Composition

Composition is an abstract language that can be manipulated to achieve artistic goals. Put in more plain language, it's the act of thinking from above in abstract shapes that will, even before anything is drawn, express the idea the artist is trying to communicate.

Triangles are a very good abstract shape to work with, as the brain focus more on the angles as focal points than the center of its shape like when using a square. It makes the eyes move into the frame and can convery different feelings.

A painting by Dean Cornwell. Three explorers stand in front of a globe as if they were ready to sail around it.
An upright stable triangle gives a feeling of power and stability. Painting by Dean Cornwell. Source | Full size
A painting by Dean Cornwell showing a woman being interrogated by what seems to be two officers.
An inverted triangle creates an uneasy feeling that can help translate a tense situation. Painting by Dean Cornwell. Source | Full size
A painting by Dean Cornwell showing a woman with a knife defending herself against a man.
An asymmetrical triangle creates more dynamism, which is good for chaotic situations. Painting by Dean Cornwell. Source | Full size

Outside of triangles, composition can use squares, rectangles and parallelepiped. Depending on their regularity and placement they can express opposite feelings.

A painting by Dean Cornwell showing kids on a balcony.
Repeated angles creates a stable scaffolding that directs the eyes and help understand the situation. Painting by Dean Cornwell. Source | Full size
A painting by Dean Cornwell showing two people in an uncertain situation on the sea.
Unstable angles in this scaffolding composition creates more uncertainty. Painting by Dean Cornwell. Source | Full size

Composition can be used in a macro-sense to give a broader intention, but also in a micro-sense, like in architecture or for shapes of an object. But the point is not to put golden ratios everywhere or calculate things.

Points to remember:

  1. Don't start drawing or painting right away
  2. Think about the intention of the drawing/painting
  3. Use abstract shapes to support the intention
  4. Don't overdo it