Composition – know the rules to break the rules

Learning a few basic rules relating to composition is basic to all visual art courses. The same rules apply to different art disciplines, eg. painting, photography, set design, graphic design. When you know the rules you have a foundation for building a layout that ‘works’ and has impact, regardless of your personal style or subject matter.

Once you know the rules you can then break them, but you do so in a conscious and informative way.

I came across this beautiful video showing 9 compositional tips by award winning photographer Steve McCurry. Even if you are an old hand and know the rules, this is such an impressive way to see them demonstrated.

9 photo composition tips

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What’s in a face?

Can facial expressions tell others something about the overall character of a person?

What’s interesting is that when we meet someone for the first time, their facial characteristics (eg face shape, eye shape and colour, hair style and colour), and expressions, are of less importance to our brain than noting their race and gender. This is because our brain tries to process a person’s identity first, and race and gender are a strong part of identity.

Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macnik write in an article titled What’s in a Face? – The human brain is good at identifying faces, but illusions can fool our “face sense”: “Facial expressions play a key role in our everyday social interactions. Even when watching movies or looking at photographs, we spend most of our time looking at the faces they portray. Our intense focus on faces is at the expense of other potentially interesting information, however.”

“Illusions: What’s in a Face?” is a slide show in the Scientific American Mind Matters series on the neuroscience behind visual illusions. It provides illustrations that demonstrate how our face-detection neural machinery can be fooled or overloaded.

Facial expressions can provide information about a person’s mood, but do not reflect their true inner feelings. Facial expressions used in social interactions, (for example during greetings, social crises or times of appeasement), can be the easiest to read and interpret.

Psychologists have long studied why people find certain faces more attractive than others. If we think that faces with symmetrical features are more attractive than others, why do many portrait artists deliberately exaggerate asymmetrical features? Stylisation such as this appears wrong and unflattering, however it often conveys something more meaningful about the sitter’s personality, mood or character than any flattering representation could.

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (July 12, 1884 – January 24, 1920) was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterised by elongation of faces and figures. He died at age 35 in Paris of tubercular meningitis. Here are some of his portraits. They seem deceptively simple in their stylisation, and yet, for me, they express an understanding of the personalities and moods of the sitters.

Woman with Red Hair

Woman with Red Hair

Portrait of a Woman in a Black Tie

Portrait of a Woman in a Black Tie

The Black Dress

The Black Dress

Portrait of Max Jacob

Portrait of Max Jacob

The Boy (detail)

The Boy (detail)

Portrait of Chaim Soutine

Portrait of Chaim Soutine

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Making an entrance – first impressions

Having just been to Morocco I’ve been reflecting on the many intricate and beautifully embellished doors and gateways I saw, and how these enticed me to enter with an expectation of grandeur beyond. And yet, I also entered astonishingly beautiful establishments via obscure, plain doors, often in non-descript walls that gave no hint of the architectural treasures inside.

As a graphic designer, I have always placed emphasis on the ‘visual gateway’. In relation to content, this may be the cover of a book, a wine label or the home page of a website. Yes, I know, you should “never judge a book by its cover”, and yet I am intrinsically drawn to a book by its cover, meaning that I have consciously made a selective decision before I read any content.

After my Moroccan experience I still feel that first impressions are really important, but I will try to be more aware of ‘hidden gems’ behind plain facades. I know I already do this with people – rather than make judgments based on exterior personas, I look for the true character within. Maybe I need to be more sympathetic to visually unappealing gateways, but when it comes to content, I know I will always promote the importance of a well designed and visually appealing entry image for a first impression.

Madressa-cell-window

Behind this beautifully adorned window is a small, simple room once used by students

Souk-alleyway

Old Medina alleyway, Marrakech

Bab-Ksour-laneway

A beautiful doorway in a nondescript lane, Marrakech

Madressa

Peace and tranquility pervade in the proportions of this courtyard, Marrakech

Casablanca-5

Courtyards provide quiet spaces filled with light, Casablanca

Casablanca-4

Entrance to a suburban home in Casablanca

Casablanca_2

Inner spaces open to the sky

Deux-Neuf

This beautiful Riad couryard with pool is behind a relatively unassuming door in the old Medina of Marrakech

Casablanca_1

Beautiful entrance, Casablanca

Beautiful camouflage

I always loved using camouflage as a theme when teaching art because it generated such a different way of seeing and thinking. I found it often inspired students to think more creatively. Artists have embraced the concept of camouflage in may varied and beautiful ways. I have chosen a few examples that visually inspire me as an artist, but the theme can be useful for any area of study that requires creative and innovative thinking.

Art Wolfe-Impala in brush

Art Wolfe – Impala in brush

Camouflage dog

Dog camouflage

Body Painting-by Cecilia-Paredes

Body Painting-by Cecilia-Paredes

Body Painting-by Cecilia-Paredes

Body Painting-by Cecilia-Paredes

Body Painting-by Cecilia-Paredes

Body Painting-by Cecilia-Paredes

clouds

Clouds

Emily Hadden

Emily Hadden – shirt

Emma Hack 1

Body painting by Emma Hack

Body painting by Emma Hack

Body painting by Emma Hack

Body painting by Emma Hack

Body painting by Emma Hack

Floral floral

Floral overlay

gloves

Black and white is always impressive

hand book

hand book

Rene Magritte National Gallery of Art Washington DC

Rene Magritte National Gallery of Art Washington DC

Steven Meisel

Artist – Steven Meisel

Street Art

Street Art – artist unknown

Tree hotel Sweden

Tree hotel Sweden

Photo by Valerie Belin

Photo by Valerie Belin

Indian bridal henna

Indian bridal henna

Photographer- Renee Keith

Photographer- Renee Keith

all images via

I particularly love the work of Emma Hack and Cecilia Paredes.

Emma Hack is an Australian artist. Her recent collection of work was inspired by Verushka who in the 1960s and 70s painted herself into rustic walls and naturalistic settings. Emma’s first ever human body art wallpaper camouflage took 19 hours to paint.

Cecilia Paredes was born in Lima, Peru, and currently lives and works between San Jose, Costa Rica and Philadelphia. Her artistic career began as a painter but her creative concepts evolved, revealing themselves first in three-dimensional objects, then through photography. Paredes paints her own body to blend in with the background.