Composition in Art

And how to use a generic armature or template to check yours.

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Composition in Art

What is it?  In a nutshell, it is the balance you create within your work. 

Some art has it's "balance" skewed on purpose, to create maximum tension for the viewer.

I'm going to talk about Composition in terms of today's understanding of beauty and balance.  (Not that unbalanced is bad, but it is a different genre of art that utilizes imbalance, tension, and shock)

I don't want to give tension a bad name either. Tension is good, whether it be within the composition, the color, or the subject matter or placement of figures and objects within the painting (composition again).  You can create tension in a painting and still have a perfect balance.

In the late 1800's when the rules were thrown out of the academies, and modern art with it's differing set of rules made its mark in Paris, a great many things changed, but one thing didn't change.  What is pleasing to most (not all) art lovers today is still the same as it was prior to the beginning of the modern art movement.  Even in non-objective abstract art, the key components the artist has at his/her disposal are  color and composition.

The placement of objects, lights and darks, and generally the division of space within a painting is considered as the "composition in art."

Composition in Art, how to make a Generic Armature grid or template.

What is an armature: Armature for sculpture definition

and here's another definition of an armature used in art: Armature

A generic armature (or harmonic armature) for use in art is basically a grid template.  We will build one using the two theories on composition in art below. 

generic armature or composition templategeneric armature or composition template

Those crisscrossed lines are the armature.  I've drawn them on a square that represents an 8" x 10" canvas in this first example.  The 2nd picture shows the armature completed, the intersecting lines are numbered so you can follow along if you wish.  I use a sheet protector or overhead projector sheet to draw mine on.   It's pretty straight forward and simple to put together.

Some attribute the author of a technique in controlling composition to the Greek mathematician Pythagoras.  He figured we respond in a positive manner to things that are in intervals of 1/3, 1/4, 1/2, 2/3's, 3/4's.  (This is used extensively in music) 

There is also the Fibonacci Sequence  where a ratio is used to describe the perfect, or golden (divine) proportion. Ratio= 1:1.6

We will use a bit of both in describing a technique that makes your job as an artist a little easier when it comes to where to put that apple next to the teacup in your painting.

I also will subscribe to the KISS (Keep it simple sexy) principle, as it has served me well over the years.

I talk about grids and how to create some very complex grid patterns here (art-composition) , but that is a more complex system than what is discussed here.  This is a more simplified version, believe me, don't let this image below run you out the door just yet.  It's for illustration purposes only!

generic armature, composition templatecomposition is art generic armature with hot spots

In this example (above) I show you a true golden rectangle following the 1:1.6 ratio (Fibonacci Numbers)  This is the blue box.  Then I've drawn an 8"x10" canvas on top of that (larger box) with its intersecting lines.

The lines are drawn to intersect 3rd's, 4th's and halves within the box.   

Now here's where Pythagoras steps in and says the circled intersecting lines are where your points of interest should lie.  Notice again how close the circled intersections are at 1/3 and 1/4 of the 2 different boxes.

Now lets bring in yet another Fibonacci Sequence that is found in nature (more of less) 

Above is the Fibonacci Snail example. You can flip the snail horizontally or vertically to get the hot spot close to a different thirds marking (little blue circles, there is 4 of them here)

Again, the points of interest are pretty close, right? 

Those intersecting points are very close to your thirds markings. 

So.... the long and short of the matter.

Time honored theory of 3rd's for composition in art!

Stick with the time honored theory of 3rds in placing your objects within your painting. 

If you have a more complex painting with figures or multiple subjects within the still life, by all means, draw the simple generic armature and make sure your items fall on the intersections or follow an armature line, and you'll be creating a pretty safe bet for a great painting!

If it gets really complicated, then draw one of the more complex grids to verify your items fall within the intersecting lines or that follow the line paths through the picture plain. 

Hopefully you stuck with me through this entire process, and please forgive me for taking you through the whole journey, but some lessons just seem to stick better when you know the entire story behind the concept. 

The thirds grid armature or template will serve you well in figuring the composition in art for your next project!

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