Fundamentals of Composition: Journey and Pedagogy

lady taste“Always leave something off the page,” ~Madeline Sattler, my art teacher

Certain memorable people touch us on our creative journey, and we will never forget them.  This is certainly true of key artistic mentors on my path, including tapestry weaver Fran Potter (many of you have likely heard me tell stories about Fran!) and my visual arts teacher Madeline Sattler.

Madeline was the mother of one of my fellow Montessori students, and several times a month she would come to our classroom, armed with art supplies, books, ideas, and imaginative exercises.  There was painting, paper cutting, collage, colored pencil, still life portraits (I still remember when we had to draw each other without looking at the page, yikes!), pointillism, ethnic art studies, and so much more.  From grade school up through mentoring with her one-on-one when I was homeschooling through middle and high school, Madeline offered an open door to the world of visual arts—how it worked, how it thought, and how all mediums were worth exploring.  Wherever you are today Madeline, thank you!

As a young adult, I naivelmadeliney thought that everyone had such a background in fundamental arts training.  But as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve found this is not the case!  For some of us, what we’ve been told as a “do this, don’t do that” list is actually harming our ability to express.  For others, it seems like all this is a great mystery that artist are just born already knowing.  The first is a tragedy and the second is, for most of us, a myth.  We can all improve with study and practice!

My own arts training journey continued through visits to museums, watching documentaries, taking additional classes and courses, reading, and being observant.  This means that I don’t have a favorite book or go-to website to hand you all this information.  Instead, I have the synthesis of an artist life, from which this course distills the essential nuggets that will enhance and perhaps even change how you look at and create art.

Instead of treating this material as a set of rules you must follow like a recipe that then equals great art (we all know there’s much more in the mix than that!), I’m going to showcase these pears as essential concepts in art.  Instead of laying them out as cardinal, I’ll bring you on the journey of where these concepts come from, when they were crystalized (plenty of art existed before these concepts were standardized and taught), and how you can use them effectively in your design work.

We’ll also look at examples of forms of art that diverge from the classical, Western theory of composition.  There can be many voices at the table, as my own practice is bilingual between the worlds of fine art and folk art from a variety of ethnicities and cultures.  Both styles are steeped in history, knowing, and legitimacy, and neither one should push the other out of the discussion.

So, let’s roll up our creative sleeves and explore what makes composition “work”—or not—and why.

Learn more about the upcoming “Fundamentals of Composition” course here.