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The Secret to Composition

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By Lulie   |   
This should be applicable to both painters and photographers — and all other visual artists — with occasional tips for one or the other in particular.

Always love questions, comments and criticism!

UPDATE: I was always skeptical of the rule of thirds/golden ratio, but in this post James Gurney explains a bit about why, and how the eye actually moves. The main thing I neglected to mention in this tutorial is that the eye is scanning for information. All of these compositional things are ways to make the right information more obvious to find at the right times.

UPDATE 2: Wow, thanks so much for the DD! I didn't realise what a big difference it can make. You guys are what inspire me to make tutorials, so if there's anything else you found a little mysterious about art, don't hesitate to suggest it!


Feng Zhu's FZDSchool tutorials on YouTube

"In this place..." ConceptArt thread

Bill Tiller's How to Draw Monkeys the Lucas Arts Way

Feng Zhu videos
- Make subject bigger
- Atmospheric perspective

Great tutorials on composition:
- Matt Laskowski's Perspective & Composition
- Johannes Vloothuis's Landscape Composition Rules

I'm taking tutorial suggestions here: lulie.deviantart.com/journal/p…

Follow me on Twitter, where I post tips, useful links and cool art-related things I stumble across:
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anonymous's avatar
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Gorgoroth6766's avatar
Gorgoroth6766Student Traditional Artist
Moving out of frame: how is that bad? Not enough to hold attention (nothings happening here, it’s just a plane): I’ve seen lots of simpler things and never noticed any negative effects on my attention. Don’t know what to look at: I’d have thought whatever is in the photo, painting, drawing etc. Looks at the wrong part (eye is drawn to the statue): why is the statue a wrong part? Or the woman? If Hitler was in there as well doing cartwheels and blocking the view of the lovely statue and lady I would still fail to see how that was entirely bad. How are any of these bad? I’m not trying to undermine you. Genuinely just curious. 
rssslll's avatar
rssslllHobbyist Digital Artist
Really, it's a mystery.

Our eyes are hardwired to prefer a single focal point, with one or two duller points for context. They process art the same way your brain might process a joke.

1) "Moving out of frame" is like a "knock-knock" setup with no punchline. Where's the car going?
2) "Not enough to hold attention" is the opposite, a punchline with no "knock-knock."
3) "Don't know what to look at" is "knock-knock," then a comment on the weather, then a long story about my childhood, then the punchline. 
4) "Looks at the wrong part" is "knock-knock," then news that you have an incurable illness, then the punchline. 

In each example, you either feel unsatisfied, get distracted, or focus on something that was unintentional -- and artists usually don't want viewers feeling that way.
ThaceMun's avatar
ThaceMunStudent General Artist
This tutorial is amazing and informative. Will definitely reference from this and put this into practice. Thank you very much for sharing this with us! Top notch tut!
stormtrooper3326's avatar
this is so awesome! thanks!!
officialmaria's avatar
officialmariaHobbyist General Artist
the golden spiral looks like fibonacci numbers: blog.tradesmartonline.in/wp-co…
kingk10's avatar
Greatest composition guide ever. It's really going to help me create my comics.Love Love Love :happybounce: Heart 
SURYAbp's avatar
SURYAbpStudent Digital Artist
this is great thanks
F0w3n's avatar
F0w3nStudent Digital Artist
Very useful, thanks alot!
Benji-Blondie's avatar
This is the best tutorial I have ever seen for composition. Thank you so much!
Mines-Dahka's avatar
It's REALLY hard to find a good source to learn composition, this is very helpful and simplified. THANK YOU!!
mmchaves's avatar
mmchavesProfessional Digital Artist
Very helpful. thanks.
Roxalew's avatar
RoxalewProfessional General Artist
Awesomely helpful! Thank you for posting! :heart:
Hunnypuzzle's avatar
HunnypuzzleHobbyist Digital Artist
super helpful thanks for making this!
PhilotherianLife's avatar
PhilotherianLifeStudent Filmographer
Thank you for sharing your artistic knowledge with us Lulie.
artstruggles's avatar
This is amazing, thank you so much!!!!
Jed-Stuart's avatar
Jed-StuartStudent General Artist
Extra points for referencing Mokey Island and automatically awesome :)
Sreejithnambranath's avatar
SreejithnambranathStudent General Artist
this is great!!!  thank you very much
watjong's avatar
Great overview of all the elements that make up the symphony called "composition" 
NFFN2's avatar
Thanks a lot for your tutorial!
vaire-t-h's avatar
vaire-t-hHobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much !
amandioka's avatar
Thank you so much! This is the best tutorial I've found so far. Very very helpful!
SGTROCK117's avatar
SGTROCK117Hobbyist Digital Artist
Nice tut easy to understand(often harder to implement in practice lol)
Thanks for sharing:)
Maniakuk's avatar
ManiakukHobbyist Digital Artist
Well explained tutorial :) 
anonymous's avatar
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