that's been helpful, and thank you very much for watching. 9. Final Thoughts & Thank You: Thank you for joining me for composition rules, the art and science of better visuals. Before you go, remember that the most well-rounded and confident artists rely on a base knowledge of traditional techniques and principles, but that you still need to do you. I've never met a student who didn't benefit from laying down a positive foundation of basics, but each and every one of them then finds their own path with a certain wisdom. Knowing the rules means you can break them from time to time. Practice what you've learned here, then you do you. If you've enjoyed this class and learned a thing or two, I'd love it if you'd leave a review and a thumbs up. If this is your first class with me, I've so much more to share. Have a look at my others, and hit the Follow button to stay in the loop for all my upcoming releases. Thank you for being here, and have a great day. I think that's where we should. Cut. Cut.