Two examples of drawings that use bad orientation.

Yes, You Too Can Draw – Ch 8 — Drawing Composition

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Welcome to another chapter of Yes, You Too Can Draw! We’re going to go over are the basics of a topic that often gets over looked, composition. This can often make or break a drawing. Even I over looked composition today. I was originally intending this chapter to cover my series on perspective. But I see composition as more foundational than perspective. It’s like building a house without know how to draw a blue print. So you’ll have to wait a bit longer before I touch on perspective.

Before we begin, let’s review what we’ve learned in the previous chapter:

What We Learned From Last Time

What is Composition?

Composition boils down to how you group and place your visual elements within your visual space, paper, and/or canvas. You can use composition to make a drawing visually interesting. You can also use it to direct the viewer’s eye. If you look this subject up in Wikipedea, you’ll notice how vast the topic of composition is. For our purposes, I will go over what I consider the most basic aspects of composition and some techniques we can use to help improve our drawings.

Your Orientation

What I’m talking about is the orientation of your page. I know for a lot of you, this is a “no duh” subject. But giving little thought to the orientation of your visual space can easily hurt a drawing. The reason is that creating excessive amount of space will kill the balance of your work. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Two examples of drawings that use bad orientation.

When considering your drawing, think about what type of orientation would best serve your subject. There are two types of orientation, horizontal (running long ways or left to right) and vertical (running up and down). If your drawing a subject or a scene that’s vertical in nature (a landscape is a great example), you will use a horizontal orientation. If your piece is a subject that’s vertical in nature (a portrait), you will use a vertical orientation.

Correct use of page orientation.

Use Odd Numbers

This is a tip that I learned from my high school art teacher. Grouping in odd numbers is more appealing to the human eye. This referred to as The Rule of OddsThis can apply to patterns, superheroes, or any other group of subjects. The rule is also used as a means of sparking interest. Let’s take a look at an example:

An example of using an even number of dots in the left square, and an example of using the rule of odds to the right

To the left is a simple example of using an even number of dots. In the right square, we have an example of using an odd number of dots. Comparing both examples, which square has the most interest? Which example is more visually pleasing to the eye?

A group of mini-superheros demonstrating the rule of odds
A group of mini-superheros demonstrating the rule of odds.

In the example above is a common example of the rule of thirds, a group pose. Now that I’ve taken a second look at the drawing, I can admit that it’s not particularly balanced. But it utilizes the rule of odds with its five characters. As you can notice, four of the superheroes surround and draw attention to our mousey crime-fighter. Surrounding a main subject with an even number of subjects is the method of using the rule of odds. This next example below drives the point home:

An example of the use of the Rule of Odds. An even number of circles surrounding a main circle


The Rule of Thirds

The rule as The Rule of Thirds is meant to create interest in your work. Instead of placing your subject and/or eye-level (horizon) within the center of your drawing, you’ll shift them to one of the sides of your visual space. To take advantage of the Rule of Third, you’ll divide your visual area into thirds both horizontally and vertically. This will leave you with nine equal spaces to work with. You will use this grid as a guide to plan your image, finding opportunities to add visual interest.

A drawing of a mouse out in the desert not using the rule of thirds
An example of a drawing not using the Rule of Thirds. The mouse and horizon line are centered inside the visual space.

Up above is an illustration that I quickly whipped up. It doesn’t use the Rule of Thirds. Both the horizon-line and Willard are right smack in the middle of the visual space. The common refrain is that such placement is considered “boring.” This may not always be the case. Centering a subject is quite natural and human nature.

Drawing of a mouse out in the desert using the rule of thirds.An example of a drawing taking advantage of the Rule of Thirds. Note how both the horizon line has been shifted upwards. Willard is position in the upper left-hand corner to add further visual interest. The vast visual space seems to draw the eye towards him.

A mouse in the desert with a drink in his hand

Another example of the use of the Rule of Thirds. Here I shifted the horizon line downwards, and Willard was move to the bottom left-hand corner of the drawing.



Simplify and Focus

Unhappy face surrounded in smilies.
Can you spot the subject?

This is something that irks me a lot when I’m reading Shonen Jump. In fact it frustrates the hell out of me. I’ll read a chapter of a popular manga series, and then something major happens like an explosion, a major move, or anything else dramatic. But the moment I look at the panel, I can’t even tell what the hell’s going on due to the immense amount of crap that’s cluttering the panel. I have to give it a couple of looks to figure out what’s going on. That’s a huge faux pas in the comic book business. In any panel, or any other visual medium, the subject and it’s action should always be clearly defined.

Unhappy face bigger than smilies
One method of bringing focus to a subject is by making it bigger than surrounding objects.

Simplifying doesn’t necessarily mean removing objects. It could be achieved by making the main subject the largest object in your image. Photographers use field of depth to blur just the background surrounding the subject.

Unhappy face on top of field of depth technique
A rough example of using field of depth.

Color can also be used. For example, in the Italian series “Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine” (The first few chapters of the series were reprinted in Spain within a volume called “[amazon asin=8467443154&text=Don Miki Especial Serie Negra&chan=amazon es]”), color was often used to focus the eye by surrounding characters with an environment containing desaturated tones or colors from the cooler part of the color spectrum. (Purples, blues, greens) The colorists even did this in reverse using warm colors. (reds, oranges, and yellows.)

Purple sad-face in a sea of smilies
Using a different color, preferably from the opposite side of the color spectrum, will make your subject pop.

Your big goal here is to drive the focus directly to your subject. You don’t want the viewer to lose it within a visual morass.

Your Home Work Assignment

I want you to try the different methods described here for creating a more compelling composition. Start with basic shapes. Then draw more complete pictures using each method. Post them for the rest of the class to see on the Facebook page or Tweet me. (Use the hash-tag #DrawingComposition) I’d love to see what you’ve learned.



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