Painting Composition Examples

01
of 35

Remove a Still Life Element

Fixing a painting composition by removing an element
Painting Composition Examples. Top: Original painting by DixieGem. Bottom: Two composition suggestions.

How to Improve Your Painting Compositions

This gallery contains examples on how to change or strengthen painting compositions. The examples all come from submissions to various painting projects. Remember, these are suggestions based on my personal preferences and the fundamental rules of painting composition. It is ultimately up to you, the artist, to decide what the composition of a painting should be, and if or when to break the rules.

Top: Original painting from the In the Style of Morandi Painting Project.

Bottom: Edited version of the photo with a minor tweak (bottom left) and a major change (bottom right).

In the bottom left version, I've turned the handle on the pepper mill so it faces into the composition rather than towards the edge. This changes the overall shape of the arrangement elements to a smoother oval shape. It also leads the viewer's eye towards the other objects rather than pointing off the edge.

In the bottom right version, I've edited out the pepper mill completely. This gives the blue jar more prominence, makes it the color focal point. Whether the right-hand side of the composition is too uniform without the splash of yellow is something to be considered, or whether the overall composition is calmer because your eye no longer has to deal with two stronger colors fighting one another for attention.

02
of 35

Making a Still Life More in the Style of Morandi

Making a still life composition more like one by Morandi
Painting Composition Problem Solver Top: Original painting "Morandicized " by LorraineMae. Below: Two edited versions of the photo of the original, suggestions for alternative arrangements of the objects that I think make it feel more like a painting by Morandi. Painting ©2011 LorraineMae

Top: Original painting from In the Style of Morandi Painting Project.

Bottom Left and Right: The negative space around the objects is a crucial aspect of Morandi's still life setups, as important as the interaction of the shapes of the objects themselves. For me, the negative space in the painting (top photo) is too busy, it's going in and out, in and out, all the way around. My eyes feel like they're being bounced around, and it's not calm to look at as a Morandi would be.

I would move the blue candlesticks so they're aligned with one another, and with the object behind them. Not only does this simplify the negative space, but it adds that sense of visual puzzle that Morandi used: are they two objects or one? This visual puzzle is enhanced by aligning the blue objects with the dark brown one behind them because we then see even less of it. Really only the top half, with small teasers of color emerging on the sides and between the candlesticks.

Aligning the candlesticks at the top or bottom with the object adjacent to it changes the dynamic of the composition. I prefer the alignment at the bottom edge (lower left photo) as it simplifies the negative space. The strong verticals in the candlesticks echo and enhance the shape behind it, while the two objects on the left echo one another in their curves. By having the small yellow container kissing the candlesticks, your eye can't move between the two elements but is forced up, either vertically or around the curve, again reinforcing those shapes.

Also, don't forget to use the shadows as part of the pattern in the composition. For instance, strong horizontal shadows with a sliver of light because the front and back rows aren't touching.

03
of 35

More in the Style of Morandi: Background Edge

Changing horizon line in a painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver Left: Original painting with objects set on a curved table. Right: Photo edited to change table edge to a straight line. Painting ©2011 Yover

Left: Original painting from the In the Style of Morandi Painting Project.

Right: Edited version of the photo in which I straightened the edge of the table behind the objects, to give a line between the foreground (table) and background (wall) that's parallel to the edge of the canvas. To my mind this instantly calms the layout, shifting it more towards one that feels like a Morandi. While he did occasionally have curves and angles in the edge of the table his objects were on, most of his paintings have a straight line. I think it adds to the sense of calmness in his still lifes.

Having a strong horizontal line also reinforces the tall vertical of the white vase. This then makes the curves on the vase and ellipses on the mugs echo one another more, letting the eye bounce back and forth between them. Having two smaller objects with different size ellipses also echoes the big and small curves in the vase, as well as creating a slight disharmony that unsettles things slightly, making for a more interesting composition than something perfectly balanced would be.

04
of 35

Turn a Canvas Sideways

Changing a painting composition
Art Composition Example Sometimes a painting needs a dramatic alteration, such as turning the canvas sideways. Photos ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

If everything in a painting ought to be working but isn't, and you can't quite put your finger on it, it's time to assess most basic element is wrong: the format of the canvas. Sometimes a painting needs a radical change to get the composition to work.

In the painting shown here, I started the painting with the canvas in a landscape format (wider than it is tall). I had spent some time thinking about the composition, did an initial sketch on the canvas, measured the Rule of Thirds to place the horizon and shore, blocked in the colors, and it all seemed to be going okay.

I had another round with the painting, then stood back for a critical look. I liked what I'd done well enough, but it nagged at me. Something was lacking, something not as strong as it might be. I sat with a cup of tea to ponder the painting, and after a while decided that although the scene I was painting did have a long "sideways" curve to the beach, for the composition to have the feeling of your being on a long beach stretching out ahead of you, I need to turn the canvas 90 degrees, and start again working with a portrait format.

A dramatic change, sure. Risky? Not really because what was there already wasn't working sufficiently well anyway. Not all the paint was wasted, because some of the beach would fit the new composition and having some of it showing through wouldn't look odd. The color choices and mixing I'd done was still fresh in my mind so I could easily repeat those. The final photo shows the painting when it was about half-way to being finished, but by then I knew it would turn out okay this way up.

05
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop Foreground, Move Figures Up

Improve a painting composition by cutting the foreground
Painting Composition Problem Solver Above: The original painting. Below: A photo-edited version of the painting, cutting the foreground and moving the figures up. Painting © Minna

Top: The original painting submitted by Mina to the In the Style of LS Lowry Painting Project.

Bottom: I suggest cropping at least half of the "empty" foreground and moving the figures closer to the buildings. At present the composition feels dominated by the buildings, but then you've all this spare foreground. By reducing foreground, the buildings lead the eye across the composition.

The positioning of the figures could be done so it appears they're all heading towards the side door on the building, or you could have them going in multiple directions.

06
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Add Space on the Left

Painting Composition Problem Solver Top: Original painting "Chromatic Shark" by Richard Mason. 12x16". Acrylic on canvas sheet. Bottom: Composition edited to increase the space on the left-hand side of the shark. Photo © Richard Mason

Top: The original painting submitted to the Chromatic Black Painting Project.

Bottom: I suggest changing the painting's composition to add more space to the left of the shark. Not only will it shift the face of the shark onto the Rule of Thirds focal spot, but it will give the feeling of the shark having space to swim and turn, rather than about to bump its head against the edge.

Remember when painting from photos that you don't have to stick to a canvas that's the same proportions, that you can extend or crop.

07
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Reduce Clouds

Painting Composition Problem Solver "Spring Snow" by Pat Newsome. 16x20". Oil on canvas. Painting © Pat Newsome

Top: Original painting from the Essence of a Season Painting Project.

Bottom: I feel reducing the definition of clouds in the sky reflects the tranquility of the water in the foreground. It also reduces the number of elements fighting for attention. I would not reduce the sky to a single blue though, but keep the variations in blue and a gentle hint of soft white cloud.

08
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Increase the Dark Shadow

Painting bottles
Painting Composition Problem Solver Left: Original Painting. Right: Photo edited to increase the shadow behind the bottle. Painting © Jay

Left: Original painting from the Color and Its Complementary Painting Project.

Right: I would increase the amount of shadow in this painting on the right-hand side. Like the pears in the bottom right-hand corner emerge from a deep shadow, so I think the bottle wants to. It'll also let the highlights on the bottle have more impact by standing out more. Let the right-hand edge of the bottle merge into the shadow.

Note: The edited version of the photo has lost the purple in the background, with the colors now rather dull. Having dark purples in the background will make it more interesting.

09
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop Paper

Painting composition problem solver
Painting Composition Problem Solver Above: Original painting. Below: Cropped version of the photo, reducing the size and proportions of the composition. Photo © Theresa Currie

Above: Original painting from the Color and Its Complementary Painting Project.

Below: I would crop the top and bottom of the piece of watercolor paper so the tomatoes (the subject of the painting) dominate the composition more. At present there's too much "empty" space overall. Cropping will also change the proportions of the painting, with the wider and narrower composition emphasizing and reinforcing the linear arrangement of the tomatoes.

10
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Increase Space Around Subject

Chair painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver Left: Original painting. Right: Edited photo of painting adding more space to the left and above the chair. "Ladderback Chair" by Debra. 11x14". Oil.

Left: Original painting from the Still Life with Chair Painting Project.

Right: I think the chair wants to have space for the viewer's eye to move all the way around it, for the eye to be able to flow all around it rather than bump into the edge of the canvas, and then off the painting. Just enough extra to still maintain the off-center composition, and enhance the suggestion of the scene continuing to the left of what we're shown.

11
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop to Increase Focus on Subject

Crop a painting composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver Left: Original Painting. Right: Cropped so the chair dominates the composition. Painting © Darleene MacBay.

Left: Original painting from the Still Life with Chair Painting Project.

Right: I feel the subject of the painting, the chair, could dominate the composition more and would crop right in on it. I'd probably going as far to eliminate the little table too, though this of course does make it a totally different painting.

12
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Increase Tonal Difference

Chair still life painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver Top left: The original painting. Top right: the original painting converted to grayscale. Below left: Altered painting with hat in darker tone and more color. Below right: Altered painting converted to grayscale. "Hatrack" painting © Mary Dreyer

Top: Original painting from the Still Life with Chair Painting Project.

Below: I think the hat on the chair blends into the staircase too much, creating an area of light tone where the viewer can't easily figure out what's going on. Using artistic license to add a little color and darken the tone solves the problem, and increases the impact of the chair as a focal point for the eye too. I chose green for the hat as it's the complementary color to the red on the chair seat.

13
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Keep or Eliminate Negative Space?

Painting composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver Top Left: The original painting. Top Right: The painting with the tiny bit of negative space in the top right corner eliminated. Bottom Left and Right: The tone on the lamp has been made lighter. Painting © Dorey

Had you noticed the small triangle of negative space in the top right-hand corner? Do you find it a distraction? The painting, Spaghetios Chair by Dorey, was submitted for the Still Life Featuring a Chair Painting Project. Dorey was bothered by the triangle of negative space but couldn't figure out a good way to paint out of it.

But looking at the photo with this space eliminated, I wonder if the problem isn't the negative space but the tone of the lamp? In the bottom two photos I've edited the photo to knock back or lighten the tone of the lamp so it dominates the composition less. Compare the versions and see what you think.

14
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop Foreground

Landscape painting composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Shannon Dailey

Above: Original painting Mountain Memories by Shannon Dailey (from the Landscape Painting Project).

Below: If this were my painting, I'd crop off the dark foreground which dominates the composition too strongly. It's hard to see beyond it to what else is going on in the painting, and it overwhelms the more delicate tones and colors in the distant mountains.

When cropping, make sure the valley doesn't end up right in the center, but place it slightly towards the side. If it were right in the center, it would cut the composition in half. A slightly asymmetrical composition is more intriguing to the eye.

15
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Direct Viewer's Eye Inwards

Painting Composition Problem Solver. Original painting by Sandhya Sharma

Top: Original painting Olive Grove, Tunis by Sandhya Sharma

Below: My proposed change, removing the road on the left and changing the one on the right so it directs the viewer's eye into the composition rather than leading it out. I would also add extra trees on the left to balance the visual weight of the road.

16
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Make it Wider

Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Morgan based on a photo by Erik Jagberg from MorgueFile

Top: Original painting Secundum Tempestas by Morgan (read my comments on the painting in the Knife Painting Project).

Bottom: My suggested alteration to the composition, to change the proportions of the scene to make it much wider in order to balance the dominance the house has in the composition.

17
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Move Horse & Rider

Painting composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Vicki Hertz

Left: Original painting Long Way to Go by Vicki Hertz

Right: My proposed change, shifting the horse and rider a little more to the left to place it more on the Rule of Thirds line, which I think increases the sense of the rider moving into the scene.

18
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Eliminate Pattern

Painting Composition Problem Solver. Photo © Laura Parker

Top: Original painting California Poppy Field by Laura Parker (from the Landscape Painting Project).

Below: To my eye the shapes and angles of the hills create a distracting pattern or repetition in this composition, so I would be inclined to alter these. I would extend the orange-yellows of the poppies to fill the area under the tree (and take out the lowest branch) to give more surface area in the composition for this lovely strong color.

19
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Add the Shadow

Painting composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Photo © Martha Phillips

Top: Original painting Sunflower by Martha Phillips (see my comments in the Flower Painting Project).

Below: Photo of setup for painting the sunflower showing the shadow that it cast, with Rule of Thirds lines added. I think the shape of the shadow is visually interesting, and would try a version of the painting with a wide format including the shadow.

20
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop in Tighter

Painting composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Photo © Martha Phillips

Left: Original painting Sunflower by Martha Phillips (see my comments in the Flower Painting Project).

Right: I would crop this painting to remove most of the negative space on the right-hand side and above the sunflower. This change makes the flower and vase take up a greater proportion of the area of the composition, and thus dominate much more.

21
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop Left-Hand Side

Altering a composition of a flower painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Derek John

Top: Original painting "Tulip" by Derek John

Middle and Bottom: My suggested changes. I would be tempted to crop the left-hand section of the painting so the curtain goes off the edge of the composition. This removes the small bit of wall to the left of the curtain which I find very distracting, and shifts the vase more towards the left-hand third of the composition (Rule of Thirds).

I would also be tempted to crop off some of the right-hand section of the painting (as shown in the bottom photo) to help the vase and flower dominate the composition. This will also reduce the feeling of the painting being divided into two halves (the "full" left-hand half with the curtain, vase, and flower vs the "empty" right-hand half).

22
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Eliminate Negative Space

Flower painting composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Maddy Buckman

Top: Original painting "Freesia" by Maddy Buckman

Bottom: My suggested change. I would crop off the little bit of negative space on the right-hand side of the vase as I find it distracting. Instead I would have the vase go off the edge of the composition, and leave it to the viewer's mind to fill in what's "missing". It also strengthens the diagonal line in the composition created by the flower, its stem, and the vase.

23
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop Sky

Cropping a painting for a strong composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Jim Brooks

Above: Original painting The Emerald City by Jim Brooks (from the Abstracting an Urban Scene Painting Project).

Below: If this were my painting, I'd crop off a large portion of the sky and add some more blue in the foreground. I feel that in the existing composition there's too much of the total area of the painting where little is going on ("sky area") and it dominates the subject ("city area"). Cropping off the top section of the composition allows the buildings to dominate the overall composition, and I think the wider format adds a sense of the city spreading sideways.

I would also increase the sliver of strong blue in the foreground to lift the buildings of the city up, more in line with the Rule of Thirds. At the moment it's too narrow a band and makes the composition feels unbalanced to me, because its strong color demands I look at it.

24
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Don't Align with Canvas' Edges

Painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Crystal Hover

Top: Original painting "Seeing Red" by Crystal Hover (see my comments in the In the Style of Matisse Painting Project Gallery).

Bottom: My proposed change is to change the angle of the paintings hanging on the two walls. At present they're aligned with the edges of the canvas the artist is painting on, rather than the walls depicted in the painting.

I've roughly edited the photo of the painting so they align with the line depicting the bottom of the walls. And removed the vertical line showing the junction of the two walls because otherwise the paintings appear skew against this line. It's something easier to be sketched and studied from observation, rather than painted from imagination.

I also edited out the sides of the drawing board and the top and side of the little cupboard in the corner to further play with the perspective. I'm not convinced the latter is an improvement.

25
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Eliminating More Perspective Lines

Playing with perspective in a painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Photo © Lotty

Top: Original painting "Matisse in Orange" by Lotty (see my comments in the In the Style of Matisse Painting Project Gallery).

Bottom: My proposed change is to reduce the number of lines indicating the perspective of the room, to leave these to be filled in by the viewer's imagination.

26
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Adapting Perspective

Adapting perspective in a painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver. Painting © Maddy Buckman

Top: Original painting "Blue Studio after Matisse" by Maddy Buckman (see my comments in the In the Style of Matisse Painting Project Gallery).

Bottom Left and Right: My proposed change is to remove all or part of the line demarcating the floor and wall at the back. This plays with the perspective more by removing the clear distinction between what is floor and what is wall. I think I like the version with part of the line best, as it makes for an intriguing line that asks for a closer look.

27
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Simplify the Elements

Painting Project
Painting Composition Problem Solver "My Studio" by Marie Plocharz. 8x10" (20x25cm). Acrylic. Photo © Marie Plocharz

Top: Original painting "My Studio" by Marie Plocharz (see my comments in the In the Style of Matisse Painting Project Gallery).

Bottom: My proposed change, to make the painting more in Matisse's style, is to change more of the elements to outlines, to simplify the composition, leaving the art in color to dominate more strongly. Also check the perspective on individual elements, such as the bookshelf. These should be accurate within each item, though not necessarily in relation to one another (in this style).

28
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Increase Shadow Area

Painting Composition Problem Solver Left: Original painting. Right: Roughly edited photo of painting to place more of the figure in shadow. Painting © Mary Ann Heeb

Left: Original painting from the Color and Its Complementary Painting Project.

Right: I think the part of the figure furthest from the light wants to be in more shadow. Let the edges of the legs and knees disappear into the dark, so not all the figure is in the light. This helps focus attention on the face as well as increasing the moodiness of the scene.

There also needs to be more shadow within the figure itself, where shadows would be cast by, for instance, an arm. Use a glaze of the dark background color to put this in.

29
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Crop Top and Bottom

Cropping an abstract painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver "Chicago" by John Quinlan. 16x20" (40x50cm). Acrylic on canvas. Top: Original painting. Below: My suggested composition. Painting © John Quilan

Top: Original painting from the Urban Abstraction Painting Project.

Bottom: I think this composition lends itself to being cropped top and bottom, so it's much wider than tall. This format would work with the subject (the outline of the city) to enhance the feeling of it stretching from horizon to horizon, and make the shapes of the buildings dominate the composition more. At present for me the amount of space the sky and foreground occupy fight against the buildings.

30
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Reduce Detail to Color and Zoom In

Abstract Painting
Painting Problem Solver Top Original Painting: "Cityscape, Top Angle" by Pragash. 9x11" (23x28cm). Watercolor. Bottom: Altered version of the painting, pushing it into more abstraction. Painting © Pragash

Top: Original painting from the Urban Abstraction Painting Project.

Bottom: With the project's challenge of abstracting an urban scene in mind, I think this painting could be pushed further into abstraction. Reduce the detail in the elements to depict only the color they add to the scene, for instance the cars and the boats.

I also think the composition would be stronger if the convergence of the powerful diagonal lines from the road was more on the third line (Rule of Thirds) and the buildings extended off the top. This increases the impact the strong lines have and creates more interesting shapes in the negative space in the top of the composition.

In the altered photo of the painting I've also used artistic license to increase the size of the flag so it fills the top right-hand corner. At this size it echoes the building below it, both in size and shape, and eliminates a distracting bit of negative space around it.

31
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Reduce Negative Space

Still life painting composition
Painting Problem Solver Top: Still Life with Blue by Susan Korstanje. Bottom: Three cropped versions of the painting, showing different composition possibilities. Painting © Susan Korstanje

Top: Original painting from the Still Life with Blue Painting Project.

Bottom: I feel the still life objects don't dominate the space, that there is too much negative space around them. Cropping off some of this, whether only from the left or also some at the bottom, makes the blue objects take up a greater proportion of the total area.

32
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Add Negative Space

Let a painting composition have breathing space
August 2009 Painting Project: Still Life with Blue Top: Original painting "Water Bottles and Lunch Bag" by Pragash. Bottom: Extra negative space added to the left-hand side. Painting © Pragash

Top: Original painting from the Still Life with Blue Painting Project.

Bottom: I think adding additional negative space to the left-hand side of the composition would the objects in this still life painting some more breathing space. Because there's "nothing happening" in that space, it won't detract from the objects themselves.

33
of 35

Suggested Change: Decrease Saturation

Paintings
Painting Problem Solver "Sunrise" by Joe Timmins. 10x8". Oils. Top: Original Painting. Bottom: Photo edited to decrease chroma (intensity of color). Photo © Joe Timmins

Top: Original painting Sunrise by Joe Timmins (from the In the Style of Whistler Painting Project).

Below: The painting with the intensity of the colors reduced. When considered in terms of Whistler's style of painting, I think the colors in this painting are too bright, too saturated. The range of tones fits Whistler's Nocturne paintings, not having very dark tones. The photo of the painting at the bottom has been edited to reduce the saturation and intensity. I think it has a different mood from the original, more serene, perhaps a little somber.

34
of 35

Suggested Change to Composition: Delete a Tree

Forest Painting
Painting Composition Problem Solver Left: Original Painting. Center and Right: Suggested changes to the composition. Painting © 2011 SandraRCutrer

Left: Original painting from the In a Forest Painting Project.

Center and Right: I think the pair of trees on the left unbalances the composition. They catch the eye and don't let you easily go past into the distance, into the depths of the woodland. I would either paint out one, as shown in the center photo, which I manipulated in a photo-editing program, or perhaps both trees. Alternatively, crop the composition in half as shown on the right.

The latter is the option I prefer, though being a painting on canvas this will necessitate taking it off the stretchers, and then re-stretching it.

35
of 35

Unity Between the Elements in a Painting's Composition

Photo of Forest Painting Composition
Painting Composition Problem Solver "Forest Light" by Lorraine Mae. 18x24" acrylic on canvas. Painting © Lorraine Mae

Top: Original painting from In a Forest Painting Project.

Bottom Left and Right: I think that while all the parts of this forest scene are beautifully painted, they don't sit together comfortably, that the overall composition lacks unity. The trees on the left-hand side, center, and right feel like they're from different types of forest: the greens seems to clash, the undergrowth changes, and the light seems different. For me, each of these makes a painting by itself and I find myself cropping off part of the scene, as shown in the photos.

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Boddy-Evans, Marion. "Painting Composition Examples." ThoughtCo, Jul. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/painting-composition-examples-4123035. Boddy-Evans, Marion. (2017, July 2). Painting Composition Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/painting-composition-examples-4123035 Boddy-Evans, Marion. "Painting Composition Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/painting-composition-examples-4123035 (accessed November 18, 2017).