Virtual Art Academy® Composition Painting Lessons

What is included in the Composition Building Block?

Many students think that they know a lot about composition and first purchase the Color or Brushwork course Building Blocks, thinking that is what is wrong with their paintings. Nearly always they are wrong. Partly this is because composition in most books on painting is treated very superficially, when in fact it is a very broad and highly complex subject. Composition is the essence of the painting, not something you do to make the painting better. In fact you cannot distinguish the painting and the composition. They are one and the same thing.

composition painting lessons

It is always the composition that distinguishes the masters from the amateurs, and the competition prize winners from the rest. This set of course units goes into depth into all the key concepts of design and composition. They describe all the major principles and illustrate each of them with both examples of how to do it, and how not to do it.

The Composition Building Block consists of six course units (in pdf format) and a total of 105 pages:

  • Course Unit 1 - Space Division I
  • Course Unit 2 - Space Division II
  • Course Unit 3 - Focal Points
  • Course Unit 4 - Eye Movement
  • Course Unit 5 - Variety
  • Course Unit 6 - Line

Course Unit 1 - Space Division I

It does not matter how well you can draw or render, without an interesting abstract design, your painting will be nothing more than illustration. One of the most important things that will make your paintings interesting is how you break up the space in your painting. Once you understand the principles it is not too difficult to do, but it takes a lot of practice. If you start off your painting with a good plan for dividing the space, the painting will go much more quickly and you will end up with a much more interesting painting. This course unit covers many of the key ideas and principles of space division.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • how to use a viewfinder to limit your field of vision and give you more abstract design options
  • what to do and what not to do when cropping your subject
  • a creative way to subdivide a space when composing an image that ensures an interesting space division
  • ideas for how to come up with creative designs and painting compositions
  • why the edges of your painting are important to consider and what to look for
  • the magic Golden Section and how to use it
  • the rabatment of the rectangle: another magic principle of space division to improve your painting composition

Course Unit 2 - Space Division II

This course unit continues the exploration of the subject of space division to make your compositions more interesting.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • the key principle of unequal space division - the most important you need to learn
  • the principles of baselines and ground contours that will help give your landscapes depth and make them more convincing
  • how to use foregrounds and the concept of 'walk room'
  • how to use overlapping forms to give your landscapes depth and help to clarify the forms in your painting
  • common problems with overlapping forms
  • how to use right angles to give strength and solidity to your painting compositions
  • the importance of shape simplification to strengthen your design
  • the problems of tangents and how to avoid them
  • how to use the technique of 'tie together' to bring your painting composition into a more unified design

Course Unit 3 - Focal Points

Have you ever looked at a painting and wondered what the artists was trying to say? Many beginners look at a scene and are inspired to paint all of it, but that leaves the painting without any focus. You need to direct your viewer to one part of your painting and make that area more interesting. This is called the focal point or focal area.

For example if you are painting a landscape with a mountain, a house with a road leading up to it, and some people on the road, you need to decide which is your focus: the mountain, the house, or the people? What is your painting really about? Once you have decided your focus, you then need to find a way to encourage the viewer to look at it. That is what you will learn in this course unit.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • the difference between staccato focal points and focal areas
  • how to increase the interest of a painting by adding a secondary focal area
  • how to use contrast of shape and direction in focal areas
  • the role color saturation plays in focal points and focal areas
  • how to use the contrast of light and dark to create a focal area
  • four tips when using directing lines to enhance your focal areas
  • how to use isolation to draw attention to a part of your painting composition
  • the role space division plays in creating natural and logical positions for focal points and focal areas
  • the principle of one-thirds in positioning focal points
  • the use of contrast of temperature for creating focal areas and examples of its use

Course Unit 4 - Eye Movement

When you go to a museum, there are some paintings you glance at but just keep on walking past, and others that you can stare at for up to half an hour. Why is this? It is not an accident, but careful planning on the part of the artist. Master painters provide pathways for the viewer's eye to follow. The longer a viewer is drawn to look at your painting, the more interesting that painting is to them. Your goal is to keep the viewer’s interest by keeping their eye moving around the painting composition, and at the same time preventing the eye leaving the painting or getting trapped in one spot. In this course unit you will learn how to do this.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • how to use the space around shapes to aid the eye movement
  • the five most common pitfalls students make relating to eye movement
  • the use of 'C', 'S', and 'O' forms as plans for eye movement
  • how to create eye movement in three dimensions
  • how to use color to keep the viewer's eye moving around the painting composition
  • how to prevent the viewer's eye leaving the painting or getting trapped in one spot
  • the technique of linking lights to enhance the eye movement paths
  • the technique of guiding lights and darks to help keep the viewer's eye moving
  • entering points and what to avoid when using them
  • the relationship between density of space division and eye movement

Course Unit 5 - Variety

Master paintings are interesting to look at. One of the reasons why is that the artist has incorporated variety into the work. You need to create variety in your shapes, the spacing between objects in the painting, the type of brushwork you use, the colors and so on. At the same time you need to prevent the painting getting too confused.

One way of doing this is to use repetition. By repeating some shapes, colors, and objects in your painting, you can give some organization to your painting and stop it becoming just a random pattern of shapes. The trick is to balance this repetition with the variety I talked about earlier. In this course unit you will learn some ways for how to do this.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • the importance of shape variety and some common pitfalls in positioning shapes in your painting composition
  • how to use repetition to build unity in your work and what to avoid
  • a quick technique for seeing the abstract quality in your painting composition
  • the principle of using active and passive areas to make your work more interesting and at the same time more mysterious together with examples of the principle in action
  • the principle of inequality to prevent your painting composition becoming boring
  • the use of odd numbered groups to add interest to your painting composition
  • the principle of 'threes' and what to avoid when applying the principle

Course Unit 6 - Line

Line is one of the elements of a painting, like shape and color. We have already looked at shape and color in other course units. This unit explores how line plays a part in the composition of your painting, and how to take advantage of it.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • the principle of graceful line and why exaggeration is sometimes important
  • how to use interrelationship of line when designing shapes in your painting composition to give your design a hidden strength
  • the importance of creating transitions between shapes, and lessons from ancient architecture
  • the principle of counterpoint and how to create more 'balance' in your painting composition
  • how to use line and linear brushwork to suggest action and turbulence
  • how to apply the principle of rhythm to improve unity and interest in your painting composition

What does it cost?

This course is equivalent to a two week specialist course of study with a professional artist that would cost around $3,000 including travel and lodging.

Many of my students have told me that this is the most thorough information they have found anywhere on the internet (read the emails that students have sent me over the past few years) so I will happily give you a 30-day Money Back Guarantee.

Complete Set of Composition Course Units

Click on the Buy Now button to see the price in your local currency.

2CO - Inc. (Ohio, USA) is an authorized retailer for goods and services provided by Virtual Art Academy®.


What happens after you click 'Buy Now'...

Enter your payment details

You will be redirected to our credit card payment site (2CO) and asked for your billing details. You will see the cost in your own currency for your convenience.

Register your purchase

After you have filled out your details and the payment has processed, you will see our Registration page. Just complete the details, then check your email for a confirmation message.

Download your art course units

Once you have confirmed your registration we will email you the instructions for downloading the Composition Building Block. Before you download your art course, make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Reader installed on your computer (to read the PDF files).

Virtual Art Academy® Membership

If you are purchasing the Course Building Blocks separately, you may want to consider our Full Membership. There are two key advantages of enrolling as a member:

  • The complete Virtual Art Academy program is not static. With your Full Membership you get any updates to the program free of charge, so your materials never get out of date. You only need to enroll once, (you will also get updates to all our course Building Blocks, even those you have not yet purchased).
  • You get access to the online campus, a place where you can share your assignments with other academy members.


Return to Top