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Composition and Expression

by O.M.Braida ©2011 –

“Composition in art always appears, at first, to be a grand mystery.  Often students relate to me their sense of loss over composition.  There seems to be a search for the ‘holy grail’ of composition.  The belief being that once obtained the artist becomes infused with magical talents that inspire works of ingenious and breathtaking creativity.  Suffice it to say from the outset that the search is not ‘out there’ but right in the subject itself.   As Nicolaides states, ‘The pattern grows out of a concrete and actual condition.’  What we are looking for is quite simply: 1) gesture, 2) balance, 3) focal point, and 4) entrance and exit.  How we achieve these four objectives comes quite naturally to some and to others it is developed.” Ten  Steps…Volume 4, Drawing IV, Composition and Expression, Page 9 by O.M. Braida.

Dear Friends:  The term composition in any work of art simply means “putting together” or “arranging” a conscious idea or set of ideas in some form of layout or design.  The outcome of the intangible idea becomes a formal structure of our thoughts.  The struggle for many is learning how to organize this tangible expression of ideas into a pleasant and distinct mark of individual style.  Some artists just keep working without formulas and others follow the “principles of organization” or “principles of design” to produce a unified and desired statement that determines the important factors of their compositions.

Considered the most important factor of composition, is the center of interest.  Once the center is successfully established the viewer remains with the work of art long enough to appreciate it.     The following additional factors help to improve our understanding of composition and develop balanced artistic expression especially when applied to act together:

•   Gesture

•   Shape and proportion

•   Positioning/Orientation/Balance/Harmony among the elements

•   The path of observation relative to entry and exit.

•   Negative space

•   Color (this will help depict the subject but also decide the mood.)

•   Color Ratio (or Contrast Ratio) the value, or degree of lightness and darkness. A good Notan structure.

•   Lines (because they influence the direction of the viewer’s gaze.) These include: Straight Lines, Arched Lines, Wavy Lines, Vertical Lines, Horizontal Lines, Oblique Lines.

•   Rhythm

•   Angle of Light Source and Area of Greatest Highlight

•   Repetition, Section Exactness, and Even vs. Odd Numbers of Objects

•   Detail

•   Geometric Perspective, including foreshortening, diminishment, atmospheric fade, Golden Mean, Rule of Thirds, Rule of Odds, Rule of Space.

•   Horizon lines that do not divide the artwork.

•   Arrangement of spatial planes

•   Artist Signature

Balance then is decided by the sum of the parts as indicated above.  Our job is to look closely at those parts when analyzing our work.

“Establishing the gesture of the central action line helps us to balance our composition by adding both curved and straight lines to create balance.  A Balance of Curves will not only help the viewer follow the composition around, but will add greatly to the graceful movement of your composition, a very important characteristic for botanical art.”  From “Ten Steps…Volume 4, Drawing IV, Composition and Expression” Page 9 by O.M.Braida.

When beginning to flush out your composition, the first thing you want to consider is the natural movement of your subject.  Look for its “natural curve” or the line of action we have previously discussed.  In his book, “The Natural Way to Draw,” Kimon Nicolaides (1892-1938) refers to how, “…composition arises out of the subject.”

This concept only goes to reinforce the O.M. Braida OMISM:  “We draw what we see so that others can see clearly.” And further, by going to such lengths to discover the grace inherent in our subject, we are, in fact, following French Court tradition of “fine art” botanicals and the tradition of other great masters of botanical art. Further by developing our composition with the O.M. Braida Matrix Theory, we include a spatial environment that will succeed in bringing our subject to life.

Composition has two divisions:  Vertical and Horizontal.  In botanical art these divisions can be halved or in thirds.  Vertical composition expresses power and horizontal composition express tranquility.  The center of attraction can be placed where the two planes meet as a device for moving the eye around the composition. This center is not necessarily the center of your drawing. The focal point is the center of interest and as stated previously the most important aspect of your composition if you expect the eye to have a pleasant journey.

“While mystery, subtlety and evasive charm all have their place
in a work of art, they should not stand in the way of one
necessary quality – immediate attraction.  The picture should
be like an open door to the viewer without anything blocking
the threshold.”
Composition in Art. Henry Rankin Poore

Additionally, this “journey of the eye” can be accompanied by light, form, and detail. A few methods that help the viewer travel are curvilinear composition that shows the eye the way, perspective recession that lead the eye from foreground, to middle ground, to background, to far ground, and back again, or triangular composition that either is used to point to the focal point, or used as the design for the focal point.

In botanical art, perspective recession is not always accomplished with straight lines (as in landscape, structural or object compositions); rather it is accomplished with receding floral shapes, leaves, and detail.  This brings us back to our discussions that viewing several flowers from various positions changes their size. A botanical portrait in perspective must show flowers receding in size as they move away from the center of attraction in order to assist the eye as it enters, moves around, and exits the composition.

The last obstacle on this journey of the eye is the exit plan.  Where do you want the viewer to exit? Before they have seen all the important aspects of detail, or after?  Notice the support the circular and curvilinear design gives the composition in the Prunus instititia painting on the right.  The veins of the leaves help direct the eye into the composition and lead the branch – the eye wants to go around ‘one more time.’

Last but not least, before you begin, decide on the size of your composition and the size and weight of the paper or canvas you will need to execute the final composition.  This is important to think about in the beginning, especially if you intend to show the work in an exhibition that has size requirements, or if you are working for a client that requires a specific size. Remember it is always better to have paper or canvas that is larger than needed as it can always be trimmed down before framing. Watercolor paper that is too small may have to be floated in its frame and this can only be done effectively if the edges are deckled. The process is s easy as A-B-C; just remember to measure twice, cut once!

Here are a few assessments to consider while working to completion of your composition:

1.  Does the composition let the viewer travel in and around it?

2.  Is there is a focal point or main area of interest within? It is established by the use of sharp values?

3.  Have multiple planes been established and are components intersecting the appropriate plane?

4.  Is the perspective correct? Is the “foreshortening” correct?

5.  Do the line and contour capture the plant’s identity?

6.  Does the drawing EXPLAIN the subject and possibly its habitat?

7.  Are the important key element features visible?

8.   Are blossoms and leaves shown from various angles?

9.   Is there depth in the image?

10.  Have spatial relationships been established?

11.  Are these relationships affected differently by their proximity to light to convey a field of varying values?

12.  Does this exchange of values cause the viewer to move in and around the composition?

13.  Is the composition balanced?

14.  Does it tell story you wish to convey?

Let me know how this information may have helped you.  I look forward to your comments.

God bless. OM

Pictorial Composition (Composition in Art)  By Henry Rankin Poore





Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color By Arthur Wesley Dow


Mastering Composition: Techniques and Principles to Dramatically Improve Your Painting  By Ian Roberts



A Painter’s Guide to Design and Composition By Margot Schulzke

3 Responses to “Composition and Expression”

  1. I loved your blog post.Much thanks again. Fantastic.

  2. Enjoyed every bit of your article post.Much thanks again. Really Great.

  3. Wonderful information about composition and so clearly explained.