No graphic design education is complete without a thorough understanding of composition. It’s the basis for any design, whether you’re working in photography or film or comic book illustration. So how well versed are you in the building blocks of great composition? Take a look at these basic composition principles from the book The Designer’s Graphic Stew to find out.
Forms And Space
So you’ve got a bunch of visual ingredients to work with. Before you go any further, author Timothy Samara advises taking a minute to decipher just exactly what you’re looking at. Reduce each element to the simplest terms possible — the silhouette of a teapot, for example, is really just a radial, enclosed dot. A spoon turned on it’s edge is just a line. This helps determine how each element works when when juxtaposed with other forms.
Positives And Negatives
After identifying the essential forms you have to work with, it’s time to see how they’re going to behave when they’re mixed together. These forms are the positive element, the actual ingredients of your layout. The background is considered the negative, the “white space” or the plate you’re arranging your positive ingredients on. When considering the positive and negative elements of your composition, repeat this mantra often: the more white space, the better.
This is where the dance between the positive and negative elements and between the forms themselves begins to create a harmonious visual rhythm. Some elements have to oppose each other, while the others have to reflect each other. This tension creates visual relationships that bring the composition together and spell out your visual story.
Of course there are many more aspects of composition to consider. But with these basic building blocks, a designer can start to create an underlying logic that unifies the whole piece. Just beware–the unity of the composition is altered every time you change a single element. It can lead you down the path to beautiful composition–and also down the road of many, many drafts.
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