Composition involves a series of technical elements such as space utilization and how objects are positioned on the canvas. But the decisions an artist makes about composition can influence the larger meaning and message of the piece, too. Composition is not always about creating a faithful rendering of a realistic scene. Sometimes, it’s about using the rules of composition to create a new visual story.

Artists Marie McCallum, Leslie Duke and Barbara Rudolph all have vastly different ways of approaching the art of composition.

Marie uses photographs as her source material, but her paintings are not always a direct representation of what the lens captures.

“I take a series of photographs. Sometimes I have to use a lot of photographs to compose one picture,” she said.

She pulls elements from each photograph to capture a composite image on the canvas that tells the story she wants to create with each piece of art.

Leslie Duke paints her still lifes by arranging flowers, fruits, and other small objects in her studio space. However, beyond the real objects she captures on the canvas, she plays with the negative space surrounding them.

“When I’m painting, I think a lot about space and about weight,” she said. “In my painting, I’m trying to create a sense of peace. I find that having more open space feels like a breath of fresh air.”

Barbara often relies on the rule of thirds when composing her works. This composition technique divides the canvas up into a three by three graph. By placing focal points at the spots where the lines intersect, artists can create visual drama.

Of course, part of knowing the fundamental rules of art is taking pleasure in breaking them. In referencing one of her works, Barbara talks about moving away from the rule of thirds and crafting a narrative with another familiar shape.

“I’ve created a little story with a triangle…I’m breaking some of the rules of composition, but I think that’s the fun of painting,” she said. “It creates a curiosity.” 

All three of these artists enjoy playing with composition, not as a way to recreate a scene from real life but rather as a way to tell a completely novel story on the canvas.

Watch the full Art Discovery recap below.

Barbara Rudolph

Marie McCallum

Leslie Duke