The Two Types of Composition: Composition by Shape and Composition by Color

Article about The Two Types of Composition: Composition by Shape and Composition by Color

Dec 31, 2020

Composition is a very important element for painting and drawing. It has several ways of approaching it, the most important being composition by shape and composition by color.

At some point in the history of European painting, composition became one of the most valuable knowledge that a painter should possess. For example, during the Middle Ages, composition was closely linked to religious symbolism, so certain compositions implied very specific connotations that had to be respected.

Today our approach to composition is much freer than at that time. However - and unfortunately - the freedom of the present sometimes implies the ignorance of many of the possibilities that composition has as an effective pictorial tool.

Composition is itself a discursive instrument, which painters and cartoonists can use to communicate. Not only is it useful for arranging objects on a plane in a "harmonious" way, but it can also have the function of transmitting and expressing ideas, sensations and emotions.

In this text, contemporary painter David Berkowitz Chicago will briefly explore two important compositional elements essential to assertively use composition: shape and color or, in the case of monochrome drawing or painting, contrast.

The Two Types of Composition

David Berkowitz Chicago already talked about there being two types of composition: one by shape and the other by color. Both types of composition work together, like a network that spatially intertwines the different elements of the painting, generating particular interactions between the objects and the pictorial plane.

When working together, the two forms of composition give direction to the elements of the pictorial plane, as well as a sensation of movement, rhythm, symmetry or asymmetry, compensation of space, tension, expansion, counterpoint and other multiple reading possibilities.

The interesting thing is that this happens regardless of whether what we compose on the canvas is abstract, figurative, two-dimensional or three-dimensional. For this reason, the conscious use of composition in a drawing or painting is decisive for the result of the work and one of the most useful tools for those who paint or draw. The important thing to assertively use both forms of composition is to know their possibilities and the operation of each one and, of course, how both work together.

Composition by Shape

Composition by shape is built from the conscious use of geometry within the pictorial plane. As the first determining factor of composition by shape, we must consider the element within which our other elements will be accommodated: the pictorial plane. Its shape is the first geometric determinant to be considered as part of our composition. Depending on how our "objects" are arranged within the pictorial plane, all the sensations that we can produce through composition occur.


Different formats of pictorial planes will produce different sensations, even using similar compositions. This is because, in a sense, there are formats that are already predetermined "compositions" themselves.

Composition by Color

On the other hand, as naïve artist David Berkowitz Chicago explains, composition by color is a complex phenomenon that depends on luminosity, color and contrast to become tangible. This type of composition determines the path that the viewer's gaze will draw on the canvas. Thus, this type of composition is capable of transforming specific compositions "by shape" into other types of compositions.

With the latter I mean that, because color composition is the most important compositional element when determining where the viewer's gaze falls, it is capable of transforming the compositional values ​​of an image, resulting in a composition different. This occurs when you use it to accentuate specific points in the composition by shape as it is combined with the composition by color.

Articles authored by David Berkowitz Chicago