Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Book Review: Design and Composition, Nathan Goldstein

Design and Composition book by Nathan GoldsteinAs I've mentioned before, I am a self-taught artist. I search out books to be my teachers, and so far they have taught me many lessons in techniques in different media. This I have been practicing for nearly two years. I decided it's time I learned a thing or two about composition. I knew the basics, such as the rule of thirds, but I wanted something more. After much searching on Amazon, I selected this book, Design and Composition by Nathan Goldstein. My version is strictly black and white, simply a photocopy print of the original color version. Even though it is just a black and white copy, it comes with a hefty price tag.

The book is structured in two parts. The first discusses several basic elements of drawing and painting, namely line, shape, value, volume, space, texture, and color. I found it difficult to get into the book, as the writing can be dry, especially in the first couple chapters. But once I got to the chapter on value, I couldn't put it down. He discusses the importance of balance, and uses case studies of famous paintings and drawings to show the effects of each of the elements.

The last two chapters are the best part, in my opinion. He describes 15 different layouts found in virutally all paintings (most have more than one of these layouts), including the effect of each (like the stable grid or the peaceful horizontal format or the high-energy radial burst) and things to look out for when using them (like not separating out the leftover rectangle in the L-shape layout). Then he describes 15 different modes of presentation, such as shallow or deep space, density of subjects, and emphasis on value, color or texture. Finally, he takes several paintings and takes them apart to see what makes their compositions work.

The one thing I disliked about the book was the photos. In general, most of the images were poorly reproduced, grainy or blocky. The black and white colorplates often contained a grid pattern that severely distracted from the content. I figured I didn't need the color as I work in black and white, but I do feel I missed something without the color.

I learned a tremendous amount from this book, but the author was careful not to allow his observations to become hard and fast "rules" of composition - they are merely guidelines. It is the artist, after all, that must add the feeling and passion into a painting, and that cannot be taught.

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