Dynamic Composition Wild Animal Acrylic Paintings Lesson

Dynamic Composition Wild Animal Acrylic Painting LessonDynamic Composition Wild Animal Acrylic Paintings Lesson

I read a quote that changed my view on the importance of dynamic composition in art. The quote was in the book Painting Light With Colored Pencil by Cecile Baird…

“…You can have a SUCCESSFUL PAINTING with good composition and less than perfect technique, but you CANNOT have a successful painting with great technique & poor composition.”

As a result of this quote, I began to put a whole lot more emphasis in teaching composition to my students, as well as in my personal art. So now we start learning about composition and object placement in upper elementary & strongly emphasize it in middle and high school art. As a result, the students artwork became more dynamic!

About 8 years ago, I came across an article in Artist’s Magazine in 2002 that was a beautiful & creative example of dynamic composition in art. Mitch Ridder was a featured artist and the article showcased Ridder’s work. He has an amazing eye for composition which now shows through his photographic work.  (more about Ridder in the lesson plan below)

Dynamic Composition Wild Animal Acrylic Paintings Lesson is geared toward high school art students and was taught over 3 days. (This lesson could be adapted to middle school art) We learned to create dynamic compositions by using the Rule of Thirds  to place the focal point, use dramatic cropping, and use an unusual size canvas. In addition, we also practiced Acrylic painting techniques and therefore learned how to paint animal fur and other animal textures.


  • Review “Creating Dynamic Compositions”
  • Define emphasis, observe how it is applied to visual art
  • Identify 5 ways to create emphasis
  • Learn how to crop for visual interest
  • Practice techniques of how to paint animal fur and other animal textures.
  • Contemporary artist Mitch Ridder & how he uses cropping to create dramatic compositions.

Materials: 12×24” canvas panels, Windsor Newton Galleria Acrylic paint set, paint brushes, Acrylic Painting Techniques Worksheet


1.    What is composition, why is it important to a piece of art?

a.    Composition refers to how the artwork is put together. It is how the artist INTENTIONALLY used the elements and principles of art to create the artwork.
b.    The placement of objects within the picture plane is not an arbitrary act, but is the result of calculated decisions.
c.    A musician sits down and completely plans out his piece before playing it in a concert hall. An artist needs to do the same amount of planning in order to create visual impact on the viewer.

2.    “You can have a successful painting with good composition and less than perfect technique, but you cannot have a successful painting with great technique & poor composition.” Painting Light with Colored Pencil by Cecile Baird…

3.    Subject Matter– Choose a subject that is interesting or meaningful to you. If you are not interested in your subject matter, it will show in your artwork-the effort will not be there.

4.   Emphasis or Focal Point-

a.    The North Light Dictionary of art terms defines focal point as the center of interest in a picture.
b.    In using our eyes in daily life, we tend to focus on the thing that we are looking at. As an artist, you need to assess what you want to be your “focal point” in your picture.
c.    Ask yourself…

i.    What part of your subject is most important or the most interesting?
ii.   Where do you want your viewer to look first & eventually keep coming back to?

5.    How to Create Emphasis (Discuss & view examples of artwork illustrating the 5 Ways to create emphasis)

a.    Emphasis by Contrast

i.  Contrasting COLORS– Bright colors stand out from dull or dark colors, Warm colors stand out from cool colors. Black against white is the strongest contrast possible
ii.  Contrasting SHAPE– Rounded shapes stand out from straight ones, Free-form shapes stand out from geometric shapes
iii.  Contrasting SIZE– Large shapes stand out from smaller shapes
iv.  Contrasting TEXTURE– Smooth textures stand out from rough textures
b.   Emphasis by Isolation– One object is placed alone and away from all other objects in the artwork. The viewer’s eye looks at the isolated object.

6.    Cropping is carefully selecting what will go in your picture’s view (also called picture plane).
7.    Cropping Objectives:

a.    To cut away unnecessary or unwanted portions of an image to help focus the viewers attention.
b.    Brings attention to the foreground creating an image that best depicts the story and message you are striving for.

Artist Mitch Ridder:

From Laguna Beach, California, artist Mitch Ridder works exclusively in Watercolor. With a formal education at California State University, Long Beach in Illustration, Ridder’s innovative work reaches a level of color, detail and depth thought to be unobtainable in the medium considered to be the most difficult to master. Ridder’s painting “Elephant” won the animal category for “The Artist’s Magazine’s 2002 Art Competition”. Ridder was named the winner of The Artist’s Magazine Art Competition for animals and was a finalist in 2001.

Additionally, Ridder has been featured in Watercolor Magic, has appeared in Watercolor, Wildlife Art, Art Business News, Road & Track and Orange Coast magazines and has also been honored as a Signature Member in the California Watercolor Association. Ridder now focuses on photography and his work can be found on Flickr at MitchRidderPhotography. Therefore, because of Ridder’s unusual cropping of images for his artwork, this made him a perfect example for us to follow with our project.

 “Through cropping, showing only a portion of the entire subject, I create a little mystery by what you can’t see. This allows me to control the viewer’s focal point, giving my watercolors a dramatic power and impact.”– Mitch Ridder

View Mitch Ridder watercolor paintings (used with permission)

Activity #1:  Acrylic Painting Techniques Lesson & Worksheet

Acrylic Painting Techniques Lesson Plan & Worksheets 2016

Activity #2: Practice Painting Animal Textures

We watched these EXCELLENT videos on how to paint animal fur & textures:

Video Tutorials on Painting Animal Textures:

All Youtube videos by Andrew Tischler

•       Tiger:
•       Snow Leopard:
•       Cat:
•       Dog:
•       Snake:
•       Sea Dragon:
•       Dragon:
•       Owl:
•       Eagle:

Elephant :

PROJECT: Wild Animal Acrylic Painting

Project Objective: Use selective cropping to create a dynamic composition of an animal. Paint realistically with acrylic paints to include details of texture and shading.


  1. Decide on a land animal, bird or insect.
  2. Find a COLOR reference picture to work from.
  3. Play with the cropping until you have the most interesting composition!
  4. Crop the image (1:2 aspect ratio) so that is a rectangle showing half of the animals face.
  5. Draw the image onto a 12×24” canvas panel.
  6. Finally, paint with FULL SHADING with ACRYLIC paint. YOU MUST PAINT ANIMAL TEXTURE-fur, scales, etc.

Here are some student examples (9-12th Grades): Click to see the full picture!

If you choose to re-blog or use this lesson in any way (written or photos), then please make sure to link/credit to Create Art with ME.

Resources: Artist Magazine 2002-Mitch Ridder,

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