10 elements of artistic composition essential to create masterpieces

Do you know why the face of “The Mona Lisa” is so captivating? Because of its artistic composition, that is, because of the arrangement of its graphic elements.

Perhaps you didn’t know it, but in order to generate stimuli and make their works more attractive, artists use certain resources to reach the unconscious of those who observe them.

The language of artistic composition is formed by some elements that are the equivalent of the letters of this language. When thinking about how to make an artistic composition, these parts are conjugated which, when combined, make the work reach the observer in a certain way.

Knowing the main elements of artistic composition can make the difference between those who are ready to make a masterpiece and those who are not. In this article we tell you all about the elements of artistic composition, how they are related and what is the importance of each one of them.

let’s get to work!

1. The line

The lines within an artistic composition have their own meaning that defines the effects that will be achieved. Thus, horizontal lines always evoke peace and calm while vertical lines give a sense of strength and stability.

To represent movement or action, the line as an element of the visual composition must be diagonal and/or vertical. These issues should always be planned before constructing a work, as this will give it more strength.

Although the direction of the lines is not determinant, there will always be a dominant one that gives a sense to the work. For example, in the self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the best painters in the world, we see how lines of different sizes, shapes and directions coexist.

Self-portrait – Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

2. The Space

Space in an artistic composition has many ways of being approached, although the two most important are the rule of thirds and the golden ratio.

These two elements of artistic composition related to space are used in painting, photography and even film.

Let’s see what each one is about.

The rule of thirds

The goal is to create focal points on which the viewer’s eye is focused. This is achieved by using imaginary lines that precisely determine thirds in space.

In the world of photography and film, thirds are used to create compositions that then act on the viewer. Thus, the points of contact of the intersecting lines are those on which the eye will focus more closely.

Source: Paintings and Artists

The golden ratio

To explain what the golden ratio is, we have to talk about mathematics.in 1590, the mathematician Luca Pacioli applied a mathematical calculation to the proportion that is found in many aspects of nature, as well as in sculptures, paintings and in many fields inside and outside art. The golden ratio is represented by a spiral, similar to a conch shell, and is present in works of all kinds.

The golden ratio is represented by a spiral, similar to a conch shell and is present in works of all kinds. In order to apply it to artistic compositions, a calculation is made in space according to the division into parts.

This spiral is also known as golden spiral or fibonacci spiral.

Source: Sophia Center

As Casiopea points out, this element of artistic composition “consists of portions that follow each other in the same order, forming a spiral that can be widely found in various configurations of the natural, artistic and design world.”

The reason for its indefinite growth or the repetition of its shape when enlarged is the golden ratio, whose value is 1.618034.

It is an irrational number represented by the Greek letter Phi in honor of the Greek sculptor Phidias.

The golden spiral, also known as the golden ratio or golden spiral, was discovered in antiquity as a ratio or proportion, but not as a unit. Since then it has been used as a compositional element in art and other subjects.

Fibonacci Succession

Among the elements of artistic composition linked to space we can also mention the Fibonacci sequence, defined by a recurrence relationship.

Source: Wikimedia

It is an infinite numerical succession that, when taken to geometry, brings us closer to the golden ratio. The series is as follows:


To obtain the next number in the sequence, the previous two numbers must be added together.

(0+1=1; 1+1=2; 2+3=5)

It is named after the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci, who described and made this sequence known in the West.

3. The color

Although everything related to color theory belongs to a very wide world, as a general rule it is suggested that this element of the artistic composition maintains a logic within the same work.

A single color in various shades accompanied by a secondary color is ideal, and it is suggested that you use three or four colors at the most.

Color has a story to tell, and it is transferred to any form of art, for example, animation and paintings (…) Color can transmit moods, it can transmit feelings, and it can also transmit the passage of time”.

Carefully choosing the colors with which to work is fundamental for the artist’s work, and regardless of the types of composition with which one works, it must be present when developing a drawing, an illustration or a painting.

4. The form

As an element of artistic composition, the shape of objects responds to a particular cause or function and conveys certain emotions.

Thus, a rounded shape will be more useful for an adorable character than for one that we want to be tougher. Shapes interact with each other and affect each other and generate new meanings according to the combinations.

5. The texture

Within an artistic composition, textures are used as elements to focus on certain points and with certain objectives.

In this way, it is possible to choose which parts of the work will have one or another way of reaching the viewers.

6. Gamut

This term related to the elements of artistic composition refers to simplify or reduce.

It can be applied to other elements and its main objective is to select those elements or tools that are most useful when thinking about how to make an artistic composition.

7. Arabesques

Arabesques, as well as other elements of art, have a relationship with perception and the theory of Gestalt. The so-called law of continuity makes our eye follow a certain path that unites the most important elements of the work.

The curves that flow along an artistic composition mark the path we have to follow as observers. Knowing what they are for can be very useful when thinking about dynamic pieces.

Source: Collective Culture

8. The enclosures

Within the elements of the artistic composition we have the fences or enclosures, which are basically the geometric shapes that determine the weights of the composition.

Visually there are elements that have more or less weight and that determine how the work is perceived.

9. Radiation lines

Radiation lines are an element of artistic composition that direct certain tensions to a point in order to construct a way of interpreting the work.

They relate to triangular compositions above all, although they can be present in combination with other types of artistic composition.

10. Geometry

As we said before, the golden ratio serves to use rules of geometry in artistic compositions. It is combined with geometric shapes, diagonals and crosses. One of the objectives of this element of artistic composition is rhythm.

For example, Cassiopeia explains that the features of the face of Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Gioconda” “are determined by a double-line Star of David, inscribed in a double-line circle as well”.

Types of artistic composition

As we were saying, artistic composition is based on the organization of the elements of a work. There are, therefore, different types of artistic composition or ways of arranging the parts in space. The most important types of artistic composition are:

Vertical composition

In this type of artistic composition all the elements are aligned based on an imaginary vertical line. It is the direction of gravity and is widely used in portraits that have a single central figure.

Horizontal composition

Here the line is horizontal and divides the work into two parts (top and bottom). It inspires calm and tranquility and is used in simple compositions.

Diagonal composition

The line that orders the elements of the artistic composition is diagonal and generates movement, since it is more dynamic than the first two.

The dressed maja – Francisco de Goya. Source: Wikimedia

Cross composition

By joining a vertical and a horizontal line, a space is generated in which the elements meet. This type of artistic composition conveys stability and union.

Rectangular or grid composition

Unlike the previous one, this type of artistic composition joins more than one horizontal line with more than one vertical line. They generate very orderly spaces although they usually do not have movement.

Circular composition

The elements of the artistic composition are arranged in the form of a circle and invite the viewer to rest his gaze in the center.

Triangular composition

They have a given stability and a solid base, although they are also found with a hierarchy of higher elements. This type of artistic composition is widely used in religious paintings.

The Virgin of the Rosary – Alonso Cano (1665-1666). Source: Wikimedia

Composition in the form of letters

This type of artistic composition occurs when the graphic elements of a work are based on the shape of a letter. For example: L, T, S or X. The shape of the letter L tends to be repeated, while the shapes of the letters T and S tend to be clearer and more noticeable.

The X or X-shape composition can be a bit ambiguous at first glance. To recognize it, it is necessary to identify the meeting point between the diagonals.

The Pearl Appraiser – Johannes Vermeer (1664 – c. 1664). Source: Google Arts & Culture.

how to know what kind of artistic composition to apply? This depends on the artist’s goal, what he wants to achieve.

Principles of artistic composition

The elements of artistic composition give balance, harmonize and generate pieces that are visually appealing.

It is important to know, in addition to the elements, those principles of visual composition so that you can articulate them together.

While there is no general consensus on what they are, the principles of artistic composition serve to understand how a work is made. They are as follows:

Division of space

This is the way in which the work is divided. If we use the elements of the artistic composition that we saw previously, we can focus on a certain sector of the work.


In general, the most attractive compositions are the simplest ones. The variety of graphic elements does not prevent you from achieving a simple artistic composition.


It is important that in the works there are elements that are more predominant than others. Making some things catch the eye and others not, provides a break in the viewer’s gaze.


As we said before, within the elements of artistic composition, balance is achieved through the use of components that generate visual symmetry.


Just as balance is necessary, the continuity of the elements of an artistic composition makes the viewer keep an attentive eye on the story we want to tell with our work.


Rhythm is very important when thinking about the principles of artistic composition. This is consolidated from the repetition of elements that generate movement.

Six Dancers – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1911)

why is it important to know the elements of artistic composition?

When we talk about artistic composition we refer to the organization of the elements through which an artist can express or capture an idea in an effective way.

This definition of what artistic composition is can be applied to any field of art: music, painting, creative writing, etc.

As a general principle, composition is based on the division of a certain surface in order to generate an impact on the person who receives it.

The goal of an artistic composition is to make what you see orderly and pleasing. However, even in chaos, the works of great painters are very elaborate compositions. For example, Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

Guernica – Pablo Picasso (1937).

If you think about it carefully, you will realize that in any discipline it is necessary to know certain elements for success.

For example, a doctor must understand the symptoms to make a diagnosis, a chef must know the ingredients to create a recipe and, in the world of painting, artists must manage the elements of artistic composition for their work to work.

Free resources to train your artistic composition

Now that you’re clear on what artistic composition is and what its elements are, it’s time to move on to practice. Here are some resources that will help you master the arrangement of elements within a visual construction.

Handbook composing an illustration

In this handbook you will review the concepts of artistic composition and the main elements you should take into account when composing. Also, you will see some examples and alternatives to generate a fast and effective composition.

And most importantly, you will understand that composition is a powerful tool for visual reading, symbolism and balance. use it to your advantage.

Likewise, with this guide you will be able to solve the following questions:

what influences the selection of certain elements of artistic composition for the development of an illustration?
why are the elements of a composition fundamental to give value to a work?
what is the relationship between the elements of artistic composition and the visual weight, balance and contrast of an illustration?
what are the most important factors when composing?

This is a very complete guide that will serve as a reference when you start designing your illustrations.

Well, we’ve gone over the elements of artistic composition, the types that exist and how to use them in combination with the principles of artistic composition. what did you think?

Although there are no definitive lists or infallible recipes, we hope you can use these examples of artistic composition both to compose your own pieces and to look at the world of art in a different way.

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