Friday, January 22, 2010

Compositional Strategies--Mini Lesson

Ideas come in all kinds of packages. Yesterday, I received a beautiful poster from SCAD. As soon as I unfolded it, I knew exactly what I would do with it: a Compositional Strategies classroom competition. The prize: a sketchbook I had received through a promotion.

This week and last, I had been working with my students on Compositional Strategies: a series of specific design strategies that they can turn to--and adapt in their own ways--when trying to resolve compositional issues in their work.

I use a series of jpgs from my teaching-artist mentor Nicole Brisco's sketchbook that illustrates each of the strategies, along with photocopoies of a drawing I made. I use the latter as a worksheet in which they identify the various strategies. The list of strategies is organic and growing and can, essentially, include any approach to composition that you favor.

Most of them help create Unity, though some relate to Focal Point, Movement and connecting positive and negative Space. Included are such things as:

  • Repeated Shapes, Colors, etc.
  • Geometric Shape to Isolate a Focal Point
  • Subliminally Repeated Patterns (e.g. hatch marks and stripes)
  • Continuous Line to Unify Sides of a Composition or Foreground and Background
  • Extended Lines (from the edges of objects)
  • Repeated Motif to Create Movement
  • A Motif Extrapolated from a Pattern (e.g. a square "pulled out" of a plaid pattern)
  • Insets (pictures within pictures--sometimes 1, but often in a series of 3)
  • Echo Lines (like concentric ripples when a pebble is dropped in water)
  • Halos (to separate two areas that would otherwise merge, e.g. an object against a ground of the same color)
  • Text in the Ground (handwriting, print, stenciled letters)
  • Stylized View of an Object from an Unexpected Perspective to Create a Repeating Motif
  • Object Repeated as a Modeled Drawing, Contour Drawing and Silhouette

The competition was simple: with the poster image concealed, I told the class that after we reviewed the Compositional Strategies, I was going to reveal an image that makes obvious use of one of the strategies in particular. I explained that the first person to yell out the correct one and wave his or her hand would win the sketchbook.

The competition was intense, but Troy J. won by identifying "Geometric Shape to Isolate a Focal Point" because of the window around the woman's eye.

Extension: Analyze and interpret the image. Perhaps the meaning of the image is related to the notion that the eyes are the "windows of the soul."


  1. Betsy
    I love your lessons.
    I was wondering about the tagboard you paint on sometimes, like for the mannequins.
    Do you know what weight that is? 65 pounds perhaps?
    Do you not tape the tagboard to a drawing board?

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