Landscape Compositions Pastel Lesson

Types of LANDSCAPE Composition Structures

Pastel Landscape Lesson
Lesson Written by Michelle C. East © 2020
Resources: Art Talk p 289-292, “Mastering Composition” by Ian Roberts & “A Painter’s guide to Design & Composition” by Margot Schulzke, 


• Define composition in the visual arts
• Learn about the principle of art called emphasis (focal point) and observe how it is applied to visual arts. Identify six ways to create emphasis in a 2D piece of art.
• Define is cropping and understand the importance of selective cropping to help the viewer to focus on the focal point.
• Identify six composition structures as armatures for arranging a composition.


What is composition

  1. What: 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.
  2. Why: The placement of objects within the picture plane is not an arbitrary act, but is the result of calculated decisions. It is your job as the artist to lead the viewer into and around your composition. You must use the elements and principles of art intentionally to create your focal point, create mood, and give directional cues that will help the viewer navigate your picture.

Ways to Create Emphasis:

  1. What is emphasis: The North Light Dictionary of art terms defines focal point as the center of interest in a picture.
  2. 6 Ways to create emphasis: Placement (Rule of Thirds), Contrasting color, Contrasting size, Contrasting shape, Contrasting texture, & Isolation
  3. Cropping: Think of cropping as the act of cutting away unnecessary or unwanted portions of an image to help focus the viewer’s attention and even help tell a story.

What is a Landscape?

  1. Landscape art is the depiction natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, especially where the main subject is a wide view. 
  2. The 6 ways of creating the illusion of 3D space in a landscape art piece: Overlapping, Size, Location, Color, Value, & Detail.
    1. Overlapping: Objects placed in the very front  with nothing overlapping them appear to be the closest. Objects placed behind several other objects appear to be further in the background. 
    2. Size: Objects in the foreground (closest to us) appear larger. Larger objects visually come toward us. As objects are physically further away, they become visually smaller. Smaller objects visually recede.
    3. Location: Objects placed at the bottom of the picture plane come Forward. Objects placed at the top of the picture plane recede (visually go back in space).
    4. Color: Warm colors come forward, cool colors recede. Brighter colors come forward, dull colors recede
    5. VALUE: There is usually more value contrast the closer objects are to you and there is less as they recede.
    6. Detail: Objects in the foreground have more visible details (sharper) than objects in the far background. Backgrounds tend to be slightly out of focus & details blur.

Types of Landscape Compositions

Composition Structures: a method of arranging the elements in a composition. Think of the structure like a skeleton in an animal or person. It is the bone that the shape of the animal is built on. Another word to describe the structure is armature. There are many types of structures (more than the 6 listed here), but these are the ones we will focus on.

  1. Rule of Thirds: Paper or canvas is divided into thirds both horizontally & vertically. The lines intersect at four points. The center of interest is placed at one of the points.rule of thirds grid compositon
  2. Triangle: The main objects are arranged roughly in a triangle or pyramid with its base resting on a horizontal line. In the Renaissance, this geometric form was very popular and used in virgin and child paintings. Triangle Composition art
  3. L-Shape: The main objects, subject, or vertical mass lays heavily on one side and the bottom has a horizontal base forming the “L” composition. The composition generally is not only of one object but of many together that form the strong “L” shape. The focal point can the main vertical object on the side, or it can be in the open space created by the “L”. Because of the strong vertical and horizontal lines of this type of composition it creates a sense of peace and tranquility.
  4. S-Shape: In this design, a road, path, or body of water create a wiggly-winding line forming an “S” like shape that leads in from an edge of the piece (preferably with opening of the toward the bottom) into the middle & backgrounds. Use the S-shape to direct attention to the focus of the composition. The composition is fluid and graceful.  S Landscape Composition
  5. Leading Lines: Objects, values, and lines (real or implied) lead to your focal point at the end of the lines. Usually, one point perspectiveLeading Lines Landscape Composition is visually evident.  
  6. Diagonal: The major elements in the landscape are organized on a strong diagonal line extending from one corner to the opposite diagonal corner.  From that, extending out, often at 90 degrees from that main diagonal, were lines to the other corners (red lines). The focal point is where the intersecting lines meet.
    Diagonal Landscape Composition

Other Good resources:

Activity #1: Sketchbook Assignment-Types of Composition Sketches:

Divide your sketchbook page into 6 sections with a pencil and ruler. Label the top of each section with these titles: Rule of Thirds, Triangle, Leading Lines, L-Shape, S-Shape, & Diagonal. In each section sketch out a drawing that illustrates the use of that composition structure.
(no shading) Medium: drawing pencils

Activity #2: Pastel Techniques Worksheets:

The Lesson Plan & Worksheet PDF covers:

  • Full Lesson Plan with instructions for worksheet (Lesson Plan & Worksheet PDF)
  • 2 Basic Types of Strokes
  • Mixing Pastels to create new colors
  • Value Scale with single color
  • Creating Tints & Shades
  • Value Scale with Tints & Shades
  • Blending or Gradation of 2 colors
  • Stippling
  • Scumbling
  • Feathering
  • Dusting
  • Masking
  • Changing the Intensity of a color using its complement
  • Shading various forms
  • Includes example worksheet on toned paper

Dry Pastels Lesson Plan & WorksheetDry Pastel Techniques Lesson Plan & Worksheet 2015

Activity #3: Landscape Composition Project

Supplies: Dry Pastels, Strathmore Pastel Paper 18×24″ Pad (cut paper in half), make-up q-tips, Krylon K01306 Workable Fixatif Spray Clear



Project Objective:

Create an original landscape art piece structured using one of the 6 types of composition we learned. Use dry pastels to render the artwork with FULL shading (complete range of values). Use the 6 ways of creating the illusion of 3D space: Overlapping, Size, Location, Color, Value, and Detail.


  1. Choose a copyright-free photo reference to work from. In a Google Image search, in the “tools” section, make sure to select “LABELED FOR RE-USE”. 
  2. Use one of the 6 types of composition we learned to crop and design you composition: Rule of Thirds, Triangle, L-Shape, S-Shape, Leading Lines, & Diagonal.
  3. The paper is 12×18- a long rectangle 2:3 ratio. Crop you image to fit this ratio.
  4. Choose your color of pastel paper.
  5. LIGHTLY draw your composition on to the pastel paper.
  6. Starting with the background, begin rendering with the dry pastels. Then move to middle ground and finish with foreground.
  7. Colors can be mixed together through blending and layering. You can also use make-up q-tips to help blend small area (be careful not to lift off too much pastel).
  8. When you have my approval that it is finished, spray 3 even coats of Krylon fixative over the drawing. *Remember to hold the spray from 12” from the surface.

Student Artwork

(more coming soon)

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