Mastering Composition in Drawing (Part 2)


Welcome to Part 2 in our discussion on mastering composition in drawing.

Composition in Drawing: Movement, Direction and Unity

We are now ready to look at Movement, Direction and Rhythm in our discussion of Composition. I am going to discuss these three Principles of Design together because they are so interrelated.

Movement and Direction is created by elements that flow around your composition.  There should be a clear path for your eye to follow through the drawing composition on your paper or oil painting canvas.

Just like in music, Rhythm is a beat or pulse that is created through repetition of shapes, lines, values, or color.

Let’s take a look at two examples.

Lighthouse at Two Lights by Edward Hopper

composition in drawing

The painting above is titled Lighthouse at Two Lights and was painted by American realist painter Edward Hopper.  Hopper is a master of movement in his compositions.  There is always a very clear Direction or path for your eye to follow in Hopper’s paintings.

I have drawn a red line with arrows that clearly shows the Movement and Direction of the shapes in his composition.  Notice that there is a very clear path or Direction for your eye to follow through this beautiful landscape image.

He does not leave any part of his composition to chance. He is in full control of where he wants your eye to follow on his painting.

Also, notice how the clouds in the upper right-hand corner of the composition literally point back to the lighthouse tower and bring your eye back around into a completed circle.  Without the clouds, your eye would fly off the canvas at this important part of the image.

Every element of shape is important to create the circular Direction and Movement that your eye takes like a highway through the composition.

Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp

composition in drawing

The painting above is titled Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp.  This painting is a perfect example of how Movement and Direction can be created using Rhythm.

The Rhythm of repeated shapes, laid side by side one after another, create a flow and Direction through this dynamic composition. Your eye rides through the Movement of Rhythm, which is created by the repeated shapes.

You can literally feel the Movement as if it were a deep bass playing in a musical composition. This is the magic of Rhythm that can be created using abstract shapes and forms in visual images.

Composition in Drawing: Space and Unity

I am going to discuss Space and Unity together because they are somewhat related.

Space, or Negative Space as it is more clearly labeled, is one of the most Unifying forces in a dynamic composition. It is the areas around or between the main elements in a design. These areas should be well-designed thoughtfully incorporated into your composition just like the main elements.

Unity occurs when all of the elements in a design come together to create a harmonious and balanced whole.

Let’s take a look at an example of Negative Space used to create Unity.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sergeant

composition in drawing

The oil painting above is entitled The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit and is by American portrait painter John Singer Sergeant.  This painting, like many of Sergeant’s portraits, is extremely large and utilizes Negative Space to its fullest potential.

Notice the huge amount of Negative Space that runs throughout this important work.  None of this Negative Space is wasted or left to chance, it is carefully thought out and well-designed to create a cohesive whole and Unity in the work.  There are many secondary shapes that recede into a sea of dark greys and almost blacks in the areas behind the standing young girls to the right of the vase.

The daughters, especially the youngest child in the front with the doll, are of course, the main focal point and Center of Interest of the painting. But notice that they actually take up a very small amount of the area of the entire work.  The Negative Space around the girls constitutes a much larger area of the painting.  Sergeant consistently used this approach in many of his most successful paintings.

Rembrandt was another artist who used large areas of very dark Negative Space in his compositions.  In many instances, the faces and hands in his portraits seem to literally float in a sea of very dark greys and even blacks.

Study Old Master paintings to see how they used Negative Space to help emphasize the focal point and bring Unity to their works.

This is Part 2 in our discussion about composition in drawingClick here to read Part 1 if you missed it.

Recommended Exercise and Art Supplies for Practicing Composition Drawings

Are you ready to be a better draftsman and painter?

Then pick up your pencils, charcoals, paper and join us. Spend the next seven days just focusing on small thumbnail drawing compositions. Do very quick, gestural drawings that focus on the composition only. Don't worry about details or even finishing the drawing. Just rough in the basic ideas of the composition. Try to do 5 small drawings per day for the next seven days.

Do you need some art supplies?

I recommend two things to get you started:

  1. A nice set of pencils, charcoals and erasers
  2. A small sketchbook, 9 x 12 inches or smaller

For the pencil set, try this 18 piece drawing set by Pro Art. It has all the pencils, charcoals, erasers and sharpeners that you will need.

It is perfect for beginners. And perfect for this challenge.

You will want to experiment with different drawing medium from pencils to charcoal. That way you can learn what works best for you.

Some people are better drawing in charcoal. Some people are better drawing in pencil. Again, experimentation is the key here.

Here is what you get in this set:

  • 8 graphite pencils (2H to 6B)
  • 3 charcoal pencils
  • 2 charcoal sticks
  • 1 sketch stick
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Charcoal sharpener
  • 1 kneaded eraser
  • 1 White Pro art plastic erase
  • Great for beginners
  • Holding and toggle clamps included to keep wood steady and ensure precise cuts every tim
  • Additional two sharpeners and two erasers

I recommend a small sketch pad  for this challenge. Try a 9 x 12 inch or smaller spiral bound.

drawing and painting
This smaller size 9 x 12 inch sketch pad allows you to take it with you on the go. That way you have it with you anytime inspiration strikes. It's a sure way to make sure you get your daily drawings going.

The smaller size allows you to take it with you on the go.

That way you can sketch whenever you see an object that inspires you.

Being able to quickly take out your sketch book and start drawing is an important aspect to this challenge.

The convenience of having it with you at all times is what keeps you on track and able to do the daily drawing, regardless of your schedule.

Does that make sense?

Here's why I like this sketch book:

  • BUY ONE GET ONE FREE - 2 Pack of 75 Page Sketchpads. 50% More than the Competition
  • High QUALITY 60lb (90GSMS) Paper - 100% Acid-Free and Neutral PH. Perfectly Textured for a Smooth Non-Reflective Finish
  • DURABLE SPIRALED BINDING - Each Page has a Perforated Edging for Easy Tearing. Ideal for Framing or Presenting!
  • IDEAL FOR ARTISTS, WRITERS, & ILLUSTRATORS - Highly Universal Product for Beginners or Professionals. Can also be used as a Journal, Diary, or Watercolor Canvas
  • FULL 100% MANUFACTURER MONEY BACK GUARANTEE - If you find any flaw with this book, or any of our products, you get a free replacement or a full refund.

Just to let you know, all of the product links in this article are affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy anything, but it doesn’t cost you any extra. Don’t worry, I’m always honest, open, impartial with my reviews – I only recommend the good stuff – but this affiliate income helps keep the site running.

Join our composition drawing challenge today and start capturing the magic of your everyday on paper.​

Please share your images on Instagram and Twitter by using the hashtag #CompositionDrawingChallenge. I can't wait to watch your journey!

Let us know in the comments if you have further ideas about composition in drawing.

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