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Drawing Techniques

Composition in Art

Feb 21, 2024

Imagine standing before a masterpiece like Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” What makes this painting so mesmerizing?

One reason is the composition. Composition is an essential element of a visually captivating piece.

This blog post will explore the concept of composition in art. We’ll also discuss some elements and principles of composing artwork and how they can help improve your art.

By understanding the fundamentals of composition and learning to apply them in practice, you can make your artwork dynamic and engaging.

What is Composition in Art?

What Is Composition In Art
Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Barbara (early 1480s)

Composition is the arrangement of visual elements, such as line, shape, color, tone, texture, etc., in a work of art.

Good composition helps create harmony and balance in the artwork. It guides the viewer’s eye through the painting and conveys a message or meaning behind it – in other words, it captures the viewer’s attention and engages them.

Elements of Composition

The elements of composition include line, shape, color, tone, texture, and more.

Let’s explore these elements.


An image exemplifying line composition in art, showcasing how lines are used strategically to guide the viewer's attention, create depth, and form shapes, contributing to the overall structure and balance of the artwork.
“Composition VIII” by Wassily Kandinsky (1923)

Lines are fundamental in art composition.

Lines come in all forms imaginable – they can be curved, straight, thin, thick, and so on.

They are used to create movement and give direction. They guide the viewer’s eye and contribute to the artwork’s structure. 

Lines can create powerful and dynamic compositions with color, texture, shape, tone, contrast, and balance.

For example, in the abstract painting “Composition VIII,” Kandinsky uses curved, straight, diagonal, and intersecting lines to create movement, rhythm, and depth. The lines guide the viewer’s eye across the canvas, leading to different focal points and forming a dynamic composition.


An image that illustrates the concept of shapes in the elements of composition, displaying various geometric and organic shapes skillfully arranged to create balance, contrast, and visual interest in the artwork.
“Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow” by Piet Mondrian (1930)

Shapes are enclosed spaces formed when lines meet or when areas of color, contrast, and texture intersect. 

Shapes can be geometric, like squares and circles, or organic, resembling natural forms like plants and animals. 

They add depth and interest to an artwork. Shapes serve as a unifying element that binds all other compositional elements together.

A notable example is Piet Mondrian’s “Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow.”

In this work, Mondrian uses simple geometric shapes, arranging squares and rectangles in a balanced grid. These shapes and the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow create balance, harmony, and order. 


An image highlighting the concept of form in the elements of composition, depicting three-dimensional shapes and structures that provide depth and realism, and illustrating how light, shadow, and perspective are used to create a sense of volume in art.
“Basket of Apples” by Paul Cézanne (1893)

Form in art is a way to make things look 3D on a flat canvas. It is done with the help of perspective, shadows, and highlights, creating the illusion of depth.

In other words, form comprises lines, shapes, color, and texture.

In sculpture, form is tangible, while in painting or drawing, form is created through techniques that suggest three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface.

In the painting “Basket of Apples,” Cézanne uses cubes, cylinders, spheres, and other shapes to represent objects in the painting. His manipulation of form adds realism and contributes to the composition’s dynamic nature.


An image exemplifying the element of color in art composition, displaying a vibrant spectrum of hues, shades, and tints, and illustrating how color choices affect mood, emphasis, and visual harmony in the artwork.
“Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet (1872)

Color is one of the most expressive elements in a composition. It creates harmony, contrast, and depth.

Color brings attention to specific parts of the work and guides the viewer’s eye.

Beyond aesthetics, color also acts as a symbol or metaphor in artworks. For example, blue might symbolize serenity, while red could represent passion or anger. 

By strategically using color, artists can convey meaning without using words. 

“Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet is an excellent example of the expressive use of color in art. 

Monet strategically uses warm oranges and yellows around the sun, contrasting them with cooler blues and grays. This contrast, along with his use of short brushstrokes, makes the sun stand out and appear luminous against the rest of the scene, drawing the viewer’s eye to it as the focal point.

Explore our “Introduction to Color Theory” course to understand how colors can convey rich meaning and enhance your artwork. 


An image displaying the concept of color value in art, featuring a close-up of a gerbera daisy with water droplets on its petals, with a gradient of pinks to reds that demonstrates the range from light to dark, emphasizing how color value can add dimension and depth to the subject.

Value refers to how light or dark something is in a painting. It’s all about the contrast and depth it brings, setting apart the brightest highlights from the deepest shadows and blending various shades in between. This range from light to dark helps to give a painting its sense of realism, texture, and dimension.


An image of Albrecht Dürer's 'Hare' from 1502, a detailed and realistic depiction showcasing the concept of texture in art, with fine brushwork accentuating the animal's fur and tactile qualities, exemplifying mastery in rendering lifelike textures.
“Hare” by Albrecht Dürer (1502)

Texture in art refers to the surface quality or feel of an object, which can be either visually perceived (visual texture) or physically felt (tactile texture). This element adds a “sensory dimension” to a composition. 

Artists create texture through brushstrokes, layering, mixing media, and digital techniques.

In the realistic painting “Hare,” Dürer masterfully captures the texture of the hare’s fur using delicate brushstrokes and subtle shading. The fur appears soft, fluffy, almost tactile and has a lifelike texture.


An image effectively demonstrating the concept of space in art composition, highlighting the use of positive and negative space to create depth, perspective, and focus, and showing how spatial arrangement influences the overall impact of the artwork.
“Mount Corcoran” by Albert Bierstadt (1876-1877)

Space in composition refers to the areas around and between objects. It defines the boundary and shape of the objects.

It includes positive space, occupied by objects or elements, and negative space, the open areas surrounding them. These spaces play a vital role in creating an artwork’s contrast, balance, and emphasis. 

Artists use positive space to represent their main subject, while negative space creates contrast and helps to emphasize the dominant objects.

Albert Bierstadt’s “Mount Corcoran” is a fine example. Bierstadt uses space to create a sense of grandeur and scale. 

The vast sky (negative space) contrasts with the mountain and foreground (positive space), drawing attention to the detailed textures and forms and enhancing the overall impact of the landscape.

To create stunning landscapes, explore our course “Introduction to Landscapes.”

Now that we have covered the elements of composition, let’s explore the principles of composition.

The Principles of Composition

Principles Of Composition

The principles of composition are guidelines for creating visually appealing art. These include balance, emphasis, rhythm, movement, pattern, and variety. 

These principles help artists create harmonious and compelling works, organizing elements to evoke specific moods or effects.

Let’s look at some of them.


An image illustrating the principle of balance in art composition, showing how elements like shape, color, and texture are distributed to create visual equilibrium, either symmetrically or asymmetrically, enhancing the artwork's overall harmony and appeal.
Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (Central Panel) from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck and Hubert van Eyck (1432)

Balance refers to the equal distribution of visual elements within a composition. This can be achieved through symmetrical or asymmetrical design techniques, grouping similar elements, or mirroring shapes and lines. 

It’s important to consider how each element relates to the others and contributes to the overall balance of the work. A balanced composition feels stable and aesthetically pleasing, while an unbalanced one can appear unsettling. 

An example of balance is the central panel of “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck and Hubert van Eyck, where the symmetrical arrangement of figures and architectural elements creates a harmonious and visually satisfying composition.


An image demonstrating movement composition in art, depicting elements arranged in a dynamic manner to suggest motion, guiding the viewer's eye through the artwork in a fluid, sweeping trajectory.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (1830-1832)

Movement is the illusion of, well, movement within a composition. It can be achieved by repeating lines, curves, diagonals, and rhythms.

The goal of movement in a composition is to create a sense of flow, guiding the viewer’s eye around the artwork. This technique helps to generate interest, draw attention to specific elements, and ultimately create a visually appealing composition.

One famous example illustrating movement in art is “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai. 

In this iconic woodblock print, the artist uses a combination of curved and diagonal lines to create the powerful and dynamic movement of the waves.


An artwork showcasing the concept of rhythm in art, featuring repeating patterns and elements that create a visual tempo, leading the viewer's eye across the canvas in a harmonious, rhythmic flow.
The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

Rhythm is created by repeating visual elements such as lines, shapes, or colors. This can create a sense of flow and energy within a composition.

It leads the viewer’s eye through the composition, emphasizing specific elements and guiding their gaze. Rhythm also elicits emotional responses, such as calmness or excitement, based on how it’s used alongside other elements in the artwork.

In Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” rhythmic swirling patterns in the sky and the cypress tree create a sense of movement. These patterns guide the viewer’s eye and give the impression of a dynamic, pulsating night sky.


An image showcasing the concept of emphasis in art composition, highlighting how focal points are created through contrasting elements, leading the viewer's eye to the most important parts of the artwork and enhancing its overall impact.
“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn (1642)

Emphasis refers to the idea that certain elements within a composition should be highlighted or made more prominent than others.

It creates a visual hierarchy by directing the viewer’s eye to key areas of the artwork. 

This effect is often achieved through contrast (light and dark areas), color and value differences, or sharp and soft edges. 

Using emphasis, artists can create visually engaging compositions and effectively communicate their intended message.

In “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn, emphasis is achieved through light and shadow. The contrast between the illuminated figures and the dark background directs the viewer’s attention to the central characters, creating a focal point that enhances the dramatic effect of the painting.


An image depicting the concept of harmony in art composition, demonstrating how various elements like color, shape, and texture are cohesively integrated to create a pleasing, unified, and aesthetically balanced artwork.
Twachtman John Henry Winter Harmony (1890 – 1900)

Harmony is the relationship between elements within a composition that creates unity and completeness. 

It is achieved when elements like colors, shapes, sizes, and tones complement each other. 

For instance, using shades from the same color family or repeating specific shapes can establish harmony. This cohesion allows the composition to flow naturally, creating a sense of balance and unity, which is visually pleasing.

Twachtman’s “Winter Harmony” depicts a serene winter landscape with a limited, cool color palette. The harmonious blend of muted tones creates a sense of unity and tranquility.

The repetition of soft, rounded shapes in the snow-covered scenery enhances this feeling, evoking a peaceful winter scene.


An image showcasing the concept of unity in art, featuring a vibrant oil pastel drawing with interlocking shapes and complementary colors that create a cohesive and harmonious visual field, illustrating how different elements can come together to form a unified composition.

Unity refers to how elements are placed together to create a sense of order and completeness. Unity allows the viewer to connect with a composition by making it coherent and visually appealing.

Harmony and unity are related, but they’re not the same. While harmony is about using similar elements, unity is how all elements combine to create a unified composition.


An image capturing the essence of variety in composition through a watercolor painting of a cherry blossom-lined path, with dappled sunlight casting dynamic shadows and light, surrounded by a tapestry of vivid colors and a mixture of detailed and impressionistic textures.

Variety refers to differences in colors, textures, shapes, and lines and variations in light, shadow, form, scale, and position. It adds interest and captivates the viewer by introducing contrast. 

However, overuse of variety can lead to an overwhelming and disorganized composition. Therefore, balancing harmony and variety is crucial for creating an appealing artwork.


An image of a classic Venetian scene that illustrates the concept of proportion in art composition, with buildings, gondolas, and figures carefully scaled in relation to each other, demonstrating the use of proportion to create a realistic and balanced depiction of the serene canal environment.
The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking Southeast, with the Campo della Carità to the Right by Canaletto (1697–1768)

Proportion in art refers to the size relationship between objects or elements. Proportion establishes balance, harmony, and unity in a composition. 

Proportion also helps create depth and perspective.

By adjusting proportions and scales, artists can make objects appear closer or farther away. Additionally, proportion can convey emotion and movement. 

Careful consideration of element sizes can visually express feelings like excitement or tranquility in the artwork.

Canaletto’s painting “The Grand Canal, Venice” demonstrates proportion well. The sizes of the buildings and boats are depicted realistically to each other and the scene. This makes the painting look lifelike and creates a sense of depth.

Composition Techniques

Composition techniques refer to the various methods used to create a composition. These techniques help create a visually appealing, balanced, and unified composition.

Rule of Thirds

Two side by side images illustrating the concept of the rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most popular composition techniques. It involves dividing an image into nine equal parts using two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines. This creates a grid with four intersecting points (or thirds).

The primary elements for the composition should be placed along these lines or at the intersection points. This composition technique can create balance and help guide the viewer’s eye around the image.

This technique is widely used by photographers, painters, filmmakers, graphic designers, and other visual artists to compose aesthetically pleasing visuals.

Rule of Odds

Another composition technique is the rule of odds. This technique suggests that an odd number of elements is visually more interesting than an even number.

The idea behind this composition technique is that an odd number of objects creates a sense of imbalance and thus generates tension in the composition. An image with two subjects may look balanced but lack dynamism, while an image with three or more subjects can create dynamism and excitement.

The rule of odds is often used to draw attention to the main subject and emphasize relationships between elements, resulting in a more visually engaging composition.

Rule of Space

An image demonstrating the rule of space in composition, featuring a subject moving or looking towards ample negative space, creating a sense of direction and movement within the frame.

The rule of space composition technique involves using white or negative space around the subject to create a sense of movement. 

This technique helps direct the viewer’s eye to a specific element, such as a person’s eyes looking in a particular direction. t also creates depth and context by emphasizing relationships between elements. 

This technique allows artists to suggest movement or direction.

Rule of Golden Triangle

An illustration demonstrating the concept of the Golden Triangle in art composition, featuring a scene divided diagonally with key elements aligned along these lines and at their intersections, embodying the principles of balance and dynamic visual interest.

The rule of the golden triangle involves dividing the artwork into four triangles of different sizes. These triangles are created by drawing a diagonal line from the top right corner to the bottom left corner with two additional lines from the other corners, touching the first at 90-degree angles.

The elements can be placed in one of the triangles or along two of the lines to create a more balanced composition. The focal point is often placed in the larger triangle or at an intersection between two triangles. 

This composition technique is used to create a balanced and visually pleasing composition.


A painting that exemplifies the concept of simplification, featuring a composition where complex subjects are rendered with minimalistic and basic shapes, colors, and forms, emphasizing clarity and ease of visual interpretation.

Simplification reduces visual clutter and emphasizes the main elements within an image.

It involves removing unnecessary elements around the composition, such as background details or highlights that draw attention away from the primary subject.

Eliminating extraneous content will make the composition clearer and easier to understand. Lighting can also decrease clutter and create a more unified composition.

Simplification can be used in photography and painting to create an aesthetically pleasing composition that stands out.


An image depicting the concept of symmetry in art, with winter scene where a central path lined with trees leads towards distant mountains, creating a symmetrical composition that guides the viewer's eye through the balanced landscape.

Symmetry is a composition technique used in art and design to create balance and harmony. It involves arranging elements in a composition so that both sides are equal or mirrored. This creates a pleasing visual effect, giving the impression of order and stability.

Symmetrical compositions often use geometric shapes and natural patterns to create a sense of harmony and completeness.

The Golden Ratio is often used when creating symmetrical compositions, as it perfectly balances the composition’s elements. ymmetry can also highlight certain elements in a composition and create dramatic effects.

What is the Focal Point?

The focal point is the area of a composition or artwork that captures the viewer’s attention. t can be a single item or consist of multiple items.

A work of art should always have at least one focal point to keep its balance and lead the eye around its composition. Without a focal point, the composition can become cluttered and chaotic, making it difficult for viewers to focus on its main subject. 


Our exploration of composition in art has revealed that it is a powerful tool for expressing an idea. It is an integral part of visual art and design, allowing artists to create attractive works that captivate observers.

Whether you are just starting (check out our guide “How to Begin Your Digital Art Journey” if you are starting with art) or have some experience, learning and applying composition techniques to your artwork is always beneficial.

To hone your artistic skills, check out our course “Fundamentals of Drawing.” This course will provide you with the basics of art and help you build a strong foundation.

Also, check out the courses “Mastering Lighting and Shading,” “Drawing Character Poses with Personality,” and “Gesture Drawing” to learn various drawing techniques required for creating fantastic artwork.

You can also check out the list of our online courses and pick the one suitable for you. 


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April 11, 2024

Fabulous information! Thank you very much!

April 22, 2024

Excited to find this information! Thank you!

ALICIA de Uruguay
June 06, 2024

Muy buena guía para principiantes. Muchas gracias!

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