Of Shapes and Lines

Recently, one of my mentees sent me some sketches for a assignment I gave to her. Yep, she was gutsy enough to ask me for assignments that she could work on. In the email that accompanied the assignment, I explained that I wanted to see roughs so that we could discuss composition first, and then do detailed sketches later. When she sent me the sketches she made the comment that composition wasn't her strong suit. No worries... a lot of folks have that problem. I tell my wife that I can compose anything... as long as there are three or fewer elements involved. Lisa is one of those folks that specialize in being able to juggle a million things in a composition, well... the more the merrier. I hate her a little for that... Anyway, the exercise my mentee was undertaking gave rise to a few exercises that I employ when I'm evaluating art for composition (whether my own or others). First, let's find an unwitting participant... Mathias Kollros and his "Gotta Have a Hook" entry are the winners! Remember this image? My evaluation process has two steps:

#1 Blocking. I this step I take the image into photoshop or lay a sheet of tracing paper over the image and block in the major elements of the composition. I'm not looking to be pretty or super accurate (good thing since I'm trying to draw with my laptop pad). I just want to block in the shapes roughly and see how the shapes relate to each other and the coloring pages. There are a couple of things you can notice right off the bat: There is overlap of the objects. A good way to create depth in the image; The shapes interact with each other and with the frame. Creates tension and movement; An interesting negative space is created by the shapes. Creates visual impact and good reads; There is framing and visual lines created with the shapes. This helps us move the viewers eye around the image. More on this in a second... As you can see, this image has a lot of things going for it even when it is blocked out. When I look at it in this way, I might have suggested a slight shift to the right to help with the crop/negative space, but overall it is a very solid "blocking".

#2 Sight Lines. The next thing I'll do is look at the sight lines in a piece. I'm trying to figure out where the eye might be going in the image. I'll draw in lines that indicate where the eye might be drawn to look. I'm looking for leading lines, shapes that show movement, where things are looking, and just about anything else that makes my eye move or stop. One thing that Mathias doesn't have a lot of in his images is hard tangents. I like to indicate them with a circle - to indicate spaces where my eye will stop. As you can see, there's a lot of movement going on here. The nice thing about the composition that Mathias has going on here - is that the lines are leading us around the image space, and then back into the major tension area. If you have lines that are all leading willy-nilly all over your image, or all running off in a single direction, you might have a situation that you need to deal with. Funny, I knew that I had really enjoyed Mathais' piece, but I hadn't realized how well he had hit the compositional elements until I started mapping this exercise out. I originally picked this just because we had been talking about it at work yesterday, and it jumped into my brain when I decided I needed an image to use as an example piece. Now that you have a tool to play with. Snag a few images and give them the test and see how they stack up to the ArtOrder compositional test.