Lesson 3: Principles of Design

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Composition is all about balance, and placement in your drawing. Composition is the arrangement of the elements in an art piece. This element is important because it is what makes an art piece aesthetically pleasing, as all the elements of the art piece are in balance with one another. In other words, composition is how you create the drawing as a whole

“Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter’s command to express his feelings” - Henri Matisse

Take this drawing for example.[Not my drawing, however the video includes a drawing similar to this] It’s pleasing to look at, as all of the shapes and shaded in the corrected fashion and in the they are all balanced. Balance, space and rhythm (will be further explained) is used to make this drawing structured, and gives it a nice flow.

8 Principles of Design

Following these 8 Principles of Design will help you when composing a drawing, and are essential to creating a pleasing composition.


We will be drawing an 8 squared grid, and in each section we will draw an example of what a principle of design. Get out a piece of paper, draw and large rectangle on it and divide into 8 equal squares. Each square will represent one of the Principles of Design.

  1. Balance: refers to the placement and weighing of elements in your drawing. Take the picture above for example. The circle, the cylinder and the blocks are placed and shaded in a way that they don’t overlap one another, and they each have their own space. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the centre of the page, but the shapes are not overwhelming. Balance is pretty subjective, it just relates to your sense of easiness in relation to your drawing.
  2. Contrast: Strong differences in a drawing, whether that be through texture, shapes or concentration of a colour or shade. Looking back at the example drawing, you see a heavy contrast between the dark shading of the cylinder, versus the light side of the cylinder. There is also the contrast between the various shading techniques
  3. Proportion: Proportion relates to the relationship between the sizes of the objects, and also how they are positioned together in your drawing. The size of objects drawn in your drawing can also relate to the distance the objects are in the drawing (ie: middle, back and foreground). When looking at the picture above again, the sphere is positioned slightly in front of the cylinder, and the cube is placed on top of the other block, creating various proportions in the drawing. This can also be seen when looking at Variety in the piece.
  4. Pattern: Pattern is just what it sounds like: the repetition of a certain object, or print, or movement. Finding an example of a pattern is quite simple: looking at a line sheet of paper for example. Those lines, those colours and the holes on the side are all different patterns. But patterns don't have to be exact replicas of one another. When looking at our example image, pattern can be seen in the way of the shading. They are all shaded in a similar fashion, creating a unified sense of repetition in the piece.
  5. Emphasis/ Focus: This principle of design includes the focal point, or emphasis point in your drawing. It is where your eyes are drawn to at first glance. Depending on the drawing, you can be drawn to a dark spot, or the lightest spot, or the one spot or object that stands out. For example, think of a sunset drawing or painting. The smaller sun is usually must lighter when compared to the rest of the art piece, and your eyes are immediately drawn to the sun. That would be the emphasis object, or focus.
  6. Movement: Movement refers to the placement of objects and textures that creates the illusion of movement in your drawing. This is a little difficult to be found in the photo above, however, movement can be either very present, or not present at all. It is the artist's choice whether or not they want to have a strong sense of movement in their piece. But we can often find movement in another principle of design: Pattern.
  7. Unity: (Often combined with Harmony) Refers to how everything in your piece of art works together. Composition and unity work hand in hand, and if all the pieces in your drawing work together, then it created a unified, cohesive piece.
  8. Rhythm: Now rhythm can be a little difficult to explain, as it can be confused with movement. Keep in mind that movement refers to the illusion of movement within the drawing. Rhythm on the other hand refers to the flow, or the tempo and beat the artwork follows. Not looking so much at how it moves, but more so how flows to you.

When you do a drawing, you don’t have to go down the list and make sure you have each of these: it is your drawing and you are allowed to create it however you would like. However, if you are having difficulty composing your piece, and making things look the way you like, go over the 8 principles of design and try to incorporate these elements into your design.

Rule of Thirds

This is commonly used by photographers as a way to frame their piece. This helps the composition in the drawing, and allows for the artist to map out what they are doing on their page. You draw three lines, separating background, middle ground and foreground, horizontally. Then draw an accompanying three line vertically. This way you get to break your drawing into separate parts, and see how the balance and unity of the piece works together.


Grab a pencil and a blank piece of paper. Look up a photo (or do from memory) of a building or artifact you enjoy, or means something to you. For example, I would use my cabin from back home, but you can do anything you'd like. Famous buildings, a statue, even something in nature; anything that is usually slightly larger and static (doesn’t move). Draw it wherever you would like on the page, a little bit smaller than you usually would, and remember- it doesn’t have to be perfect. This is just a simple sketch for you to grow comfortable with balance and composition. (Look at the photo above for an example of what kind of size would work the best). Once you have drawn your image, conduct the “rule of thirds” or the 6 lines on your pages around your image.

From there, plan out the rest of your drawing. Once again, this is only an exercise, you don’t have to spend long on it. This is just to begin to understand the purpose of composition. Plan the surroundings of your drawing. In the example above, the lighthouse acts as the focal point, as it is the most detailed and concentrated piece in the drawing, but the surrounding horizon and the land creates unity in the piece, and creates a calming rhythm. You can add in any setting you would like, but do your best to create a balanced and easy piece to look at.