Music Instruments and Composition Watercolor Painting Lesson

music instrument and composition watercolor paintingMusic. Draw. Compose. Paint.

My high school art classes are mixtures of different levels of experience in art. I have several that have NEVER taken art before and then some who have taken it all their lives. These varying experience levels make it VERY difficult to plan lessons. I want to give good technique instruction to the “newbies” and yet provide challenges to the mid-level students. My AP Art students did not work on this project (although I wish they had).

So, I went to our band director and asked if would could borrow some instruments for a photo shoot and he graciously agreed! The students arranged their own compositions, took their own photos and edited them. They drew the compositions onto watercolor paper and painted using the basic skills we had learned (washes, gradations, & masking fluid to “save the whites”). The project as shown represents VERY beginner level (2nd art project ever) to mid-level high school art students. They are still getting a grasp on drawing skills and watercolor painting techniques but even in our current projects are showing good progress.

Excellent Resources on Composition: “Mastering Composition” by Ian Roberts & “A Painter’s guide to Design & Composition” by Margot Schulzke



  • Define composition in the visual arts
  • Define 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 compositional structures as armatures for arranging a composition.


  1. What is composition, why is it important to a piece of art:
    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.
  2. What is emphasis: The North Light Dictionary of art terms defines focal point as the center of interest in a picture.
  3. 6 Ways to create emphasis: Placement (Rule of Thirds), Contrasting color, Contrasting size, Contrasting shape, Contrasting texture, Isolation
    1. Discuss & view examples of artwork illustrating the 6 Ways to create emphasis
    2. 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.

4. 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. types of art composition structures
5.    Types of Composition Structures (Armatures)

  1. Rule of Thirds: Paper or canvas is divided into thirds both horizontally & vertically. The lines intersect at four points. These are called focal points. The center of interest is placed at one of the points.
  2. Triangle: The main objects are arranged roughly in a triangle or pyramid. Triangle Composition art
  3. L-Shape: Commonly used in landscape compositions. The main object, 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: Also common in landscapes. In this design, you create a winding line, preferably with most of the twist toward the bottom of the painting. This offsets the painting’s design, and the S-shape will draw your eyes into it. You can use it to guide a viewer’s eyes through the painting. Usually, you will use the S-shape to direct attention to the focus of the composition. The subjects form a shape similar to the letter “S.” The composition is fluid and graceful. This is a perfect type for landscapes where a river or trees flow through the drawing. The focal point is often at the end of the “S”.
  5. Circle: For this type, you draw your subjects, objects, values, and lines to form an “O.” Your focal point goes in the center of the “O.”
  6. Diagonal: The main composition is drawn along a strong diagonal line (blue line) going 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.

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, L-Shape, S-Shape, Circle, & Diagonal.  In each section sketch out a drawing that illustrates the use of that composition structure. (no shading) Medium: drawing pencils

Pre-Instruction Technique Worksheets:

Basic Watercolor Painting techniques lesson plan and worksheet

Advanced Watercolor Painting Techniques Lesson Plan & Worksheet


Teacher Example

Breathe In Me Music Instrument Watercolor painting

© Michelle East 2017

Project: Music Instruments and Composition Watercolor Painting

Project Objective: Create a dynamic composition of music using one of six composition structures we learned about. Use lighting and selective cropping to create visual interest.

View Instrument Watercolor Painting examples from the artist Jenny Armitage


  1. Arrange 1-3 instruments so that is conforms to one of the six compositional structures.
  2. Position lighting on the arrangement in an interesting instrument and composition watercolor painting
  3. Use your iPad to take pictures of the composition making sure to crop in so that no more than 3/4th of the instrument is showing.Music Instrument Watercolor Painting
  4. Make sure you have a focal point that is placed appropriately within the composition structure you chose.
  5. Edit any favorite photos using the Photoshop Express app.
  6. Print out the photo.
  7. LIGHTLY draw the composition onto watercolor paper. Erase any heavy pencil marks (they will show through the watercolors).
  8. Use watercolors to paint the entire composition. Include a full ranges of values with highlights and cast instrument and composition watercolor painting

Some Student Work:

This lesson plan was written by Michelle C. East.  If you choose to use any of this lesson (written or photos), please link back to this blog Create Art with ME!

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