Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Practicing Composing

 Composition - the arrangement and qualities of elements in your painting - is a topic that seems to mystify people the most about art making. This is my impression from teaching thousands of students over hundreds of workshops over the course of ten years. Here are a few beliefs that some of you might hold. The 'you' is hypothetical.

  • You want composition to be a set of rules or guidelines.
  • You think composition is something you can learn and then apply.
  • You want there to be, or think there is, a set of rules that guarantee 'good' composition.
  • You approach abstract painting differently from representational painting from a compositional standpoint.
  • You may thing of format as the bulk of composition: the cruciform, the abstract landscape, the grid, for example.
  • You think there has to be a focal point
  • You believe in a rule of thirds
  • You think of 'spontaneous' painting as different from a composition, a composed painting.
  • You think a composed painting, a composition, is planned.

Any of this sound familiar? None of it is true. Where do these beliefs and assumptions come from? I've probably contributed to some of these beliefs myself, in earlier workshops. But believing any of the above does serve as a starting point.You can begin to un-learn. You can become aware of assumptions. This is where real composition begins.

In an attempt to address these issues directly I am offering two new workshops this year:

Abstract Composition Bootcamp

Fridays on Zoom, beginning April 9.


Paint Solo #9, 22x30" acrylic on paper

In order to become fluent in visual language, you need to become aware of what you do by habit and what you can do by choice. The more fluent you are, the more spontaneity and freedom you can bring to your art practice. See workshop details here.

 100 Paintings

Online with a blog, no zoom. 10 weekly lessons beginning September 8.

Pink Shape, 9x12", acrylic, collage, drawing on paper

 Join me for one or both of the above for a deeper look at what it means to compose.


  1. Hi Jane
    How can I be told it is a poor composition is there is nothing to compare it to?

    1. If you find it boring, you have no particular response to it, or it looks like wallpaper. That will tell you that it is a bad composition. To YOU.

  2. Hi Jane,

    How would you feel about me taking your 100 Paintings course but doing loosely representational paintings rather than non-objective abstracts?


    1. IT is up to you, Debra. It would be interesting for me and the others to see what you do.


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