The Elements of Composition

There are several types of compositions, but these are the most widely used:

The 1/3 x 1/3 Formula.  Or the Classical Composition.
in this arrangement, we divide each side of the canvas by three equal parts.  Where the segments intersect are considered to be the optimum places for the point of interest.  The point of interest, the area of the painting where the eyes are drawn to, should be placed in one of the four positions. (market on the graphic with a red "O")

In the example, to illustrate the 1/3 x 1/3 composition, we have used "Psalm 42:1" oil on Linen 16x20 Painted by the Santa Maria Twins.  When creating the composition for this painting we decided to use the deer as the center of interest.  That means that the eyes should be led to the deer, which has been placed in one of the four optimum places.  The title of the painting is Ps. 41:2, which reads: " As the deer pants after the water brooks, so my soul thirsts after you O Lord"  With that in mind, we wanted the deer to be the center of interest, and consequently it was placed in the right upper optimum place.  
This composition works whether the painting has a vertical or horizontal format.

The "Steelyard" Composition.
This type of composition uses the natural distribution of forms based on size, starting with the larger size element, which should always be closer to the center of the painting, and a smaller one which should be placed far from the center in  the opposite direction.

This graphic illustrates 
the "steelyard" composition
In this beautiful painting by Claude Monet, we see this principle in action with the two haystacks.  The larger one close to the center, and the smaller towards the viewer's left.  This composition also uses the next principle of design.

The 1/3 Horizon Composition
The idea is to avoid placing the horizon placed in the middle of the painting, but instead to put it no more than 1/3 from the top, or 1/3 from the bottom of the painting.

Two beautiful examples of this popular composition.

On the left: "By the Mill"  by Edouard Cortes.
Courtesy: Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City

On the right "Wheat Field with Cypress" by
Vincent Van Gogh

The "Tunnel" Composition
This composition is strong and dramatic.  All the elements if the foreground are positioned in such a way as to lead the eyes of the viewer to the background of the painting, where the focus of interest is.  Many artists have used this composition to give dramatic effect to their paintings.

Camille Corot used the trees and the foliage to send the eyes of the viewer into the background, where the house has been placed as the center of interest. Peter Paul Rubens shows us a dramatic rendering of "Daniel in the Lions Den" aided by the used of this powerful composition, where the lions have been positioned to point to Daniel.

Note: These cannons of composition are meant to give you a starting point, and are not meant in any way to be unbending, limiting tools; but they serve the artist by providing tools to convey the intended message.  There are many artists that challenged the conventional rules of composition and design as part of their style.  So, don't let rules limit you but help you expand your potential.

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