How to create a composition

by pamneely on November 26, 2010

If you have the drawings, lay them about you, think about them, choose a central theme and, on a separate sheet of paper, draw out some rectangles, say about 4 in. X 2 in., and fill them with different arrangements. Play about with these arrangements, try this combination and then that. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Try to make a rough but effective looking design. Use different media. Wash over pencil, color over carbon, and so on. Do as many as you can. Do not overwork them at this stage, keep them rough and free.

When you have settled on a satisfactory composition, you can then start working it up on a slightly larger scale ready for the canvas. Use a shape that you can either cut easily out of hardboard or which is one of the standard canvas sizes. Remember the composition you settle on must grow, not be tailored to fit the wrong shaped canvas. If you start with a horizontal shape, you must finish on a horizontal shape. Once you have begun don’t alter your canvas shape at all. It is much better to start all over again with more rough doodles if you do.


When you have settled the size of your canvas, start to draw up the drawing to a more finished state, ready for transferring to the canvas. It is a good idea to use plenty of tracing paper. When you are trying to sort out your little roughs into something clearer, and are referring back to your details, you may find that by over tracing you will be able to change and alter the design within your rectangle with greater ease and fluidity.

You can push odd items about without the burden of re-drawing all of it. Detail paper is good for this (it is also good for roughing out ideas). You can trace off as many arrangements as you like this way and preserve different parts of the drawing without destroying the whole.

If you have a drawing that is nearly right, or even two drawings you would like to amalgamate, tracing paper can be very useful. Never try to change your original drawing. This is precious. It is all you have to refer to. Trace it off and fiddle about with it that way. It will be easy to see one drawing over another, using tracing paper.

Bear in mind the strong masses and movements when you are doing your small roughs. Avoid timid shapes and movements. Be positive, so that what you have to say is clear. The bolder your design at this stage the better. Think also in terms of what colors you are going to use. But don’t use too many of them. The simpler the scheme of color the better. You could, in fact, do the design in just two colors, adding a third at a later stage or reserving a further color for when you are actually working on the canvas.

Simplicity is the aim. You can add and complicate later.

When you have settled on your composition and have it clearly drawn out, then it is time to transfer it on to the canvas. The final drawing is usually called a cartoon.

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