MANY draftsmen and students easily acquire the ability to satisfactorily represent small details of buildings like bricks and shingles and even such larger parts as doors and windows, but the skill to compose these lesser units into a complete and well-balanced whole is not so easily gained. And yet the student who is unable to pleasingly arrange all the smaller parts into a fine composition is seriously handicapped, regardless of his cleverness in sketching each single detail, so though it may prove a difficult task it will pay him well to earnestly attempt to master the art of composition. Even though it is only through serious study and faithful practice that the necessary principles can be acquired, once they are understood it will be found that they apply equally well whether a drawing be large or small and whether it is hastily sketched or executed with painstaking care. The principles are valuable also when using other mediums than pencil, such as pen and ink or wash or color.
It seems hardly necessary to give here more than a brief outline of the most important of these principles, and a few hints as to what to do and what not to do, but these suggestions should be supplemented by reading books on the subject such as "Pictorial Composition," by H. R. Poore, A. N. A., "Composition," by Arthur Wesley Dow, and the chapter on composition in John Ruskin's "The Elements of Drawing." A study of such books will show a difference in opinion on some points, for composition is an art rather than a science, and it is impossible to lay down exact rules as to what should or should not be done. Perhaps the greatest value of such works is that they point out many pitfalls which lie in the path of the artist, and by analysis of the pictures of acknowledged masters, give the student a certain standard by which he is able to judge and criticise his own work. Though the study of books is very desirable, one should never forget that drawing cannot be taught by rule, and a hundred lengthy volumes could do no more than start one in the right direction and offer suggestions to assist him in his progress.
As the word "composition" means the putting together of things and the arranging of them in order, so as to make one unit out of them all, it is evident that we must first have good things to put together if the final composition is to be good. This means that in starting work we should use extreme care in the selection of our subject, not only as a whole but in each of its parts. Students, more especially the beginners, seem to be of the opinion that any object found in nature is a satisfactory subject to draw, and they are led into this belief, perhaps, by hearing statements to the effect that all nature is beautiful. It is not for us to deny this but it should be made clear that good pictures are not to be obtained ready-made by simply copying bits of nature at random. Amateur photographers are well acquainted with the fact that a successful photograph is not often secured by simply pointing the camera in any direction and making an exposure; it is necessary to give some thought to the selection and composition of the subject. Experienced artists often do produce good drawings by re-composing poor material, but the student will avoid difficulties if he chooses either something which is well composed in itself or which can be made so with few changes.
We have previously spoken of the advantage of using a view-finder when selecting compositions and wish to call attention again to its value. Of the several types in general use one which we have already described as consisting simply of a rectangular opening two inches or so in length cut in a piece of heavy paper or cardboard, is especially helpful when working directly from nature. By holding it in an upright position and looking through it at the objects beyond, it is very easy to select interesting subjects and to determine, too, how large an area or how much of an object or objects it is best to show to give the finest composition. Again it has another use, for if the student is in doubt as to just what slope should be given to a roof line or slanting tree trunk, a comparison of these inclined lines in the objects with the vertical or horizontal lines of the opening of the finder will be of great assistance in determining the correct slope or angle. The finder will help the student, also, to judge correctly the values of light and dark as seen in nature, for each tone of the objects can be compared in turn with the value of the cardboard itself.
The other commonly used finder or frame consists of two "L" shaped pieces of paper or card, which will give, when lapped as shown at 1, Figure 24, an endless variety of shapes and sizes, and it is, for this reason, much better than the other finder when working from photographs. As soon as a pleasing composition has been selected this frame can be clipped or pinned in position on the photograph and left in place until the drawing is finished. It thus serves to hide those parts which have no relation to the sketch and permits the eye to rest on the selected composition without distraction.
Figure 24. Illustrating the Use of the View-finder, and the Proportioning of the Picture Space to the Subject Drawn.
Figure 25. Illustrating Possibilities of Deriving Inspiration from Photographs. These Sketches Were All Based on the Photograph Shown on the Opposite Page.