Building a picture

[This post originally appeared on my Tumblr earlier this year. I am adding it here because it is still relevant.]


Hello all,
Several people have commented on the improvement of my compositions for the past 6 months/year or so (thank you!!). I’ve been meaning to write a number of Tumblr posts on composition but I can’t seem to make time for that at the moment – so instead I’m sharing with you the checkpoint list I use when drawing.
These are basically all the things I (try to) pay attention to, to work towards a picture that is as strong and impactful as possible. I like having that list with me, so I regularly go over it and ask myself “Have I given enough thought to this? Could I make it better?” Some of these I feel I have reasonably mastered – others I still struggle with, but you know… it’s a journey! 🙂

I’d love to hear if there are any key aspects you think I’m missing in there.
Also, this is my checklist so it’s worded succintly but I’m happy to explain anything if you have questions.

Space separation

  • Placing of the strongest dynamic lines
  • Placing of the focal point(s)
  • Cropping by the edge of the picture (leave some elements out for interest)
  • Organisation of lines to emphasize the focal points
  • Separation of the major masses (in relation to value placement)


  • Variations in shapes and patterns
  • Repetition/singularity
  • Crumping/grouping of objects
  • Variations in sharpness and roundness
  • Overlaps between shapes and object, cropping of some elements


  • Alternance of straight and curved lines
  • Variations of line weight
  • Variations of line colour and darkness
  • Variations of line density and detail level
  • Variations of broken and continuous linework
  • Different types of edges: sharp, soft, lost (merging of masses, receding parts, etc.)


  • Definition of the major value zones (2, 3 or 4 – one of them usually left to focal details)
  • Variations within the value range of the zone, limiting the overlaps in values between zones as much as possible


  • Definition of the general colour temperature
  • Definition of the major, minor and accent colour if one is used
  • Variations around the set colour schemes
  • Variations in flat colours and textured colours
  • Variations in saturation depending on importance

Shadows and Light

  • Soft/harsh lighting
  • Shadow depth and density to make some parts recede/stand out
  • Blurring of soft edges with shadow
  • Light density and sharpness/diffusion
  • Interactions between objects and light (throwing shades/cropping light/diffusing light)
  • Atmospheric perspective (or inversed)


  • Variations in detail level according to importance
  • Variations in patterns and texture
  • Variations in edge sharpness and softness
  • Highlights and bright lines