For an artist composition is debatably the most important skill to learn and employ in one’s craft. I have compiled a list of resources I’ve found helpful in learning this skill.
“There are no rules, just tools.” – Glenn Vilpuu
I’ve tried to list the sources in rough order of what made the biggest impact/impression on me. I’ve not watched every video here, but I am familiar with each artist enough to recommend them. Remember, too much head knowledge without application isn’t usually healthy (in any area of learning). Try to put what you learn into practice as soon as possible before taking in more information.
Free Internet Resources
- The Core with Nathan Fowkes, Part 1: Pictorial Composition
- The (Not) Rules of Portrait Composition
- Composition conversations with artist Nathan Fowkes.
- Nathan Fowkes YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS
The Draftsmen Podcast
The Draftsmen podcast/channel on YouTube has at least one episode dedicated to composition; Marshall Vandruff is very knowledgeable about composition and often has great advice to contribute; Stan Prokopenko has good advice, but Marshall has more life experience; they have rather different backgrounds as artists and each offer a valuable perspective; they balance each other nicely.
- How to Learn Composition – Draftsmen S2E15
- What Are The Fundamentals? Draftsmen S1E04 (not strictly a composition episode, but they touch on how it fits into the rest of the art fundamentals)
- From Rocket Scientist to Professional Artist (ft. Jama Jurabaev) – Draftsmen S2E33 (Jama Jurabaev is a past student of Marshall’s and has some stunning work.)
Glenn Vilpuu (and Michael Spooner)
Glenn Vilpuu spews artistic wisdom constantly; he’s a great figure-drawing instructor; just be aware that as a classically trained artist, he works a lot from nude models.
- How to Create a Composition From Imagination with Glenn Vilppu
- There Are No Rules, Just Tools (Draftsmen talk about Glenn Vilpuu’s advice)
- Composition and Lighting, with SPECIAL GUEST Visual Development Artist Michael Spooner! (two veteran pros chatting about composition; both blew my mind)
- Michael Spooner is a wonderful illustrator. I love his work.
Feng Zhu on composition (Feng has tons of free, valuable drawing instruction)
- Design Cinema – Episode 104 – Environmental Composition
- Design Cinema – EP 78 – Environmental Thumbnails
- Design Cinema – EP 89 – Just Draw! (I love this episode so much!)
- Design Cinema – EP 101 – Sketching 101 (I love this one too)
- How to Draw Tips | What are thumbnail sketches? How to use them (Alphonso Dunn has some good art advice)
Kim Jung Gi
WARNING: Kim Jung Gi frequently draws extremely inappropriate content; so I don’t endorse all his stuff, but man is he ever good. He gives a bit of drawing advice and instruction, but one can learn much from watching him draw; I find his skill inspiring and something to aim for. The following content is safe.
While I don’t find Aaron Blaise‘s composition advice to be very strong/helpful, he’s got a lot of other great art advice, especially when it comes to drawing animals; I will say though, that he composes very well intuitively through decades of creating on a highly professional level; I just don’t find that he communicates too strongly in the area of composition.
- help-me-draw on composition (they categorize art resources from all over the internet; tons of great stuff)
Paid Internet Resources
- If you haven’t seen Syd Mead‘s art, you’re missing out 😉 – wild, futuristic concept art with stunning compositions.
- Joseph Clement Coll has absolutely amazing compositions in his ink work – so much energy: Image 1 & Image 2.
- Pete Beard‘s YouTube channel will open you up to new worlds of art and composition.
- Bobby Chiu‘s interview with Heri Irawan – if you’re struggling economically, this guy may inspire you. Bobby has tons of really interesting artist interviews and other great advice; listening to other artists talk about their lives is a bit like reading biographies; you can learn something from everyone.
- Bobby Chiu’s interview with Devin Elle Kurtz has tons of art advice and inspiration. Also check out Devin’s website.
A useful exercise is to try to break down other people’s compositions as studies; just do little 1×2 inch thumbnail copies (or go up to 3.5×5 inches); try to study how they structure the values (i.e. scale from light to dark) and the colours. What kinds of contrast do they use? How do they focus/move the viewer’s eye? etc.
A simple YouTube search for “art composition” by itself or with an artist’s name will yield many useful results. These are some of the most influential resources I could recall from several years of drawing. I know it’s a ton of information; please don’t go crazy and burn out; just pick one resource to start (whatever catches your eye) and spend some time on it; pace yourself. Don’t try to consume this waterfall as fast as possible, but do drink deeply to your satisfaction. I’d recommend visiting this list from time to time when you’re wanting to up your composition game. Composition obviously isn’t all there is to know about art, but it’s a really valuable skill, and as Nathan Fowkes’ says, possibly the most important skill an artist can possess.