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Practicing Composition

Check out some of our helpful drawing tips regarding composition that we teach in our course, The Practice of Botanical Drawing!

Nightshade Plant Family Portrait Composition Planning – list of varieties on top, thumbnail sketch laying out each element below

How do you plan compositions?

Wendy sometimes lays the actual elements directly on the page! She will also sometimes pin her subject directly to her drawing board to plan her arrangement. Another useful technique is to sketch the elements on tracing paper, cut them out, and play with different arrangements on the page. Taking photos of each distinct arrangement helps to compare which layout you prefer. 

“To explore the plan further and get an even better idea of what I’m hoping to create, I hop into Photoshop and arrange images of (previously painted) individual plant portraits. Visually seeing the ideas in my head laid out on paper (or on screen) is a crucial step for me in creating a final composition that I enjoy. ” -Wendy (Read more about the composition of Wendy’s Nightshades Plant Family Portrait.)

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Choose a view of your subject that will look three-dimensional. The goal is to render a good sense of volume on your form, but also create the feeling of a foreground, perhaps a middle ground, and a background. This gives an illusion of three-dimensional space within the picture plane to raise your composition to the next level.

For the above composition of an onion, Wendy planned the layout by laying the actual elements directly on the page until she arrived at the desired arrangement. For the above composition of a watermelon radish, Wendy planned the main layout of the whole radish, rendered it about halfway, then added in a cross-section in the background and slices in the foreground, creating the feeling of depth in the composition.

What part of your subject do you find most compelling? Focus on your focal point!

Go outside and find a plant that attracts you. What attracts you? What do you find most interesting? What do you want to stare at? Choose the most compelling part (often identifying characteristics, such as flowers, unusual seed pods or leaf arrangements) to be your focal point.

Focal Point Tips

+ Always begin a rendering with your focal point.
+ Render more detail in the foreground.
+ Render less detail in supporting elements and those further back in space.
+ Use more contrast and saturation of color in front, with less finishing details in back.
+ Use warmer and brighter colors in front.
+ Use cooler and grayer colors behind.
+ Start your color rendering at the focal point!
+ Avoid focus on abnormalities or scars.

For the most pleasing composition, make sure you consider the following:

Composition Checklist

+ Focal Point
+ Balance
+ Movement
+ Unity
+ Proportion of Elements
+ Contrast

Want to learn more? Check out this helpful video and

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