This has probably happened at least once to everyone. You’re walking along, minding your business, you glance at a storefront, a billboard, a painting in a shop window, a calendar, and you just have to have it or take a photo of it or stand and look at it. It’s difficult to say what makes a work of art—painting, photograph, statue, quilt—suddenly seem so compelling. Probably a huge factor is the artwork’s composition, the placement of the elements within it that ratchet up the viewer’s interest.
Good news: Composition techniques can be learned. One overriding awareness to hone is to be aware that the purpose of the visual arts is to somehow communicate with the viewer. A work does not have to be professionally executed or well-composed in order to communicate, but it will be much more compelling if the artist is aware of some rudimentary principles of composition. Three of them follow.
First of all, we in the Western world read and write from the left to the right and from the top of the page to the bottom. As a result, we tend to look at visual things in the same way, left to right, top to bottom. If the center of interest is on the left side of the work, there should be something that draws the eye from the left to the right hand side. If the center of interest is on the right hand side, there should be something on the left that pulls the viewer’s eye toward the right. Try looking at a photo or painting that you like and carefully think about where your eyes go. Where do they first land? How do they move around the work? Do they return to the center of interest?
Second, viewers’ eyes should never slide off the work without having something in the composition that will bring their gaze back in. So be careful with parts of the composition that direct their gaze outward.
And last, make sure the finished work is unified, that it all fits together nicely, not only in terms of the subject, but also the colors. Do you have a solitary dab of turquoise in one corner that seems to dominate the work? Is there somewhere else you could put another small drop of turquoise to keep it company? You’re the artist. You can do that!
Editor’s Note: Pat Jakobi is an award-winning photographer who exhibits and sells her work at Galveston Art League galleries in Texas City, 611 6th St. N., and Galveston, 2117A Postoffice St., as well as at the Galveston Island Market, held downtown on the third Saturday of most months, and at the Galveston Bookshop, 317 23rd St. in downtown Galveston.