By studying the masters you admire with the design elements and principles in mind, you can discover much that will be helpful. Refer to this list of design components commonly found in great compositions. Popular myths to the contrary, a great rendering is seldom all spontaneous, mysterious, and free-flow. It just looks that way. Successful artists know what they are doing, and they know how to repeat it. If they know it, you can learn it.

As you review art in books or exhibits, practice identifying these components. Then consciously incorporate them into your own work.

  1. A strong value pattern. This means the work has connected light and shadow shapes that unify and give power to the rendering. One rule of thumb is that 80 percent of the dark values (shadow shapes) should be connected to each other.
  2. A compositional scheme. A good rendering is usually not without its surprises , but it should have an overall organizational plan.
  3. A dominant focal point or center of interest. There should be no question where to look first.
  4. An overall mood. The scene may be upbeat or solemn, peaceful or haunting, joyful or angst-ridden. However subtle or strong, you should feel something about what you re seeing.
  5. Balanced shapes. Compositions can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Bright color, high contrast, detail and direction of line all effect the balance of shapes.
  6. Balanced temperature. We generally don't want to be cold. Therefore, a painting that is overwhelmingly warm still draws the eye, but one that is predominantly cold often repels it. Find ways to introduce warmth into cold subjects.
  7. A sense of freshness. The rendering should breath as though fresh off the vine - not appearing overworked.
  8. Interesting intervals. This commonly refers to the spacing of similar objects. Intervals should be irregular, not perfectly repetitious.

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