Understanding The Principles Of Composition And Design

Composition Principles

The Principles Of Composition

Starting a drawing with a weak composition will just end up resulting in a waste of materials. The solution is simple, develop your knowledge of composition and design. A great place begin is with an explanation of the basic principles of visual design.

Above all, an understanding of composition will allow to arrange your drawings far more effectively and in the long run produce better work. Whereas, if you fail to master these basic principles you could be wasting your time producing inferior work.

What are the principles of composition and visual design? There are 9 basic principles of visual design which can be referred to when organizing a pictorial composition. They are as follows:

  1. Balance
  2. Emphasis
  3. Movement
  4. Pattern
  5. Repetition
  6. Proportion
  7. Rhythm
  8. Variety
  9. Unity

How will visual design and composition improve your drawing?

If you are looking of a method of composition that will allow you to create great arrangements. The following post will clearly outline how the principles of visual design can improve the standard of your drawing immediately. We will also illustrate how you can create simple compositional sketches to help develop your understanding.

What is Balance? Balance can very simply be described as the distribution of weight in your drawings. Balance is crucial as it can create a feeling of stability in your compositions. But did you know that 3 different types of balance can be applied to your work? Formal symmetrical balance, natural asymmetrical balance, and radical balance.

Radial Balance
Radial Balance

Radial balance is a visual balance based on a circle that extends outwards. Examples of Radial balance can be found in nature in flowers, the human iris, and star formations.

What is Formal balance? Symmetrical formal balance is a form of composition that is essential feels equal, elegant and conservative.

Asymmetrical balance. This uses contrast as a means of arranging elements of a composition in a non-symmetrical manner.

If you want to a draw the viewer's attention in your drawings, this can achieve this through creating points of interest and making one aspect of your work stand out aesthetically. This will give your composition a sense of emphasis. Emphasis can also create areas of visual interest by creating a focal point in your work. Focus can be formed in several ways. For example:

· Using contrast and size
· Isolation
· Drawing a leading element
· A central focal point
· Texture drawn over pattern
· Tonal value
· Color contrast and Hue


Movement. A quick an easy way to create movement in your work is to draw a series of lines that all converge at a focal point in your drawing. Also, outlining a set of repetitive sequences can create a sense of movement in your artwork.

Movement can be created very directly by drawing lines in different directions, creating the illusion of space and drawing curved flowing lines and mark making activities.


Recurring elements such as shape, colors, and lines can be used repeatedly together form a pattern. Pattern when organized effectively as it increases visual interest throughout your compositions.

This can be used to significant effect in your work as anything can be turned into a pattern through repetition. Examples of visually interesting patterns typically used in the art include grids, spirals, and weaves.


Repetition is also a simple way to create rhythm in your drawings. Linear rhythm refers to the characteristic flow of line an artist may employ in their pictures when working. Repeating visual elements is an excellent way to create flow in your image as you can see from our examples.

The repeated use of line, color or shape can easily be used to create small instances of pattern and rhythm in your drawings and compositions.


When you are considering how to use proportion as a compositional element in your work, think about the relative size or aspect of one part when compared to another.

This could refer to elements such as shapes and forms, in abstract compositions, portraits, still life’s and landscapes.


Repeating elements such as line, pattern, color, and shape within a composition can be organized to show rhythm. Rhythm as a visual element can also be used to display movement in your work. The various aspects of rhythm are as follows:

· Regular intervals an rhythm
· Alternating rhythms
· Progressive rhythms which may increase in size
· Random rhythms such as fallen leaves or floating bubbles


Variety can be used to compose and carefully arrange various elements such as tone, color, texture and line into one unified whole on the picture plane. Variety is essential as it can create diversity and contrast.n


As a compositional element unity and variety in the art refer to the wholeness of an image through the practical organization of the visual elements.

What is an excellent composition?

How to create a successful composition? Once you have gained an understanding of the principles of composition. You will have gained the knowledge what is needed to create a successful composition.

A successful drawing will be able to integrate all the principles of the composition into a unified whole. Paying close attention to how elements such as line, shape, texture, color, tone, and pattern can be prearranged in your drawings will allow you to create successful compositions.

My advice is to develop a thorough understanding of the design elements and create your drawing loosely around them. The following compositions can be applied as an underlying structure or framework onto or around you can produce paintings, drawings, and sculptures.

Examples of Good Composition

Golden triangle composition. One of the best known classical compositional the golden triangle is widely recognized as a compositional method.

How to use triangles to improve your composition. The pyramid composition has been widely used throughout history in the paintings of Rembrandt and Leonardo. A good idea would be to analyze the work of the great masters and try to figure out which compositional structure has been used. I guarantee you will find one.

The L shaped composition is created when all the static elements in a composition are organized onto one side and the bottom of the picture plane. This results in and creates a feeling of stillness and harmony. This design has been used a lot in still life drawings, landscapes, and photography.

Diagonal compositions. Applying a diagonal compositional structure is a great way to create a level of visual interest that is different from the usual use of horizontal and vertical compositions. This is a compelling way to create the illusion of movement in the format of your drawing.

Using Radiating lines can also create movement through the convergence of shapes and other visual elements towards a focal area, or an emphasis in the drawing or composition.

Examples of Dynamic Symmetry

What is Dynamic Symmetry? While some artists believe that art is a purely intuitive method to art, there have been many classical artists have devoted themselves to a more systematic and objective approach of a highly balanced underlying compositional frameworks.

This is a geometric framework which has been designed to promote the rhythm, balance.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is a principle of composition is used extensively in landscape painting and photography. The rule of thirds is an essential guide that artists and photographer can use compose visual images.

How does the Rule of Thirds work?

Described in its purest form, the rule of thirds is a compositional device an artist can use to draw the viewer's attention to areas of visual interest on the picture plane.

A set of lines that divide the picture into equal thirds. At the intersection of horizontally and, vertically positioned lines are points of interest which the viewer's vision is most naturally drawn. This rule can result in highly balanced works of art.

What are the elements of art?

What are the essential elements of art? Basically, the parts in the art can be broken down into the crucial elements of line, shape, color, texture, form, and composition. Each individual component can be explored in its own right; however, it is best that you try to obtain a balance of these different elements in your drawings. This will lead to better quality artwork in the long run.

Create Art With My Favourite Drawing Resources

General Drawing Courses. I like Udemy if you want to develop your knowledge of drawing techniques. Udemy is an excellent choice due to its wide range of creative courses and excellent refund policy. They often have monthly discounts for new customers, which you can check here. Use my link.

Sketching and Collage. Take a look at this sketching resource I have created. Use this link.

Proko. Is one of my favorite teachers who surpasses in the teaching of Anatomy and Figure drawing. Prokos course breaks down the drawing of the human body into easy-to-follow components aiding the beginner to make rapid progress. For this, I really like Proko.

Art Easels. One of my favorite ways to draw is by using a drawing easel, which develops the skill of drawing on a vertical surface. The H frame easel is an excellent vertical way to add variety to the style and type of marks you create when using a drawing board.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of improvedrawing.com and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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