Rules of composition – and how to break them, by Keith Hornblower (Part One)

How many geese imply a flock?

How many geese imply a flock?

Our talented and inspiring English watercolour tutor Keith Hornblower has recently been pondering some of the ‘rules’ of painting composition. He says: “I’m not one for rules in painting – the most exciting things happen when they are broken – but there are a few things to be aware of when composing a picture.”

Keith adds: “You don’t have to apply every rule to every painting, but knowing the rules means that when you break them you are doing so consciously. If you look at the examples below, they each illustrate one of the principles of composition and, in all likelihood, break most of the others.

“A famous Chinese painter was asked by the Emperor to paint a decorative screen for him, the brief was a flock of geese. The artist painted the background landscape – and one goose, disappearing off the screen stage right. The flock was implied by the single goose. The Emperor was delighted, fortunately for the artist. He broke the rules and won – my kind of guy.”

Keith has been ruminating about nine ‘rules’, so in order not to overburden you, I’ve split his thoughts into three parts. First three today:

No.1 – The Rule of Thirds. By putting the focal point at one of the third points gives a nicely balanced asymmetrical picture. There are a myriad of classic paintings which don’t appear to have a focal point at all, so don’t get hung up on it!”Painting by Keith Hornblower, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany Italy.

No.2 – The Golden Mean. There are many learned texts which extol the virtues of the magic “Golden Mean”, a rectangle with the proportions of approx.  1:1.6. They illustrate this by superimposing these rectangles, seemingly at random, all over classical paintings (see below). I take it with a pinch of salt; there is even a Golden Triangle and Spiral! I would ignore this one; in fact I do ignore it…”Blog Keith rules 2

No.3 “Think about the orientation of the paper, landscape or portrait. Landscapes don’t have to be in landscape and portraits in portrait. Gustav Klimt went through a phase of painting in square format, very successfully.”Keith rules 3Keith will tell you all about the rules of composition — and how to break them — on his week long painting course at The Watermill this Summer. He will be joining us from Saturday 13 August to Saturday 20 August 2016.

Keith painting picKeith Hornblower is an acclaimed English painter in watercolour, teaching and demonstrating to art societies and universities in the UK with enthusiasm and great humour. His approach is dynamic and spontaneous, dispelling the fear of white paper and encouraging people to let go and have fun. He stresses the importance of capturing the light and observation of tonal values, often using a very limited palette of colours to make things easier for his students.

Some comments from some of Keith’s previous students: A magician with paint, your paintings always have the most wonderful light.” “Brilliant! This is what watercolour is all about for me — so free and fresh. What fun for you and your very lucky audience.” “A great tutor and so very helpful with techniques and tips.”

You can find more details about Keith’s exciting 2016 course by clicking here. And if you would like to enquire about availability and/or reserve a place, please use our Secure Enquiry Form, by clicking here.

*** Why not bring your non-painting partner as well? There’s a generous £200 discount for him/her if they share a room with you — and there’s plenty for them to do. Have a look at our Partner’s Activities suggestions by clicking here.Painting by Keith Hornblower, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany Italy.




  1. I found this very useful, thanks

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