Drawing Composition Techniques You Need Today

My favorite part of the art process has to be the “ah-ha” moment, when ideas suddenly coalesce, techniques make sense, and you experience that breakthrough. I had that creative epiphany the other day while trying Barbara Roth’s drawing composition techniques from her article “Mixed-Media Drawing Buffet” in the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. I knew her methods were solid, but doing them myself was a game changer. I have seen the light.

Drawing composition is something I often struggle with, whether designing an art journal page or just creating a drawing in my sketchbook. I’m okay with drawing singular things, but arranging them in a cohesive configuration is something else. When Barbara told me about her methods, I knew instantly this was something I wanted to share with you.

She calls her technique a drawing buffet, which is brilliant. By creating a buffet of things you like to draw, you can choose several, audition them, and then draw and paint away. She recommends starting a collection of things in various categories, such as houses, dogs, flowers, trees, birds, and tables. Collect photos, or make your own drawings, and keep everything together for easy access. When you want to create something, simply pull everything out and begin.

With that idea in mind I started an idea sketchbook, adding drawings and photos of things like doors, topiary, windows, and chairs. Here are a couple of sketches of doors, plus some recent photos of great doors I found in Boston:

Sketches for a drawing composition
Having a collection of sketches at the ready is a key element of creating a successful drawing composition.

And here are some photos of beautiful topiary I found:

Photos for a drawing composition
Photos can be part of your drawing composition collection, too.

Barbara created her artwork on small pieces on watercolor paper, first copying the backs of vintage postcards onto the paper—an amazing effect. I decided to stamp some vintage text onto 4″ x 6″ pieces of watercolor paper, using a light gray permanent ink.

Stamping cards with vintage text
Layering a vintage postcard or stamping text creates interest.

Now, about that ah-ha moment. To create the drawing composition, Barbara sketches her subjects to scale on scraps or drawing or tracing paper, then moves them around on the watercolor paper until she’s happy with the arrangement. I created rough drawings on tracing paper, then set them on the watercolor paper. As soon as I started doing that, I realized all that struggling was wasted time. Here was the solution! I could instantly see that the door needed to be higher and the topiary lower, so I decided to create some steps in front of the door. I also had a big hole in the upper right area, so I thought a window would work there.

Auditioning traced images for a drawing composition
Tracing items and auditioning them is a great technique for creating a cohesive drawing composition.

With those ideas in mind, I created a pencil sketch, and saw immediately that everything worked. No more erasing until the paper was worn through—this was instant success. You’ll find some great principles of composition tips in the article, which offers even more help with arranging your items.

Penciled sketch for a drawing composition
After creating the drawing composition, penciling in the sketch was easy.

I went over the lines with a black Copic Multiliner 0.03, then erased the pencil lines. Next, I did a light watercolor wash over all the elements, and also decided where my light source would come from, so I could create shadows. I love that the stamped text is visible through the watercolor.

First watercolor wash for a drawing composition
The first watercolor wash establishes the color palette and feeling of the piece.

More watercolor was layered on, with each layer drying completely before the next was added. This was done in several stages to create depth and shadows. To create a mottled look for the wall, I dipped a paper towel into watercolor paint, then applied it to the background. I also realized that the composition was lacking in color, so I created some greenery above the door and window. Watercolor pencil was used for even more depth. Finally, I emphasized some of the drawn lines with the Copic pen. Barbara has tons more tips for adding elements and color to your composition.

Mixed-media watercolor created with drawing composition techniques
Problem solved! With great drawing composition techniques, I look forward to creating the next mixed-media piece.

Now when I go to create a drawing composition, I have all the tools I need, and a big boost of confidence. I hope you try this technique and add it to your toolbox. It’s definitely a keeper.

Discover top drawing techniques you can’t live without in this great post by Mandy Russell!

See all the great articles packed into the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors in our exclusive lookbook.

No Excuses Watercolor by Gina Rossi Armfield
Get great techniques, ideas, and projects for watercolor, including backgrounds and color mixing, in No Excuses Watercolor by Gina Rossi Armfield.
March/April 2018 Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Barbara Roth’s article “Mixed-Media Drawing Buffet” in the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors takes you step by step to create a successful drawing composition.
From Art Journaling to Art video with Jane LaFazio
Discover simple, stress-free ways to keep an illustrated watercolor journal in the video From Art Journaling to Art, with Jane LaFazio.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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