541.787.4395 (Pacific Time Zone) kristen@kristenoneillart.com

6 Composition Mistakes to Avoid

by | Nov 15, 2022 | Art Lessons | 0 comments

Composition Mistakes

Why is Composition Important?

Composition is one of the most important parts of making a good artwork. It is impossible to have a great painting with a bad composition. And, it can be one of the biggest struggles for a painter in the beginning. This post is to help you avoid composition mistakes so that your work is stronger from the beginning.

“Must Know” Tip: Rule of Thirds

The “Rule of Thirds” is probably the most common, and most handy rule in composition. Simply put, your pictorial plan is divided equally into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. While this a post of composition mistakes to avoid, knowing this one “do” goes a long way to helping!

Avoid: Focal Point in the Middle

Your focal point is your main subject. If you are painting a still life it may be the silver teapot. If you are painting a portrait – it is the eyes of your subject. Not all paintings have an extremely well designed focal point. But, if you have a person in a landscape, they will usually try and steal your viewer’s attention and become the focal point. When we put the main subject in the center our work looks like an advertisement. It becomes very static, and it is incredibly hard to recover from. If you feel like the subject really needs to be in the middle (and not on a third) just nudge it over a bit. 

Composition Mistake with Focal Point

Avoid: Equal Masses

While the Rule of Thirds is good, creating equal chunks of masses quickly become boring. Move up the horizon line, or increase the sky. Something to create a bit of variation. With similar subject matter, like trees or mountains, create a variation in the size of the masses.

Avoid: Equal Spacing

Creating equal spacing looks artifical. Our brain quickly figures out the pattern and moves on. Equal spacing among stars is easy mistake to make. You have to consciously be aware to make it feel more ‘random’. With trees, it can be the size, the placement (to equal looks like a farm, instead of a forest), or there can be a lack of variation in the tree line. 

Composition Mistake of Equal Spacing

Avoid: Centered Horizon

If you paint your horizon line right in the middle of the pictorial plane, you will cut your painting in half. It immediately isn’t as interesting as if you move that horizon line up or down. Try it on the Rule of Thirds. Halving your canvas (either vertically or horizontally) is not desirable.

Composition mistake of a centered horizon

Avoid: Unbroken Lines

Unbroken lines, that is, lines that go across your painting without being obstructed, create a speed in your painting that you don’t want. These lines lead the viewer’s eye right out the edge, and then their feet follow that eye and they walk away! Hey! Come back! I worked really hard on this one!

Creating a break in the line prevents this. Add an obstacle in front that covers the line, or a sizeable turn to redirect the eye away from the edge of the painting.

Composition Mistake Unbroken Lines

Avoid: Too Many Parallel Lines

A few lines creates a wonderful rhythm. But, nothing but the same parallel lines repeating themselves? Those can become boring. Think of a song. A repeated chorus is great. But, a repeat of the same thing over and over is mind-numbing at best. 

Composition Mistake of too Many Parallel Lines

These 6 common composition mistakes can all be fixed by making adjustments. Sometimes small changes are needed, sometimes large. If you are unsure what to do to fix them, see the ideas in the pdf you can download below! 

Remember, you can’t make a painting with bad composition look good, so do your best to make the best composition you can before you get too far into your painting. Feel free to comment with any questions!