Two Composition Techniques to Use In Your Paintings

There are two composition techniques you can use that will help you to create great paintings. They are rebatment of the rectangle and the golden ratio.

Composition is how you arrange various elements in your painting to create a pleasing and eye-catching arrangement. It is paramount to whether or not your painting will be a strong and interesting work or a weak and disordered one. When the composition is done well, you do not notice it so much. There is something interesting about the painting that you find appealing. However, when it is done poorly, the painting doesn’t look quite right and feels awkward.

Creating a good composition will be challenging initially, and you will have to work at producing a strong one; however, it will become second nature with practice. Here are two easy composition techniques that you can use to improve your oil paintings dramatically.

Rabatment of The Rectangle

Composition Techniques
Rabatment of The Rectangle

One method for creating better compositions is called rabatment of the rectangle. Rabatment is a way to divide up the space within a rectangular shape to create a square with four equal sides equal to the short side of the rectangle. In other words, it is the perfect square that is found inside any rectangle.

For each landscape (horizontal) rectangle, there is either a right or left rabatment. And for each portrait (vertical) rectangle, there is an upper or lower. See diagram.

It is within these squares that you would place the most important aspects of your composition, thereby creating a center of interest. Compositions are much more interesting to view if the focal point is not located directly in the center of your canvas.

rabatment exampleWhen you use this simple technique to compose your oil paintings, you are more likely to create a unified, harmonious, and balanced composition.

In your next painting try enclosing the main center of interest inside the rabatment square. You can use either upper or lower square on a vertically oriented canvas or left or right square on a horizontally oriented canvas. The elements outside of the rabatment should compliment the center of interest that is located within the square.

The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio is the next composition technique we’ll discuss, and it’s a little more complicated than the first. It is a mathematical ratio found in nature that can be used in a painting to create pleasing, harmonious proportions. It has many names, with the most common ones being the Golden Section, Golden Ratio, or Golden Mean. Some lesser-known names for this rule are called the Golden Number, Divine Proportion, Golden Proportion, Divine Section, Golden Cut, Fibonacci Number, and Phi (pronounced “fie”).

Composition Techniques
The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio isn’t merely a definition; it’s an actual ratio of 1:1.618. A simple way to demonstrate this ratio is by using a rectangle with a width of 1 and a length of 1.618. Within this rectangle is a square with a ratio of 1:1 and another rectangle with a ratio of 1:1.618. If you were to draw another square within the smaller rectangle, once again, you have a 1:1 ratio square and another rectangle whose proportions are 1:1.618, just like the larger original rectangle. You can continue to divide the resulting smaller rectangle as before on into infinity. Give it a try.

golden ratio exampleThe golden ratio can create beauty and balance in the layout and design of all your paintings. Note the point where the diagonal lines intersect. That particular point is key when using this ratio to compose your paintings. You want to place your key elements or focal point at this intersection. As already stated, the golden ratio is infinitely divisible. This means multiple intersections can be identified where sub-elements of a scene can be placed.

Great compositions aren’t created by chance. They necessitate a great deal of thought, planning, patience, and visual familiarity. It should, however, become easier for you if you use these composition techniques.

Additional Reading

Creating Better Compositions In All Your Paintings

Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

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Creating Better Compositions In All Your Paintings

Every artist’s goal should be about creating better compositions in all their paintings. Composition is the arrangement of various elements within a painting. It can either be a good composition or a bad one. When done successfully, a good design will draw the viewer’s gaze into and around the painting’s surface. It will lead their gaze from one element to another, taking everything in, and finally resting on the main subject of the painting.

3 Ways of Creating Better Compositions

There are three techniques for creating better compositions that every painter should use. These are (1) the rule of thirds, (2) the rule of odds, and (3) the rule of space. Let me explain each one.

Rule of Thirds

Creating Better Compositions
Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a helpful guideline used by many professional photographers to aid them when composing the subject matter of their photographs. It is also a useful technique that can be used by painters as well.

The idea behind this rule is to divide your painting surface into nine equal parts. Then position the essential elements in the scene along these lines or at the points where they intersect.

To create a landscape composition, follow these steps:

    1. First, divide your canvas into nine equal segments. This is done by drawing two vertical and two horizontal lines at the 1/3 and 2/3 measurements creating a grid.
    2. Determine where the horizon will be, either on the top horizontal line or the bottom line.
    3. Arrange the essential elements of your subject matter at one or more of the points where the lines intersect.

The rule of thirds states that a painting has a stronger composition when the focal point is not directly in the center of the canvas. If it is placed at one of the four intersecting points, it becomes much more interesting. Balance can be achieved in the composition by placing a secondary object at the opposite intersection.

In the diagram above, notice how the horizon is near the bottom grid line and how the tree is placed at an intersecting location on the left. It has served to give balance and intrigue to the composition by doing so.

When you use the rule of thirds in your work, it guarantees you’ll never have a painting that’s split in half (vertically or horizontally). Nor will you have one with the main focus right in the center creating a bull’s-eye leaving the rest of the painting to be ignored. Instead, the eye is drawn to the focal point and then around the artwork generating a flow from one element to the next.

Rule of Odds

building Better Compositions
Rule of Odds

The rule of odds states that a composition is much more interesting when it contains an odd number of elements rather than even. An even number of elements will create symmetries that can quickly become boring.

When we see an even number of objects, our brain attempts to group them into pairs. This often leaves the center of a scene empty. The human eye is drawn to the center, and an even number of elements in that center create an open space. Having an odd number of elements in a composition means our brain can’t group them so easily. There’s always one thing leftover that keeps our eyes moving across the composition.

The rule of odds also applies when an even number of supporting objects surrounds a single subject. In this way, there will always be an element in the center “framed” by an even number of surrounding objects. Again, this framing is more comforting to the eye and thus creates a feeling of ease and pleasure.

Rule of Space

making Better Compositions
Rule of Space

The rule of space as it applies to art is a simple technique that creates a sense of motion, activity, or conclusion in a composition. It involves creating a negative space that relates to the focal point. Some things to keep in mind are:

    • When painting a portrait (whether a person or animal), if your subject is not looking directly at you, leave some negative space in the direction the eyes are looking, even if they are looking at something off-canvas.
    • When picturing a moving object, such as a runner or vehicle, placing negative space in front of the runner or object rather than behind creates a sense of direction or implication of eventual destination.
    • If your subject is pointing at something or aiming at an object, place some negative space where the subject is pointing or aiming.

These techniques can be beneficial to the artist in creating better compositions. They are, however, most effective when used together rather than separately.

Additional Reading

Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

Two Composition Techniques to Use in Your Paintings

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Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

An introduction to the principles of good design. Learning more about what it takes to create a great composition.

What exactly are the principles of good design?

an introduction to the principles of good design.Simply put, they are the tools every artist uses to create an effective composition. These tools are balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, proportion, repetition, simplicity, space, and unity. How well an artist understands and uses these tools will determine if the composition is weak or strong. The desired outcome should be a work of art that is both unified and aesthetically pleasing to look at. In a series of discussions, we’ll take a look at each one of these principles.

Anyone who studies design will soon discover there is no longer a clear-cut line between fine art and applied art anymore. Whether it is web or graphic design, architectural or industrial design, commercial or fine art, all art is subject to the same principles that make up all good design. Just as a fine artist arranges various elements within a painting to create a pleasing composition, it is also with the graphic artist.

For example, fine artists may use objects such as a vase of flowers, bowl of fruit, or a figurine to design a lovely still life composition in a painting, while graphic artists will use headlines, bodies of text, photos, illustrations, and clip-art images to compose a page for print or a webpage for the Internet. It’s not the objects in and of themselves that determine if the design is a good composition or not, it is their arrangement governed by the principles.

Defining the Principles

    • Balance – a feeling of equality of weight, attention, or attraction of the various elements within the composition as a means of accomplishing unity.
    • Contrast – the difference between elements or the opposition to various elements.
    • Emphasis – the stress placed on a single area of a work or unifying visual theme.
    • Movement – the suggestion of action or direction, the path our eyes follow when we look at a work of art.
    • Proportion – the relation of two things in size, number, amount, or degree.
    • Repetition and rhythm – repeating an element either regularly or irregularly, resulting in a rhythm of the repeating elements.
    • Simplicity (a.k.a. visual economy) – eliminating all non-essential elements or details to reveal the essence of a form.
    • Space – the interval or measurable distance between objects or forms (two-dimensional or three-dimensional).
    • Unity – the relationship between the individual parts and the whole of a composition. Unity is the desired result in all great art.

Good art always starts with an idea.

Before beginning any work of art, every artist needs to keep in mind that every composition starts with an idea. To use the design principles effectively, the artist must have an idea to express or an objective in mind. This is vital to the success of any artwork. Without a clear purpose, even the most conscientious attention to the principles of good design will result in uninteresting work. However, with an idea clearly in mind, a beautiful composition can emerge. Every artist’s goal should be to create a composition in their work that is both unified and interesting to look at.

Questions

  1. In its simplest term, what are the principles of good design?
  2. What is the end result when these principles are effectively applied?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principles: An Introduction — You are here

Good Design Principles: Balance

Good Design Principles: Contrast

Good Design Principles: Emphasis

Good Design Principles: Movement

Good Design Principles: Proportion

Good Design Principles: Space

Good Design Principles: Visual Economy

Good Design Principles: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

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“I have known about the Good Design Principle lessons by artist Teresa Bernard for several years, and I am continually impressed. Recently I have shared several of them with my graphic design students.” — Dr. Richard D. Sheridan, Assistant Professor Wilberforce University, Ohio.

“I just had to email you to let you know how grateful I am for your principle of good design lessons. I am studying for a big art exam and your lessons are a great study aid. So clear and concise with great visual examples. I consider myself very lucky to have come across your website. Thank you so very much.” — Alice B.

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UPDATED: 15 August 2021

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The Basic Elements of Art

Introducing The Basic Art Elements

In this lesson, you will be introduced to the basic elements of art and how they work in conjunction with the principles of good design.

The basic art elements are the “building blocks” used to create any visual art piece. These elements are color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value. Without them, it would be impossible for an artist to create art. Whether they realize it or not, every artist uses at least two or more of these elements in their art-making. For example, in sculpture, an artist uses both space and form, and a painter will utilize line and shape when creating a painting.

Defining The Basic Elements of Art

    • Color — A pigment used in artwork and their various values and intensities, such as the primary colors – red, yellow, and blue.
    • Form — The mass of the shapes created by forming two or more shapes or as three-dimensional shapes when showing height, width, and depth.
    • Line — A mark (actual or implied) that spans the distance between two points used to define shape in two-dimensional work. The implied line is the path that the viewer’s eye takes as it moves along a path from form, color, or shape within a work of art. Click for more information about lines in art.
    • Shape — Any area defined by edges within the piece bound by line, value, or color. It can be geometric (for example, square, circle, hexagon, etc.) or organic (such as the shape of a puddle, blob, splatter, etc.).
    • Space — Refers to the empty or occupied areas around, between, or within components of an art piece. It is either negative (empty space) or positive (occupied space).
    • Texture — The way a surface feels or is perceived to feel. The actual or implied structure and minute molding of a surface (rough, smooth, etc.) can either be seen or felt with the sense of touch.
    • Value  Shading used to emphasize form. The degree of lightness or darkness of any given color within a piece of art. Adding white to lighten the color is called “tint,” while the addition of black is called “shade.”

An artist will skillfully use these basic elements of art, mixing them with the principles of design to compose a sensational piece of art. Not all art elements have to be used; however, there will always have to be at least two present.

Questions

Why are the elements of art so important?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art — You are here

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

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Principles of Good Design: Movement

Principles of Good Design: MovementMovement is one of the principles of good design, which gives the artist control over what the viewer sees next. Using this principle, the artist can create the path our eyes will travel as we look at art. For example, our attention is first captured by the main focal point, and then it proceeds to move around the composition as one element after another catches our attention.

Defining Movement in Art

Movement shows action and creates a feeling of motion within a composition. It also serves as a guide to direct the eye from one element to the next. An artist controls and forces the progression of the viewer’s eyes in and around the composition of the painting using eye travel. For instance, the eye will travel along an actual path, such as a solid or dotted line. It will move along more subtle paths such as from large to smaller elements, from dark to lighter elements, from color to non-color unusual color to usual shapes.

Repetition and Rhythm

Movement also contributes to the overall unity in a piece by creating a relationship between various artwork components. This relationship can be developed in a variety of ways, including through repetition and rhythm.

Good Design MovementThe use of repetition to create movement occurs when elements with something in common are repeated regularly or irregularly, creating a visual rhythm. Repetition doesn’t always have to mean exact duplication, either. However, it does require similarity or near-likeness. Slight variations to a simple repetition are good, as this will add interest. Repetition tends to relate elements together, whether they are touching or not.

Rhythm is the product of repetition, which guides the eye in a direct, flowing, or staccato movement from one place to another. It can be made using continuous repetition, periodic repetition, or a regular alternation of one or more shapes or lines. A single form can be slightly different each time it is repeated, or it can be repeated with periodic changes in size, color, texture, or value. A line’s length, weight, or direction may change on a regular basis. Color may also be repeated in various parts of the composition to unify the multiple areas of the painting.

Movement Through Action

implied movement in artMovement can also be created by action. In two-dimensional works of art, action must be implied. Implied action in a painting creates life and activity. This is best illustrated by the direction the eye takes along an invisible path created by an arrow, a gaze, or a pointing finger. The “freeze-frame” effect of a moving item, such as a bouncing ball poised in mid-air, a jogger poised to take the next step, or a swimmer plunging, can also imply action. You get the idea.

Examples of the Effective Use of Movement

 

Movement is created in several ways. You see it as your eye travels from the little girl on the blanket and moves up the stairs. You will also see repetition in color. The color of the building is very similar to the covering the child is sitting on. In addition, the stairs create a repetition effect.

repetition in design

 

Repetition also creates movement. The color of the gowns is repeated, leading the eye into the painting. The pattern on the floor also creates repetition. You also get the feeling of movement created by implied action.

Questions

  1. What are some specific ways movement can be created in a composition?
  2. In what way does movement create unity in a work of art?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement — You are here

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

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If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

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UPDATED: 26 October 2020

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Principles of Good Design: Proportion

Design Principle Proportion

Proportion is a design principle in art that refers to the relationship of two or more elements in a composition and how they compare to one another concerning size, color, quantity, degree, setting, etc.; i.e., ratio.

A relationship is formed when two or more elements are combined in a painting. When the elements are in a correct or desirable relationship, the association is said to be harmonious. This refers to a component’s proper sizing and distribution, which results in good proportion. Good proportion adds harmony and symmetry or balance among the parts of a design as a whole.

When the principle of proportion is applied to a work of art, it is usually in the relationship of size. This is the ratio of the size of one element in a composition to the size of another related component. In this case, a size comparison is made between the:

    • Height, width, and depth of one element to that of another
    • Size of one area to the size of another area
    • Size of one element to the size of another element
    • Amount of space between two or more elements

bad proportionProportion is usually not even noticed until something is out of balance. When the relative sizes of two elements being compared appear incorrect or unbalanced, it is said to be “out of proportion.” For example, we would say a person is out of proportion if their head is larger than their entire body.

good proportionThere are several ways for achieving good proportion:

  1. Place like elements together that are similar or have a common feature.
  2. Create major and minor areas in the design, as equal parts can quickly become monotonous and boring. However, the size differences must not be so significant that the parts appear unrelated and, as a result, out of harmony with one another.
  3. Arrangement of space should be so that the eye does not perceive a formal mathematical relationship. For example, it is best to avoid dividing the composition into halves, quarters, and thirds because a subtle relationship creates a more dynamic design.
  4. Create harmony in the artwork. Harmony is an agreement between the shapes that stresses the similarities of all parts. In other words, the shape of one part should “fit” the shape of the adjoining elements. Likewise, shapes should “fit” properly in their positions and spaces.

Good Design Proportion

Examples of the effective use of Proportion

Good Design principle - Proportion

There is a real sense of proportion in the painting left. Without the effective use of the principle of proportion, you would not experience the majesty of the mountain in the background.

proportion5

In this painting, a proper proportion is instrumental in emphasizing the ship’s distance in the background.

Examples of the effective use of Harmony

harmony1

It is easy to observe harmony in action in nature. Notice how the individual wedges “fit” the orange painting.

harmony2

In the coat of arms, we observe how the different elements “fit” together perfectly inside each other to create harmony.

Questions

  1. How is good proportion created?
  2. What does good proportion bring to a painting?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principles: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion — You are here

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

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UPDATED: 07 June 2021

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Principles of Good Design: Space

Space, as used in art, refers to the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within shapes and forms found within a composition. In this discussion, we will be taking a closer look at several different ways space is used in art. These are:

    • Positive space
    • Negative space
    • Two-dimensional space
    • Three-dimensional space

Positive and Negative Space

There are two types of space in art: positive and negative. Both positive and negative space are important factors to be considered in every good composition. They occur in both two-dimension and three-dimension art and are complementary to one another. One impacts on and affects the reading of the other.

Positive Space

Principles of Good Design: SpaceThe “occupied” areas in a work of art filled with lines, colors, and shapes are called “positive space.” In other words, the primary subject matter of a painting; the animals, plants, buildings, mountains, vases, people, etc., that make up your area of interest. It usually dominates the eye and is the focal point in a composition.

In the example, positive space (the area in black) is the form itself, i.e., the vase, the individual letters, or the words “positive space.”

Negative Space

Principles of Good Design: SpaceOn the other hand, “negative space” is the unoccupied areas that surround the subject matter. It is more passive and is determined by the edges of the positive space it surrounds. Negative space helps to give meaning to the composition.

In the example, it’s the “empty space” (the area in black) or unoccupied areas that lies between objects, shapes, and forms within a composition, and is also the space in the background that is not at first noticeable. It goes in all directions and goes on forever. It flows in, around, and between shapes and objects.

Do you see the shapes in negative space? Negative space has weight and mass and plays a vital role in defining your subject. It is not simply the absence of something.

Negative space is most evident when the space around a subject matter, and not the form itself, forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape. In this case, negative space is very much an essential element of artistic composition. In the example above, the negative space forms a shape of two men face to face.

Also, negative space is vital in a composition because it gives balance to positive space by giving the eye a place to rest, especially when the composition is quite busy.

Two- and Three-dimensional Space

two-dimensionalTwo-dimensional (2D) space is found on a flat surface such as a canvas or paper. It has no depth, only length and width.  It consists of straight or curved lines or both and may have any number of sides.

In the example, the two-dimensional image appears flat because all the objects and forms lie on the same plane. It has no feeling of depth. However, the same two-dimensional space can be made to appear three-dimensional by giving it a sense of depth.

Rubins_vaseThree-dimensional (3D) space has width, height, and depth. When we look at a flat canvas and have the sensation of looking at spaces and objects that appear to have depth, we are receiving and believing a group of visual signals working to create the illusion of three-dimensional shapes and areas. This occurs when a sensation of space that seems to have height, width, and depth is visually created, as it has been done with the vase in the example shown.

These three-dimensional signals are so common in nature that we are almost unaware of them. Yet, in the hands of a skilled artist, these 3D cues can be used to create the illusion of three-dimension on a flat canvas surface.

Creating 3D Space on a Flat Surface

The tools needed for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space are:

    • Overlapping objects
    • Changing size and placement of related objects
    • Linear perspective
    • Relative hue and value
    • Atmospheric perspective

Overlapping objects within your composition is the most straightforward tool you can use for creating three-dimensional space in your painting or drawing. The effect is achieved by allowing the contour of one form to be interrupted by the contour of another form so that it looks like one form is physically sitting in front of the other.

Another simple tool for creating the illusion of 3D space is changing the size and placement of related objects. For example, when two shapes are the same size and are placed on the same plane, the image appears relatively flat and does not have much depth. However, by simply varying the size and placement of the shapes, a stronger sensation of depth is created.

As a rule of thumb, larger objects tend to appear closer to the viewer, and smaller ones tend to recede into the background. Also, objects placed lower on the canvas appear closer in distance than those set higher up.

Principles of Good Design: SpaceLinear perspective (a.k.a. converging lines) is a graphical system used by artists to create the illusion of depth and volume on a flat surface. As objects move away from the viewer, they appear to grow smaller and converge toward a vanishing point at the horizon line. The effective use of linear perspective creates this illusion of diminishing size by treating the edges as converging parallel lines. The vanishing point may be in any direction the viewer looks, including up, and may also be visible (on the canvas) or imaginary (somewhere off the canvas).

Using relative hue and value to create 3D space on a flat canvas surface are essential cues that tell us whether an object is nearby or far away. In general, warm colors or hues tend to appear closer, whereas cool shades tend to recede away from the viewer. On the same token, close objects tend to exhibit brighter, richer hues and more contrasting values, including extremes of dark and light. However, distant objects tend to be either similar or neutral in value and exhibit grayer shades. Thus, colors close in value are perceived as being on or near the same plane, but colors with strong contrast in value appear on separate planes.

Atmospheric perspective combines several tools already described above. This essential tool operates when objects that are far away lack contrast, detail, and texture. As objects get farther away, atmospheric perspective shows color gradually fading to a bluish-gray and details blurring, imitating how distant objects appear to the human eye.

As a rule of thumb, when using this tool, remember that colors tend to pale and fade as they recede into the distance, and objects become less defined and lack detail.

Deep Space In Art

When used effectively, all the tools needed to cultivate the illusion of three-dimensional space will create a sense of “deep space” within your painting. In deep space there are three terms used to describe depth:

    • Foreground is the area of a painting that visually appears closest to the viewer. It is often located on a lower plane or bottom of the canvas.
    • Middle ground is space that makes up the distance between the foreground and background of a painting. There is no specific measurement for what the limits are. Typically it is located somewhere on the middle plane of the canvas.
    • Background is the area in a painting that visually appears far away in the distance at or near the horizon. It is usually located on a higher plane of the canvas.

Recap

Since a flat surface such as a canvas contains only two-dimensional space, an artist may choose to create a three-dimensional illusion. When an artist begins to cut, divide and rearrange the surface space of a flat surface, the illusion of depth may appear. Even the slightest manipulation of line, value, or color will generate the illusion of three-dimensional space.

There are several ways to create the illusion of distance or depth on a flat surface. Here are some of those ways:

  1. Objects that are further away will appear smaller than those close up. Those same objects will also grow less distinct the further away they are. Their colors will fade and blend into the background colors.
  2. Objects which are placed higher on a plane create the feeling of depth or distance. Thus, the viewer senses that they are standing away from the objects and that there is a large amount of space in the foreground.
  3. Overlapping shapes tend to create a feeling of depth.
  4. Arrangement of lights. When light is contrasted against dark, a sense of depth is felt.
  5. Converging lines. As they move away into the distance, parallel lines appear to come closer together to form a vanishing point that may or may not be seen. An excellent example of this is a road or a path.
  6. Colors. Warm and bright colors appear closer, whereas cool or dull colors tend to recede into the distance.

Click for more information about perspective in drawing.

Examples of the effective use of Space

Positive and Negative Space

Good Design Principle: Space3D-negative-space

The flat back shadows and background in the painting on the left provide an excellent example of the effective use of positive and negative space in this two-dimensional painting.

The painting on the right demonstrates positive and negative space in a three-dimensional painting. Can you see the positive and negative here? The fish occupies the positive space, and the water represents the negative space around the fish.

Overlapping Objects

overlapping-objects1 overlapping-objects2

Overlapping objects is a helpful tool for creating an illusion of 3D. Depending on how it is applied can give a sense of deep or shallow space within a composition.

For example, the Statue of Liberty overlaps the river and the horizon, which helps create a greater sense of depth than the other painting. In the painting with the statue, we get the sensation of deep space, and in the other painting, the space is shallow.

Changing Size and Placement

size-placement1 Good Design Principle: Space

Changing the size and placement of the objects in these two paintings helps give more depth to the painting. For example, changing the size of the Indians makes them appear far away in the painting with the cowboy. Likewise, placing the ballerinas are on a higher plane than those in the front pushes them farther away into the background.

Linear Perspective

perspective1 perspective2 perspective3

Can you see how perspective has given the paintings above a sense of depth? The three paintings above have powerful one- or two-point perspective, which helps create the illusion of three-dimension.

In the first painting, perspective gives the sensation that the train is moving away, yet it pulls you down the hallway in the next painting.

Perspective can also make objects appear 3D as it does in the painting with the building. The artist has used two-point perspective to create an object that seems to have volume. Without two-point perspective, this building would lack depth and appear flat.

Hue and Value

hue1 hue2

Warm colors pull you up close. Cool colors recede off into the distance. The landscape painting is a good example of this tool in use.

In the second painting, light moves toward you, and darkness moves off into the background.

Atmospheric Perspective

Good Design Principle: Space atmospheric-perspective2

As objects move off into the distance, they become less detailed and grayer. For example, notice the horizon and the mountain in these two paintings.

For more information about atmospheric perspective, see Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective.

Deep Space

deep-space1 deep-space2

When used effectively, all the tools (overlapping, perspective, atmosphere, hue, and value) can create the sensation of deep space.

Questions

  1. What is the definition of space when it is applied to art?
  2.  What are some ways space is used in art?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space — You are here

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Thanks for reading this art lesson!

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UPDATED: 24 July 2021

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Principles of Good Design: Unity

Principles of Good Design UnityUnity is the hallmark of every good design. The final result is when all the design elements work harmoniously to give the viewer a satisfying sense of belonging and relationship. When all aspects of the design complement one another rather than competing for attention, you know you’ve achieved unity. It reinforces the relationship between the design elements and connects them to the painting’s main theme.

Unity is achieved when all design principles (balance, movement, emphasis, visual economy, contrast, proportion, and space) are applied correctly. Everything selected for use in a composition must complement the central theme and must also serve some functional purpose within the design. Achieving unity in your compositions will only result from practicing, knowing, selecting the correct visual elements, and using the best design principles to relate them.

Unity within art accomplishes two things:

  1. It creates a sense of order. There will be consistency of sizes and shapes, as well as color and pattern harmony, in a design with unity. This is achieved by repeating key elements, balancing them throughout the composition, and then adding a little variety to give the design a personality. A key to good design is learning to juggle the elements and principles in order to achieve the right mix.
  2. It also gives elements the appearance of completeness, that they belong together. When a composition has unity, the design is seen as a whole, rather than as individual elements within the painting. Using too many shapes and forms can result in a design that is disorganized, cluttered, and difficult to understand. The use of a basic shape that is then repeated throughout the composition will result in a well-organized design.

When Unity is Achieved:

    • The individual elements within a composition do not compete for attention.
    • The central theme will be communicated more clearly.
    • The design will evoke a sense of completeness and organization.

To Create Unity:

    •  You must have a clear objective in mind, one that you wish to communicate effectively.
    • You must stay focused on achieving the objective and not deviate from it. For example, if an element you consider adding does not contribute to the objective, it should not be added to the design.
    • You must be analytical about your work, maintaining objectivity at all times, and accept critiques from peers, friends, and family members. When several people consistently understand the purpose and message you intend to portray, then unity has been maintained within your painting.

When you feel your composition is complete, take a step back and observe it with an objective eye. The final test of unity is one in which nothing can be added to or taken away without reworking the entire composition. The relationship of all the elements should be so strong it would hurt the design to add or remove any one thing. When nothing can distract from the whole, you have unity.

A word of caution regarding unity: too much unity without variety is boring, and too much variation without unity is chaotic.

Some easy ways to achieve unity in your compositions include:

Similarity: Try repeating colors, shapes, values, textures, or lines to create a visual relationship between the elements. Repetition works to unify all parts of a design because it creates a sense of consistency and completeness.

Continuity: Treat different elements in the same manner. Continuity helps to create “family resemblances” between various forms. This helps to tie them together by creating an uninterrupted connection or union.

Alignment: Arranging shapes so that the line or edge of one shape leads into another helps creates unity in your design. When an element is placed in a composition, it creates an implied horizontal and vertical axis at its top, bottom, center, and sides. Aligning other aspects to these axes creates a visual relationship that unifies them.

Proximity: Group related items together so that these particular items are seen as one cohesive group rather than a bunch of unrelated elements. Elements positioned close to one another are perceived as related, while elements farther apart are considered less connected. How close together or far apart elements are placed in a composition suggests a relationship (or lack of) between otherwise disparate parts. Using a “third element” such as a road to connect nearby elements with distant ones also helps create a relationship between the forms not grouped.

Examples of the effective use of Unity

Principles of Good Design Unity     Principles of Good Design Unity

The painting on the left creates a sense of unity by the effective use of repetition. See how the artist has repeated similar forms (ducks) and color (brown) throughout the composition?

On the right, the grouping of similar objects;  proximity was used to create unity within this painting.

     Good Design Unity

The road in this painting is the “third element” that helps create a relationship between the people in the foreground and the people in the background.

This painting is another good example of how proximity creates relationships between related objects.

IN CONCLUSION: Using The Design Principles

This study on the design principles would not be complete without giving some practical guidelines on using the principles of design.

  1. Apply the principles in every assignment.
  2. Don’t apply the principles equally because one may be more important than another depending on the mood and purpose of the design. For example, one design may be strong in balance, another in proportion, another in movement, and so on.
  3. Try to include as many and as much as will work of each principle into each design.
  4. You should always add a bit of your personality to your art. Without this touch, your work may be well designed but lack character.
  5. As you become more confident in your ability to achieve unity, then dare to violate one or more of the design principles to promote growth in your creativity.

Once the designer has an objective in mind, the effective use of the design principles of balance, movement, emphasis, contrast, proportion, and space will aid in the achievement of unity in a work of art. Unity should always be the goal of every artist.

Questions

  1. How do you know when unity has been achieved in a work of art?
  2. What is the final test of unity?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity — You are here

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Thanks for reading this art lesson!

Feel free to share this with your friends.


UPDATED: 23 October 2020

Enjoy this page? Please share it. Thanks!