Rules of Composition

In the article Composition in Graphic Design, we learned a lot about composition and its components and types. In this article, we will discuss the most popular techniques and rules of composition to help you make your illustration look more professional and captivate your audience.

Rule of Thirds

First, divide the work surface into 9 equal squares, as shown in the illustration below.

Organize your design space correctly according to the rule of thirds.

This is done in order to place the central object as harmoniously as possible with other elements of the composition. This way you can clearly see the center of the work surface and its peripheral areas. By placing key elements of the image along these lines or at their intersections, you will achieve a more attractive composition.

Place the objects in the illustration correctly according to the rule of thirds.

As you can see in the illustration, the main character is positioned at the intersection of the lines on the right side, which gives her a more favorable position and maintains balance in the whole picture.

Rule of the Golden Ratio

The golden ratio, also known as the golden number, the golden section or divine proportion, is the ratio between two numbers of approximately 1,618. It is usually denoted by the Greek letter φ (phi) and is associated with the Fibonacci sequence, in which each number is added to the previous one.

Studies have shown that projects created using the golden ratio are pleasing to the eye. We can use a golden section to help arrange our items so that the composition looks more aesthetically pleasing.

Visual examples of the correct golden ratio spiral.

To create an illustration using the rule of the golden ratio, it is enough to visually imagine a spiral on a sheet and place objects on it. Or, focusing on a drawing, make a thin, barely visible line of a pencil directly on a sheet.

Correct object placement according to the golden ratio rule.

Golden Triangle Composition

A diagonal golden ratio is widely used in composition and is called the Golden Triangle. First, we create a rectangle and draw a diagonal in it. Next, from the free corner, you need to draw a perpendicular line to the already drawn diagonal. As a result, you’ll get three triangles of different sizes. You should place significant objects of the illustration within these triangles.

This means that, for a harmonious composition, you need to correlate the scale of objects with proportions. A large object is placed in the largest triangle (A), a medium object in the medium triangle (B) and a small object in the smallest triangle (C).

Correct object proportion according to the golden triangle composition rule.

If the number of objects exceeds three triangles, one more perpendicular line can be drawn from another free corner. Then you’ll have four triangles in which to position the objects.

Different golden triangle variations for different design purposes.

Rule of Oddness

The rule of oddness is the idea that odd-numbered objects look more interesting and natural than even-numbered ones. That is, a group of three elements looks more interesting than a group of two or four. One of the reasons for this can be that even numbers may seem too symmetrical.

The rule of oddness in visual art.
Illustration provided by icons8.com.

Guiding Lines

This is a technique of composition that directs the audience’s attention to the intended object with the help of lines. The reason for the effectiveness of this technique is simple—every time we look at an image, human instinct forces us to follow existing lines until they direct our gaze to the intended object.

Guiding lines used in illustration to attract attention to the central object.
Illustration provided by icons8.com.

Experiment

It is not necessary to always follow the type of composition that is most convenient or familiar to you. Feel free to experiment with the elements in the illustration and different composition types. It is always useful to try out something new, as you will be able to diversify your visual approach to illustration.

Published in May 2022

Make your graphic design composition impeccable using the new knowledge.

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