Draw Better: Five Easy Techniques to Improve Your Composition | Emma Woodthorpe | Skillshare

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Draw Better: Five Easy Techniques to Improve Your Composition

teacher avatar Emma Woodthorpe, Illustrator. Author. Artist.

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.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Before We Start


    • 4.

      Method 1


    • 5.

      Method 2


    • 6.

      Method 3


    • 7.

      Method 4


    • 8.

      Method 5


    • 9.

      BONUS Famous Examples


    • 10.



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About This Class

Hello and welcome to this class where we will be exploring five techniques that will help you to improve your composition in an instant!

This class is great for both:

  • accomplished artists who are struggling with composition, and
  • beginners who are new to drawing.

We are not going to be creating finished pieces in the lessons themselves - instead we will be practicing useful compositional techniques that you can take with you throughout your drawing career.

The materials we will need are simple:

  • Something to draw ON
  • Something to draw WITH
  • SOMETHING to draw!

For your project: Create a finished piece or a draft drawing that uses one of the techniques explored in this class.

Any of my own examples of work can be found on my Etsy and Folksy store:

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/EmbersandInk

Folksy: https://folksy.com/shops/EmbersandInk

Work from other artists is cited and credited, and used only for examples of techniques shown in this class.

Check out the first class in the Draw Better series here:


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Emma Woodthorpe

Illustrator. Author. Artist.


Hi I'm Emma Woodthorpe, also known on the internet by my business name Embers & Ink! I'm a freelance artist and illustrator based in Sheffield (UK). Using my background in Art and Literature I'm  currently writing and illustrating children's books!

I work in multiple media and have created a range of art using many mediums ranging from charcoal and pastel through to acrylics and oils to pencils and watercolours - and many more!

Find out about the Children's books I've created on my Author Website and follow my Author Instagram page @emmawoodthorpe for regular updates. You can find me on YouTube where I post weekly videos exploring my art and life as a full time creative. You can also join my exclusive gang over on Patreon where I offer a range of exclusive con... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hello, I'm Emma and welcome to this class, Draw Better, five easy techniques to improve your composition. Composition when drawing is really important, as it can make your image visually appealing for the viewer. A well composed piece will draw the viewer in and make them want to look for longer, instead of just passing by. In this class, I'll show you five easy things to keep in mind when you are composing your piece, and some easy techniques that will help to improve your composition in an instant. This class is suitable for any artist who feels that they're struggling with composition, as well as being a great place for people who are approaching drawing for the first time. Let's get started and jump into our materials list. 2. Materials: In this class, the choice of materials is up to you. Choose your favorite whether it be inks, charcoals or anything in between. For the class project, all that you need to do is create a finished piece that keeps in mind some of the techniques that we've learnt throughout this class. One thing I would say, however, is to start your work with a pencil and have a rubber close by. This will give you the freedom to play about with the composition before you fully commit. 3. Before We Start: People talk about the rules of composition including me, but I don't want you to get block down by this. What we're talking about is historical best practice. Use these rules as a good place to start. But don't feel that you shouldn't explore your own ways of composing your piece. 4. Method 1: One technique of good composition is to avoid placing the main focus of your piece in the dead center of your work. You may have heard of the rule of thirds, and this is a method that helps you to avoid this by providing you with a rough guide that helps offset your focal points to help you add attention and interest. To use the rule of thirds, imagine that your page is divided into nine equal parts by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. The rule of thirds suggests that you should place important elements along these lines and at the points where they cross. The idea is to create interest for the viewer and to lead their eye to different parts of the picture, so they have a chance to explore the setting that you have created. For example, assuming that is your page and these are your imagined lines. You could place the horizon on the top horizontal line and perhaps some focal points such as trees or other structures at the intersections of these two lines. Adding some foreground near to the bottom horizontal line will also take advantage of the structure, while giving you depth. When drawing portraits of people, it is common to line the subject's body with a vertical line and the eyes with the top horizontal line. By lining up the bodies with one of the vertical lines and the eyes with the horizontal lines produces a figure slightly offset from the center. Keep in mind that your focal points don't need to rigidly stick to these lines and points to take advantage of the interest they create. In this example of one of my own finished pieces, you can see that not all of the elements in the picture are directly upon the lines or on the intersections, but that is close to them. Again, in this piece, I haven't put the horizon directly on the bottom horizontal line, but close to it. Instead of sticking rigidly to the rule, I have used it as a guide to help create the same dynamic for the viewer. 5. Method 2: The use of a triangular format, that is, wide at the base, tapering to an apex at the top is favored by many artists and photographers when they're considering how to arrange the composition of that piece. You can create this triangular format in many ways. One such way is framing from things such as bridges, lighting, shadows, trees, or even people. Another way to use the triangular format is to use 'lead in' lines and shapes. Our eyes are unconsciously drawn along lines, so by thinking about how you place lines in your images, will change the way that your audience will view it. For instance, a road that starts in the foreground and fades into the distant horizon, either straight or tapered, creates a triangular shape that draws your eye through the picture. In this one example from my own work, you can see that I have created a basic triangular format by making the image wide at the base, tapering to an apex at the top. In this other image of a mountain scene, you can see that the main focus of the piece is in a triangular format. Again, in this landscape piece of mine, I very basically tapered the landscape in a triangular format. Then this final example from my own work, I have used the rocks on the right-hand side as a 'lead in' line to draw your eye through the picture. When used in conjunction with the rocks on the left-hand side, helps to produce a triangular format. 6. Method 3: The use of strong light and as a consequence, heavy shade can help to produce some quite effective compositional results. Using shadows to help create your rule of thirds division or your triangular format, for example, can help to create depth and drama to your piece. In this example from my own archive, I have used shadows on the land to complement the rule of thirds and to create a more breeding feeling when compared to the light sand and the light waves. In this example, I have used deep shadow on parts of the rock to contrast with the light of the sky. This helps to support the triangular format. A deep shadow also creates interest feel views, as it speaks of things unseen and creates the feeling and appearance of a 3D world out of a 2D image. 7. Method 4: One compositional device you may want to consider, is to create depth in your drawings. Now it may not be suitable for all finished pieces such as portraits, but especially in landscapes, you may want to consider creating a foreground, a midground, and a background. Use this alongside the rule of thirds, to help draw the viewer's eye through the picture. [inaudible] In this first example from my own work, I've created a foreground using grass of foliage and a few rocks. The midground is created by this main rock outcrop and the background is created by the fading horizon. In this next example that could enrich the rich snakes from foreground through to midground, into background. Using the rule of thirds. The background lines up vaguely with the top horizontal line and the foreground lines up vaguely with the bottom horizontal line. In this third picture of mine, I created a foreground using the shore and the rocks. The midground is led into with the sea, leading through to the lighthouse on the hills beyond. In this final picture, the foreground starts at this path, and the path leads you through into the midground. The midground is also shared by this rock outcrop, which the edge of the rocks take this into the midground and starts to go into the background too. I've created a background here in the distant horizon, which is complemented by the light of the clouds. This use of the foreground, midground, and background helps to lead the viewer through the picture, so they had a chance to explore every part of it. 8. Method 5: While it is important to bear in mind all of the other compositional techniques, it's also important not to make your work become too busy. Therefore, the fifth compositional tip is to create areas of calm and emptiness in your piece where the viewer's eye can rest. The idea of leaving areas of calm is quite a simple one, but one that we may forget if we're trying to keep in mind all of the other techniques that we've learned. In this example from my own work, I have left a large amount of the picture blank. This is mainly because the other part is quite busy and I didn't want the viewer's eye to be distracted. In this other example from my work, I capture a seal sunbathing by the sea. This setting was quite calm anyway, so I did not want to put too much in there, to busy it up. But you can see that there's lots of areas on the sea and lots of areas on the sky to produce that feeling of calm, which doesn't detract from the main focal point of the picture. You can of course incorporate these areas of calm into your rule of thirds, into your feelings of depth, into your triangular format and of course, into your light and shade techniques. 9. BONUS Famous Examples: Before we finish, let's explore how famous artists have used these elements in their work. In George Wesley Bellows' painting, Club Night, we can see two figures fighting. Bellows has used shading to create a triangular format that highlights these figures. Bellows also takes advantage of the rule of thirds by placing important elements along these lines and at the intersections. In Pierre Bonnard's painting, Nude against Daylight, we can see that Bonnard has also taken advantage of the rule of thirds grid, as well as the triangular format that leads the eye through the picture. Bonnard also uses leading lines to lead the viewer's eye to the mirror at the top left and the empty seat within it. Is this the seat that Bonnard was using to paint the piece? Or is this the seat that the viewer is imagined to occupy? Either way, it adds depth and interest. In Mark Tansey's painting entitled Action Painting II, we see a busy action scene of artists capturing a rocket launch. Firstly, Tansey takes advantage of the triangular format all over the picture, drawing the viewer's eye to the upward trajectory of the rocket. Tansey also creates depth using the artists as the foreground, the land as the mid ground, and the rocket as the background. 10. Conclusion: In conclusion, the techniques that we've covered in this class will help you when you're composing your work and will hopefully lead to a more visually appealing image. Thank you so much for joining me and please don't forget to add a project to the your Project's tab below. I can't wait to see what you come up with. For now, until next time, happy drawing.