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Part 3: Refining Your Compositions

So far, we’ve chosen crops of our reference drawings. We haven’t yet injected much of ourselves into the compositions, but we’ll do that now by starting to make real design choices.

In this stage, we’ll be taking the crops from the last stage, and taking them through a series of steps, making variations to the drawings at each stage.

What you need:

You can do this stage either with a sharpie and tracing paper or with pencil and rice paper. Either works fine. You can choose your own materials too, if you like. The only requirement is that you can produce multiple tracings of the drawing.

Materials for working with a Sharpie:

  • Sharpie
  • Tracing paper

Materials for working with a pencil:

  • Soft pencil (e.g. 4B, not too sharp)
  • Rice paper

How to do it:

There are six separate stages of the transformation we’re about to work. Each one addresses a different aspect of design.

With the exception of the first stage (negative space tracing) each stage is intended to be used as a repeated exercise – much in the same way as a musician or sportsperson practises.

The more you do each stage, the more you’ll stretch your sensitivity to design and the better the results you’ll get – in all your art.

Step 1: Negative Space Tracing

View your composition as design only.

Step 2: Simplification and Clarification

Remove unnecessary clutter!

Step 3: Gesture and Edges

Establish and emphasise the flow of the composition.

Step 4: Repeat Patterns

This is one of the most powerful steps – If you don’t watch any of the others, watch this one!

Step 5: Making Connections

Subtle but powerful.

Step 6: The Final Drawing

Bringing it home, and comparing the result of the previous stages with your starting point.

I hope you’ve enjoyed working through this exercise. I hope, also, that you’ve begun to feel a deepening of your sensitivity to spacing and to design as you’ve completed each stage.

Don’t see this exercise as a one time deal – the more you repeat it, the more you’ll develop your facility with composition. You’ll gradually absorb the skills that you work out in each stage, until they become part of you, and come out naturally – and effortlessly – in everything you do.