Oct252015: Composition Tips

“i love many aspects of your art, but especially the composition in your pics. do you consciously try to create interesting composition when youre drawing or do you just instinctively set it up that way?”

Hi anon! I’m so pleased you noticed the effort I put into composition. Composition is one part of drawing that I love doing lots and learning from! So I’m just going to talk about it in the simplest way I can.

I think most of the time it’s both a conscious and unconscious process. Conscious because I try to make effective compositions that suit the topic, story etc. Unconscious because some of the things I learnt from studying composition are automatic due to practice. But it’s easy to break down the process (you can apply this to studying other’s work too, not just for yours).

I tend to see pictures as groups of shapes. Take for example Bruegel’s The Fall of Icarus:

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This is one of the easier ways of breaking down someone’s composition. Objects are usually relegated into their own sections, and you can usually figure it out from colour use and contrast. So in this picture you can see the gradient of light is fading downwards in a curve-like motion, directing you to the donkey farmer (it helps that he’s wearing the only red in a sea of blues/greens!). But the title isn’t about the donkey farmer…it’s about Icarus. And where is Icarus? At the most isolated corner of the painting. You’d think Icarus would be the central focus of the image, but you see, this painting is about how life goes on in ignorance even when both an amazing thing and a great suffering are happening right now. So yeah this is one of the coolest compositions because it’s effective (both as a picture about the donkey farmer AND the ignorance of suffering) and subversive. High-five Bruegel!

You can use the same observation technique for looking at other people’s work and also creating your own. Lucky for you I actually have a WIP process of one of my drawings, Readings.

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I made it clear early on that the tree is going to be the main framing device of the composition, so it brings attention to Grimsley. The secondary framing device is the cross tombstone next to him, so now he’s stuck in this mostly empty space. That’s one neat trick: find a way to frame the focus of your picture.

But I also wanted to make the leaves detailed. One thing it catches people’s attention and secondly it’s also another framing cheat (the real reason is I saw how trad. Chinese paintings drew leaves and I wanted to copy that). But I can’t make everything else too detailed or they will get lost. So I’ve made the tree and the ground on it the most detailed thing; as you can see in the 4th pic it’s become the foreground. Everything else must be simpler in contrast.

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You can try breaking this image down into sections like how I did for Bruegel! I used colour contrast, space contrast, detail contrast and framing for this.

But haha illustrations like this don’t come out of the void (though sometimes they do). Most times I do thumbnailing, which is like the microversion of whatever I just said here. Really micro… Thumbnails are great to help fix and get rid of problems that might come up later in your drawing.

Polished thumbnails (mostly for pro work)

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How I actually thumbnail

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This is part of a composition practice I do. I just give myself a theme (in this case here, it’s ‘Trees’) and I go wild with it.

Hopefully this helps!!! I missed out a few things (for example building a skeleton of a composition from lines, which is a good skill), but this is pretty easy basic stuff, and shows a lot of how I work already.

Hello, hello

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

Upcoming Events

Perth Comics Arts Festival, July 27-28

Comic Arts Workshop, September

Melbourne Comics Art Jam, every Saturday 1-3pm

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Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

Upcoming Events

Perth Comics Arts Festival, July 27-28

Comic Arts Workshop, September

Melbourne Comics Art Jam, every Saturday 1-3pm

Follow My Blog

Pop your email in the box below and be notified of my next post.

Categories

Archives