Composition for Concept Art and Illustration | CG Master Academy

Composition for Concept Art and Illustration

An 8-week course on the art of composition and how it evokes emotion to engage audiences

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Create visually striking, story-based images

This class will cover the fundamental principles used to create visually striking images as applied to illustration, film, games, animation, and publishing. The class will first begin by exploring how composition functions as a visual design language across a 2-dimensional surface by covering concepts like mass, proportion, movement, and symmetry. These concepts will then be studied as they relate to illustration and entertainment-based mediums in the form of focal point, rhythm, depth, camera, space, and more. Clear visual communication will also be emphasized with regard to how the basic principles help communicate a compelling story/idea. Students will refine their understanding of composition through assignments that include graphic studies, thumbnail sketches, background/layout design, and story-based drawings.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 8-10 hrs/wk viewing lectures, q&a, and time on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop (or equivalent)
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Students should have a very good understanding of drawing fundamentals including but not limited to figures, environments, and general perspective

Composition for Concept Art and Illustration WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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This class will define the “illustrator's intent” as well as what is meant by composition using examples from throughout the world of art/photography/film and more. Composition will be formally introduced using abstract spatial principles & defining the need for visual context. It will also discuss the tools of visual language and how they form the basis for all composition.
This lecture will introduce the concept of Notan vs. Form and use examples from art history and film to explain how line and mass relate to the story message. It will also continue with the abstract spatial principles already introduced as they relate to line and shape.
This lecture will introduce the topics of focal point, division of space, depth, rhythm, etc. as they relate to overall layout design which includes but is not limited to environment and background design.
This lecture will take the previously discussed topics of focal point, division of space, depth, rhythm, etc., and apply them toward more advanced character-driven compositions that tell a story.
This lecture will take the previously introduced value matrix and expand upon it by focusing on value as a design tool.
The topics of lighting and color will be discussed as additional visual tools in furthering the composition's story message.
Building on the concepts introduced so far this class will explore how different camera "lenses" can be used for different compositional goals. Perspective concepts will also be discussed as a visual tool for thumbnail exploration.
This lecture will focus on composition as it relates to media not entirely dependent on a single image such as the graphic novel, children's books, poster art, and other unconventional formats.

Unleashing your creative potential

Axel Sauerwald is a freelance concept artist and illustrator, currently living and working in Germany. While being a part of the team at Atomhawk Design in Newcastle he had the chance to contribute to games such as Mortal Kombat 11, Age of Empires 2:DE and various other unannounced projects, mainly creating character and costume designs, illustrations and marketing art.

Student interviews


April 23rd!

Spring TERM Registration

Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021




April 23rd!

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Animation Guild CSATTF

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Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

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What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

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Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

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The Art of Composition

Interview with Ryley Garcia

Visual Development Artist Ryley Garcia gives us and indepth look at how his professional attitude towards assignments helped him succeed in Composition for Concept Art and Illustration.

The Art of Composition


Hey, my name is Ryley Garcia and I am visual development artist, production designer, and illustrator working in animated film and tv. I began my education studying Architecture and Art History at the University of Toronto in Canada before deciding to move into art and animation. I continued my education at Seneca College where I enrolled in both their Illustration and Animation programs. During my stay, I realized I had a true interest and passion for storytelling, color and light, and composition, and that is when I realized I wanted to be a vis dev artist for animated features.

I have worked as a layout and background artist on 2D animated shows and am currently working in Vancouver on season 4 of “Rick and Morty” as a 2D background artist. I like to spend my free time doing watercolor plein-air studies, oil painting, and personal digital illustrations. I try to consume as many anatomy, character design, composition, “art of”, etc. books as possible, while also enrolling in dozens of online courses in an effort to sharpen my artistic sword. 

I chose to take CGMA’s “ Composition for Concept Art and Illustration” course because I have always been a fan of Mauricio Abril and have always understood the importance of composition when making a successful design. I had also taken a few other CGMA courses in the past and I cannot stress enough how valuable they have been in my art education. 


 Location, Location, Location

This assignment involved picking 3 familiar locations from life and developing 3 black & white compositions from them. We were told to attach any reference photos that were used and to also draw a floor plan of the room and angle being depicted. Since I was more than versed in studying from life (from my plein-air paintings), and was a student of architecture, this assignment was right up my alley. However, drawing from life versus photos can be challenging in that you have to make decisions regarding what stays in and out of your composition. You also have to make choices based on where you want the horizon line and how you want the flow of the composition to work. You really need to pick a focal point and stick with it, as there is no point in rendering every little detail. For my submission, I decided to make compositions based on different rooms/angles in my humble little apartment. 



The first shot (A) depicts my living room. You’ll notice I added a huge spotlight to the left, a plant in the window, and the fireplace pokers. These objects were added in an effort to not only create more interest, but to help direct the viewer to the central easel focal point. Moreover, I used a strong light source from the window to help lead the eye and also to make the focal point area have the highest value contrast. 



The second comp (B) depicts my work area. Again, you’ll notice I added organic plants to create more flow in the composition, while also contrasting the straight edges of the desk and computer monitors. I decided to use an above-head spotlight light source to direct the viewer and create a more dark and serious feel. I also used rectangular shapes (the mirror, doorway, wall opening, monitors) to rhythmically lead the eye around the space. 



The final shot (C) is my bedroom. Here I tried to really create a lived-in feel by including lots of objects in a very small space. The guitar amp, clock, dresser, etc. were all added and positioned so as to lead the eye to the bed. You’ll notice the way guitar cable curves and points, the window curtains lean in, and even the backpack/dresser/clock arrangement are all set up with this focal point in mind. The obvious use of light once again forces the eye to the bed, while also dividing up the piece into interesting dark/light segments to create interest


 Figures & Environments

This week we were asked to design 3 original compositions in black & white: 1 figure dominant, 1 figure-environment, and 1 environment dominant. Again, we were to attach any reference used; including any film screen caps, concept art, traditional paintings, photos, etc. 



For my figure dominant piece, I decided to depict a shifty gangster playing cards at a bar. I really wanted to play up the edgy, mysterious feel of the figure and I did this by making his gesture tilted slightly and putting him under a harsh overhead light. His tilted gesture- combined with the curving smoke shape- contrasts with the even, repetitive glasses and bottles in the background. I also used the cigar smoke and foreground poker chips as compositional arrows which lead the eye to the figure. 



My environment dominant composition is of two boys gazing upon a skatepark. For this piece I had to do quite a bit of research to understand how skateparks are built and what elements are usually included. My composition was designed to start the viewer at the two boys and to allow the viewer to navigate through the park as if they were experiencing it with them. The fact that only two figures are included helps to set the mood, giving it a more calm and grandiose feel. You’ll notice I strategically placed the skate ramps, pipes, rails, etc. to help guide the viewer around the park. I also laid out the background trees and lamps so as to lead your eye back to the tall foreground ramp on the right- once again leading you back into the composition. 



My figure-environment piece was probably my favorite to work on. In terms of subject matter, I decided to show a bunch of kids playing “Planet of the Apes” on the beach. Only true “Apes” fans will really appreciate this piece, as I have included the iconic sunken Statue of Liberty in the background, with kids wearing ape masks, riding hobby horses, and having fun in the sun. Moreover, I used a lot of compositional elements to direct the viewer to the main boy focal point. First, the gesture of the statue of liberty, with her arm raised, is mirrored again by the gesture of the main boy. You’ll also notice the boy is raised up on top of a barrel which contrasts with the other children on the sand below. The palm trees and surrounding environment create a V-shape which act as a compositional arrow. I tried to use as much rhythm and flow as possible via the environment and placement of objects.


 Composition with Value

This assignment involved choosing one of our previous compositions and developing 3 different lighting setups for it. I chose my “Apes” composition as I had intended on eventually bringing this piece to a completed color render. Again, we were asked to attach any photo or painted references which were used when creating the different lighting scenarios.




Setup (A) shows a harsh direct sunlight coming from the right. Initially this was my favorite setup as it created a strong value contrast between the main figure and the light background. It also allowed the cast shadow from the right and the dark silhouettes of the trees to help lead the eye down the composition. By putting the figures in a dark shadow it really helped showcase their silhouettes and put emphasis on them in contrast to the less imposing background. 

Setup (B) also uses a harsh direct sunlight but this time coming from the left. This composition shares the strength of creating a strong contrast between the main boy and the light background. The main difference between this setup and setup (A) is that many of the kids are now grouped in value with the Statue of Liberty in the background. This actually helps to simplify the value structure even more. While this composition still works, I feel like the lighting gives it a less playful mood, as it feels like the dark Statue is looming over the children’s fun day. 

Setup (C) is probably my favourite of the three. This setup is also set during the day, but the lighting is far more overcast, and thus the shadows are not so dark and sharp. Since the value structure isn’t as dramatic, this composition needs to rely on the initial principles of composition more heavily. However, this is not an issue since these core principles were refined in the earlier stages prior to adding value. Again, I feel this design is more successful in keeping with the playful theme of the composition, and it really shows how important lighting can be in terms of mood.


Lighting & Color



For this week’s assignment we were asked to develop one of our value studies into a completed color rendering. We were also asked to attach any references we may have used in determining the final look and style. For my composition I took a lot of reference from Disney’s “Moana” when deciding on the color palette and overall feel. I found the exotic and saturated colors from this film really fit the mood I was trying to achieve. I also looked at the way artist Eric Guillon (concept artist for the Despicable Me series, The Grinch, etc.) would render lines, textures, environments, and even figures. I normally tend to shy away from keeping linework in my work and I usually lean towards a more painterly style. However, I felt like this would be a great opportunity to experiment with a new style and thus I meticulously lined it up. My final piece is obviously not a brick and mortar copy of Guillon’s style, but it did help as a framework for going outside of my comfort zone and developing something different than what I usually do.


 Film Conventions, Camera, and Perspective

This assignment required us to create a sequence of 6 shots that would follow one after the other. It was a challenging assignment in that the shots needed to not only flow into each other successfully, but should also work individually as successful compositions. For my short sequence, I decided to depict a young boy stumbling upon his older brother’s bedroom. He then enters the room only to find the holy grail of guitars mounted on the wall- signed by Jimi Hendrix. He then goes to grab the guitar, only to find his older brother has caught him in the act. 



For this sequence I tried to contrast dynamic camera angles and more calm angles based on the moment in the story. The first shot is a normal 1-point perspective view which is used to establish the character and the context. I used a wide shot for the next panel to showcase the character’s goal (the forbidden guitar) and set up the scene and environment. Panel 3, the close-up, emphasises the importance of the goal via the signature and reflection of the boy. The next shot, a dynamic downshot of the room, shows that the boy has made his decision to go for his goal. The guitar is positioned high up to show that it is almost unreachable or otherworldly. Panel 5 shows the climax of the sequence. I depicted this shot on a slight angle, with the chair leaning forward; this use of angles helps to intensify the moment while also isolating the boy on the end of the room and away from his safe starting point. The final shot is a close-up of the boy but also features the impeding brother in the background. I chose an upshot from the boy in order to make the brother seem more menacing, while to also show the emotional expression on the boy’s triumphant face. It’s sort of a bittersweet moment. 


 Composition for Sequential Illustration & Other Formats

We were given quite a bit of liberty with our final assignment in this course. For the last week we were asked to create a fully rendered illustration in any of the following formats: comic book page, children’s book spread, a book cover, or a poster. Since I am a huge music fan, I decided to create a band tour poster for one of my favorite bands: “Ghost”. I researched existing band posters for several bands and I noticed that there are almost no rules in terms of subject matter and composition. Moreover, I really enjoy creating story moment compositions in my spare time, and so I decided to head in that direction. 



Before I started drawing I began researching the central themes and feelings associated with the band. I also looked at their lyrics, existing album covers and posters, and even music videos for inspiration. “Ghost” is a very theatrical band, featuring a lot of costumes, make-up, and dark Satanic imagery- this gave me a lot to work with. I also read that their latest album was themed around the plague or “Black Death”. The song “Ring Around the Rosie” was originally written about the plague, so I thought it might be interesting to depict some kids playing that childhood game in a church. You’ll also notice that the kids are wearing these ghoulish masks. The band “Ghost” actually wears these masks in their shows, so I opted to put them on the kids. The stained glass figures in the back are also characters portrayed by the band, so I used that as an opportunity for an eerie light source. The palette for this composition is pretty much in the green and red ballpark. I had researched old school horror movie posters when determining the color scheme, and I noticed that a limited palette made for an interesting effect. Red and green are also complementary colors, which never hurts. 




The composition itself is set up in a circle so that the viewer’s eye can continuously navigate between the band’s name and the tour information at the bottom. I reinforced this motif via the curved stained glass windows as well. The focal point of the piece is at the band logo. The dark silhouetted boy on the altar has a strong value contrast against the bright stained glass window, and this further leads the eye in that direction. I also chose to group all the dark areas around the edges of the composition in a vignette so as to decrease the detail and pull the viewer into the center. Overall, the main lesson I learned from this assignment was that a simple value structure and simple arrangement of elements are key to creating an effective composition. You can have all of the detail and rendering in the world, but without a strong compositional foundation your design will always be weak. 


Final Thoughts

To future artists of this course, and of any course on CGMA, I would recommend to take your homework assignments seriously. Treat them as if they are all portfolio pieces, or better yet, pieces that will be submitted to actual clients. By doing this, you will definitely get the most out of your work, and your instructor will be able to give you the best feedback. I know we all have busy lives, but I would highly recommend treating these courses and your own artistic education with the respect they deserve. Another piece of advice would be to try to attend every single live critique and/or Q&A. You never know when a question will suddenly come to mind, and it’s way easier to ask your instructor when they are actually present and ready to answer. The drawovers and critiques are probably the most valuable part of the course because you get to see your mistakes from the eyes of an industry professional. Again, this is why it is important to attend as many of the lectures, Q&As, and critiques as possible and to also submit your work on time! These instructors may likely be working with you one day, so show them that you are reliable and can complete your work by a specific deadline and to the requirements. 

Personally, this course has really helped me in simplifying my compositions and understanding how to use the various compositional tools to strengthen my designs. It has also taught me the importance of using proper references and to treat the research part of an assignment with as much respect as the actual work itself. This course, like others on CGMA, has also allowed me to see into the mind of my instructor and take a glimpse at his process. It never hurts to learn how the pros do their thing, and I will always be adapting and changing my pipeline based on these new lessons learned.

Instructor feedback is probably one of the most important reasons to enrol in online courses like CGMA. Getting critiques from industry pros is like getting a double level up in life- it really helps you understand where to improve. One critique I received from Mauricio Abril was in regards to my “Planet of the Apes” piece. We were still at the early stages of laying out the composition and he noticed a few things which would greatly improve my piece. He pointed out how I should increase the size of the Statue of Liberty (which was originally a lot smaller) so as to play up the contrast between her and the kids. He also noted how I could increase the contrast between the foreground and background to really make the children stand out. Mauricio also gave me some great advice on laying out the children so they are more balanced and dynamic with respect to the rest of the composition. These changes were honestly night and day in terms of how effectively they strengthened my piece. 

Going into this course I would recommend having at least a base background in perspective and even anatomy. Drawing figures and locations is a skill most artists will always need, and if you struggle with these going into a course like this, it might be a bit difficult to keep up. It also doesn’t hurt to understand film language, i.e. types of shots, and have a basic understanding of the elements of composition (pattern, repetition, contrast, etc.). My background in architecture, illustration, and animation had made it a bit easier to navigate this course since I didn’t have to struggle with a lot of the basics. However, beginner artists would still benefit greatly from a course like this, as the instructors at CGMA are great at accommodating artists of all skill levels.


You can see more work from Ryley here:




Week by Week

Interview with Ross Moyer

Ross Moyer tells us how he approched the weekly assignments, highlighting his favorite creations for Composition for Concept Art and Illustration.

Week by Week


My name is Ross Moyer and I’m a student at CGMA. I’m from Pennsylvania in the United States. My educational background is in Economics and I’ve worked in Medical Records as well as Accounting. CGMA is the first art school I ever enrolled in. I’ve really enjoyed it!

 I’ll be sharing some of my experience in CGMA’s  composition class taught by Mauricio Abril. I took it because I think that composition is a very important part of a good painting and it is something I want to get better at. 



Single Image Composition 


My Figure Dominant sketch is about a rich girl out having fun with her dog while her giant guard protects her. I made the characters take up about 70% of the picture frame. I put the guard in because I thought his gigantic proportions created a nice contrast with the girl and her tiny dog.

 In the Figure/Environment composition I tried to find a balance between the two by having them both be important to the story. The big kid is supposed to be feeling a sense of loneliness since the other kids are afraid of him. To show this, I seated him far down the bench from the group of little kids. I put a water cooler between them so they would appear even more isolated from each other.  I positioned the big kid outside of the shelter of the tree to make him look vulnerable.

The fighter jet was the focal point in the Environment Dominant composition and it provided a sense of scale. I drew it small to make the city look very large by comparison. I added the jet trail coming from its exhaust to lead the eye through the city to the airplane.



Composition With Value



Taking Mauricio’s suggestion at our Q & A session, I completely redid the Figure Dominant composition this week. I made some changes to the Environment/Figure composition too. I think the compositional changes really paid off. Particularly in the case of the Figure Dominant composition, the new design made arranging the values easier. The Environment Dominant piece stayed pretty much the same and the values helped bring out the 3D shapes of the buildings as well as highlight the focal point of the jet.

The Figure Dominant value study showed me how useful it was to have the guard with his back to the girl. It allowed me to use his back as a dark frame for her light face. 
 I lit the Environment Dominant scene so as to take advantage of the fact that I placed  the jet over the river. I painted the river dark and the jet a bright white so it stood out very clearly. 
 I think the main strength of the Figure/Environment sketch is the interaction between the little kids looking at the big kid and the big kid sadly looking down. I kept the big kid in shadow so he would seem unhappy and I put the kids in more light to make them seem happier.



For all 3 of the compositions I painted the most contrast where the focal point is. I usually did this by making the focal point either light or dark, and then putting it on a background of the opposite value. In the case of the Figure-Environment composition, I used edge lighting on the big kid to make him stand out more.



Lighting & Color



We had two potential assignments this week. The first option was to do 3 color studies of one of our value studies from Week 5. The second option was to pick a value study and render it out in full color. I chose the second.

 I didn’t have a hard time picking a color palette thanks to my reference board. I collected many images of red carpet events and everything else I needed to help me bring this image to a finish. I wanted it to turn out well as it was the most important part of the course to me. I pretty much copied the color scheme from the red carpet photos I saved. This consisted primarily of dark blues/purples with bright, highly saturated reds as secondary colors and then some other warm accents.

I did a lot of trial and error to figure out how the characters should be colored. I made silhouette outlines of them that I could quickly color in with a bunch of different combinations until I found something I liked. I made the girl’s face warm to contrast with the cool colors on the guard’s back. I added some camera flashes and more warm colors on the guard’s face and hands. These strengthened the circular rhythm that goes from the girl’s face, around the guard’s shoulders, and back to her face. I colored her jacket a greenish blue because that seemed to blend in well with the reds/blues elsewhere in the picture.




Composition for Sequential Illustration & Other Formats


 I picked a movie poster because I liked some of the examples Mauricio went over in our lecture videos and wanted to try one for myself. I knew from the very start my poster would have a big, flat nose truck. After doing some more research I decided to give the poster a Mad Max type of theme. I looked at a lot of trucks and rock stars for reference.



 I painted smoke streaks in the background because they added a nice diagonal element to break up the composition. They went with the story too. Since the characters were outlaws they could have burned down a gas station or a town somewhere behind the mountain. The lesson I wanted to highlight the most in this assignment was to create a simple, impactful composition. Additionally, I wanted to keep in mind the constraints of the poster format by incorporating a title into the picture and leaving space for movie credits at the bottom.



Final Thoughts

I hope that this interview was of some help or interest to you. I think this course has improved my knowledge of composition and how to create images that are clear and strong. My advice to anyone else who takes it in the future is to get good reference because it can help you a lot, whether for coming up with designs, color schemes, poses, and so on. Some other classes that I took at CGMA helped me too, in particular Perspective. I valued having experience working with different perspective views (1pt, 2pt, 3pt)  when constructing my compositions.

Mauricio’s feedback was great. Without his criticism pushing me I would have never tried the composition I did for my completed illustration. I’m very proud of it and I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever done, so I’m glad I took his class!

Deconstructing the Image: How to Create Strong Composition

Interview with Kyrstin Avello

Kyrstin Avello talks to us about her experience in Composition for Concept Art and Illustration and how her studies showed her a new way to construct her images.

Deconstructing the Image: How to Create Strong Composition



Could you introduce yourself to us and what your artistic background is?

I currently work in Chicago as a Lead Artist at a gaming studio. My daily responsibilities span layout concepts, digital paintings, and various animation work for slot gaming experiences. I've worked on a range of games including both internal IPs and licensed games including Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Monopoly, and Elvis Presley.

After hours, I freelance for small and large clients alike, table at pop-culture/comic conventions, and contribute to both local and national gallery shows. Taking inspiration from traveling as well as local flora and fauna, I enjoy watercolor immensely but have also taken to drawing on the iPad more and more frequently. I attended a local art school, and even still am always trying to explore new mediums and learn new approaches to creating.

Why did you choose to take this specific course?

I really wanted to explore new ways of coming up with pieces that evoke a sense of story or connection with the viewer. It's so easy to get caught up in your sketchbook, drawing stand-alone characters and floating heads.

I wanted to take my pieces to the next level, finding ways to create compositions that feel cohesive and unified. This class looked to be perfect, covering a wide array of topics from master study break downs to storyboarding to illustration to picture book covers. It was all encompassing and really helped me grow and explore concepts I vaguely knew of in a more in-depth way.



Composition as 2D Design



What did you learn about an “illustrator’s intent” when studying the works of
master painters?

Studying master painters in such a simplistic way really helped showcase how they used art foundations to their advantage. It's easy to get lost in how well done a painting is based on colors, textures, and specific brush strokes, but the compositions themselves are the core that everything else builds upon. To see how masters approached various subjects and layouts was super interesting. For example, using things like negative space or asymmetry to invoke a specific feeling of loneliness or uneasiness; or using patterns and balance to create a sense of comfort and familiarity.



How did you find creating abstractly and not representationally?

Working abstractly helps so that you don't get bogged down in the details too soon. Using just basic shapes or black and white values, you can clearly see the focal point or rhythm of a piece before working about things like rendering fabrics, atmosphere, or likenesses. It's more about placementon the canvas than any one subject matter or detail. After those foundations are in place, you can then move into loose sketching and worry about things like tangents or the readability of silhouettes. Working abstract really forces your hand to figure out the bigger picture, which I have taken to doing whenever starting a piece.



 Line vs. Shape (Mass vs. Form)



How did the value matrix study change how you viewed composition?

The value matrix studies were super helpful. Although I struggled at first with how to create one based on looking at other artist’s work, once it clicked it really helped me figure out the relationships between elements of a piece. You can take super complicated or ornate compositions and dilute them down to a main focal point and either lines or shapes that funneled the viewer towards that main focus.

Once I broke down a few paintings, it became clear that the elements of a piece should all serve to better communicate the message of the piece. Even with only two or three tones, many pieces still read clearly as the original artist intended.



Single Image Composition


When sketching your figure dominate composition, what influenced your portrait?

For figure dominant, I depicted a mermaid on a rock looking longingly out to see at a ship. As a huge fan of a certain red headed mermaid, I loved the opportunity to play with this as a subject. I referenced the famous sculpture in Copenhagen and knew I wanted to zoom in on the figure, utilizing a similar demeanor as the main focus of my composition. The posture and general mood of the mermaid were meant to be the dominant element of the scene, with the ship being literally small and distant to further that sense of loss or loneliness.



For the Figure/Environment composition, how were you able to find a balance between the
two? What role did the story play?

For the figure/environment composition, I chose to illustrate a small town farm scene, having the characters and the farm play an equal role of importance in the layout. It's a very welcoming scene where a girl is feeding chickens, and I knew I wanted there to be a fun, whimsical element to it. I focused a lot on the rhythm of the piece, wanting to carefully keep the viewer's eye moving around the piece using elements such as character gestures or the fence posts. The farmhouse in the distance surrounded by a field of fun patterns helped still build up the scenery while still being
secondary background elements.



In the Environment dominate composition, what purpose did the figure serve? 

For the environment dominant composition, I chose a very tall, skinny canvas size. Most of the space is dominated by trees and foliage, and the figures in the center are small but still the focal point as it's the main light source of the piece. The environment takes up three fourths of the scene, and is a very dark and ominous forest. By contrast the figures are very far away/small, gathered around a campfire telling stories. I wanted them to feel truly surrounded by their environment, and as the viewer you see how intimate and vulnerable a moment this is with the looming forest everywhere.



Putting It All Together


Tell me about the format you chose and why?

I chose to do a book cover as I eventually would like to to branch into the kid lit genre of illustration. I can recall so many childhood books I still cherish to this day, and how much their story or art style impacted me. I would be humbled to one day contribute to the inspiration of future generations in a similar way. Using a classic story such as Red Riding Hood was an easy, accessible way to create a cover with recognizable elements.

What made the design enhance with the story?

I predominantly used red in my cover, with the advice from the instructor after the to use red more as an accent. This makes that element feel special and iconic. I also used foliage as a border element, and wanted the leaves to feel as though they are coming down on the character, almostlike sharp teeth encompassing the scene. In hindsight I would like to make the plants feel more dangerous the farther from the character they get on the canvas, and really liked the idea of maybe only her cape and cheeks being red, to bring significance to them – her cape and youthful naivety being the core foundation of the story.

What was the lesson you wanted to highlight most in this final assignment?

I wanted to finish with one last piece that was simple but narrative driven – I was more focused on design and simplicity than completing a super rendered illustration. So I stuck with a limited color scheme and focused on creating a framing device for the central character. This was also the first assignment that dealt with text elements, so making that feel cohesive was super important to me.



Final Thoughts


What advice would you give to future students who take this course?

I definitely recommend this course! It really helped solidify the foundations of planning a piece early on, working out problems before you go to town on detailing. I would say as you receive each assignment, try and make it your own – create illustrations based on interests of yours, and utilize your passions outside of art where you can to create pieces that are unique to you. I personally like drawing animals, and so in many of the assignments I would use them as a focal point, telling a bigger story that the audience can be intrigued by: a girl feeding chickens, a cat bird watching outside a window, an owl observing some campers, etc. By incorporating an interest of mine, the piece feels authentic and hopefully can resonate with the audience all the more.

How has the course impacted your work since completing it?

I definitely do a lot more loose thumbnails prior to a piece, using rough abstract shapes to block out where the main focal point is and how I'm directing the viewers eye to it. I also try and think in values more often, so that the most contrast (be it lightness or hue) is the point of focus. My pieces going in and even during the class felt a bit muddy, but by working in black and white/rough at first I find it helps the piece feel better thought out. Basically, plan plan plan!! It helps so much vs doing it on the fly once you've started in on the details.

What prior experience do you think helped you most going into this course?

I had gone to school for animation, and had already had prior knowledge on how to animate to the camera/stage things to be readable and clear. I feel like those kind of lessons were helpful to this class, and I was able to push layouts and compositions even further than I had previously. This course also focused on utilizing shapes and lighting to push the composition and feeling of your piece more than I was previously trained, and it helped a lot to solidify those foundations.

How was instructor feedback? Can you give an example?

I really enjoyed Maurio teaching the class! It was a nice balance of using existing works (master paintings, current day vis dev work, or even his own personal illustrations), as well as working on the fly to demonstrate the examples in the lectures/assignments. The lessons were very clear and he was very enthused to teach and offer advice on assignments. He would walk us through is own personal work, discussing his thought process and why he made the decisions he did. I would definitely take a course of his again.