Compositional Warm-ups, the breakfast of champions

by Michael Zabel

My sketchbooks are arguably the most important resources available to me in and out of the office.  Consequently, no matter where I am, there is always my travel size sketchbook in my back pocket (unless of course I’m drawing in it, then it works better open and in my hand).

Some of my Moleskine® cahier journals (travel and large format)

I like to start everyday with some compositional studies over breakfast.  In this exercise, I use simple shapes (circles and squares) just to explore randomly assorted layouts and relationships within these patterns.  By eliminating subject matter, I can focus exclusively on composition getting into a mindset that will transcend into all other drawings and paintings throughout the day.  Taking this fifteen or twenty minutes to explore visual rhythms often saves me valuable time later when working on more complex images, creating a somewhat subconscious recognition of what works and improving the caliber and speed of the overall editing process.

Note how the shapes of these studies are very simple and often not developed in quality.  As stated earlier, these are purely exercises in composition to “warm-up” for the rest of the day.  I like to think of it as stretching before a run. 

For more in depth studies and lessons on composition I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the book Composition by Arthur Wesley Dow.            

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