Arranging elements in an image is often the first stage of the artists process when deciding the intent of a work of art.  The subconscious effects of the principles of design will be examined in understanding what evokes responses in viewers.  Each week will feature a critique of student work, followed by a lecture analyzing classical art and comic book panels.  Symbolism and reading order will be discussed with students to understand the abstract design and power of images.  The course will generally focus on producing tonal images, with color being addressed towards the end of the course.


My primary creative motive has always been emotional and thematic communication, in all forms of art.  I fell in love with comic books/graphic novels as a boy, and this love and admiration for the deep poetic capacity of the medium has only increased throughout my life.  While at CSU Northridge, I experimented in abstraction, but developed an abiding passion for classical and 19th-Century art—although, like comics, the latter was still largely denigrated at the time.  After graduating, I studied with Glen Vilppu, while free-lancing in illustration and graphic design.  My first published work in comics was for the enormously influential Neal Adams at Continuity Comics, followed by work for Dark Horse, Marvel U.K., and DC Comics, including several Batman “Specials” and a Bram Stoker Award-nominated Special of “The Dreaming”.

Course Curriculum

Composition 1 | Preview FREE 00:05:00
Preview of Composition 1 with Brian Apthorp.
Section 1
Composition 1: Introduction 00:30:00
Welcome to Composition 1 with Brian Apthorp. Brian gives an introduction of himself with a brief history of his background and work. He discusses the goals of the class.
Fundamental Issues 00:21:00
Brian answers questions and references books on composition. He lectures on aesthetics and the impact of the emotional response of a viewer when creating an image.
Off the Cuff Abstract 00:26:00
Brian lectures on the fundamentals of composition. He discusses contrast and opposition in creating an image, and its impact on the observer.
Composition 1: Balance and Rhythm 00:45:00
Brian talks about the emotional effects of balance and imbalance in a composition. He gives his thoughts on various subjects from movies to comics.
Limitation of Vision 00:32:00
Brian lectures on the limits of our visual field and the psychology behind the positioning of objects within a frame. He discusses the impact of composition on some variations of images with the students.
Composition 1: Homework 1 00:11:00
The title of the first homework assignment is "Outside the Dance". The goal of the exercise is to evoke an emotion of your choosing. The assignment is to create 4 compositional thumbnails.
Section 2
Outside the Dance Critique Part 1 01:05:00
Todays class will begin with a critique of the first homework assignment.
Outside the Dance Critique Part 2 01:16:00
The remaining homework assignments will be discussed with the class.
The Golden Rectangle FREE 00:30:00
Todays lecture will introduce the golden rectangle. The impact of the golden rectangle will be demonstrated by applying it over classic works of art. Brian discusses different approaches when using the golden rectangle in preparing a composition.
Composition 1: Homework 2 00:04:00
This weeks homework assignment is to develop one of the thumbnails from the previous assignment. Construct a golden rectangle, and apply it to the design.
Section 3
Grid Critique Part 1 00:53:00
Brian will give a critique of last weeks homework assignment.
Grid Critique Part 2 00:41:00
Brian critiques the homework for the second student.
Impact of the Golden Rectangle 00:53:00
Todays lecture will focus on the effects of the golden rectangle. Strong points and proportions will be discussed in relation to the golden rectangle grid. Andrew Loomis's concept of formal subdivision will be introduced, and applied to classical illustrations.
Composition 1: Homework 3 00:02:00
The subject of the homework assignment will be to use symmetry to communicate an idea of your choice.
Section 4
Symmetry Critique Part 1 00:44:00
Today's class will begin with a critique of last weeks symmetry homework assignment.
Symmetry Critique Part 2 00:51:00
The critique will cover the remaining students homework assignments.
Informal Division 00:36:00
Todays lecture will discuss Andrew Loomis's theory on the importance of design over subject matter. Brian will use a grid on a drawing to show the impact of subtle suggestive variations. The class will discuss the meaning each variation presents.
Composition 1: Homework 4 00:10:00
This weeks homework assignment is to use Andrew Loomis's grid in creating an image using the subject "threat".
Section 5
“Informal Division” Grid Critique Part 1 00:50:00
Brian discusses the homework assignment for the first group of students.
“Informal Division” Grid Critique Part 2 00:49:00
The homework critique will cover the remaining students.
Composition 1: Movement and Balance 00:31:00
Todays lecture will focus on how to imply action and movement using graphic gesture or expressive action. Using diagonals can help create explosive movement and balance.
The Painter’s Honeymoon 00:28:00
He discusses Frederic Leighton's "The Painter's Honeymoon" and the suggestive effects that the diagonals present. The class will discuss the challenges that a symmetrical frame can present.
Composition 1: Homework 5 00:01:00
The assignment is to use diagonals to induce a sense of speed or force in a composition.
Section 6
Speed/Force Critique 00:45:00
Todays class will begin with a critique of last weeks homework assignment.
Hercules Wrestling with Death for the Body of Alcestis 00:56:00
Brian will talk about Frederic Leighton and his place in the aesthetic movement of the nineteenth century. The lecture will focus on the painting "Hercules Wrestling with Death for the Body of Alcestis".
The Glass of Absinthe 00:19:00
The class will discuss the painting "The Glass of Absinthe" by Edgar Degas. The symbolic and compositional elements will be analyzed to decipher the strength of an image that portrays a dull scenario.
Composition 1: Homework 6 00:09:00
The homework will be to create an image using dynamic compositional lines and combinations from previous lessons. There should be a reading order consisting of 3 points supporting the subject matter. The theme will be "uplifting" or "optimism".
Section 7
Composition 1: Homework Critique Part 1 00:43:00
The class will begin with a critique of the homework assignment.
Composition 1: Homework Critique Part 2 00:43:00
The homework critique will cover the remaining students.
Cymon and Iphigenia 00:45:00
The lecture will begin with a presentation showing different interpretations of Cymon & Iphigenia by various artists. The class will discuss the reading order and the composition of the version painted by Frederic Leighton.
Composition 1: Homework 7 00:02:00
The homework assignment will be to create an image with a 4 part reading order, with the theme "The Desired".
Section 8
4 Part Reading Order Critique 01:17:00
Class will begin with a critique of the 4 part reading order homework assignment.
Fulcrum-lever 01:04:00
The lecture will explore Andrew Loomis's compositional concept, the "Fulcrum-lever principle". It will be applied to historical pieces of art to show the various effects and meanings it can produce. The class will apply the golden rectangle to Jean-Léon Gérôme's painting "The Snake Charmer", and analyze the composition.
Composition 1: Homework 8 00:01:00
The homework assignment is to create an image with aesthetic balance. The image should have a 4 part reading order.
Section 9
Composition 1: Balance Critique 01:05:00
Class will begin with a critique of last week's balance homework assignment.
Composition 1: Rhythm in Nature 00:33:00
Images of classical works of art will be presented in this lecture on the rhythm found in nature. The class will analyze and discuss the painting "Evening Mood" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
Composition 1: Homework 9 00:02:00
The two options for this weeks homework assignment will be "Harmony in Opposition", or "Statement/Counter-statement". Like the previous assignments, there should be a 4 part reading order.
Section 10
Composition 1: Harmony 00:58:00
Todays lecture will focus on compositional harmony. The class will discuss the effects of harmony in paintings and illustrations throughout the history of Art.
Young Lady with a Shiner 00:46:00
The class will analyze the composition for Norman Rockwell's "Young Lady with a Shiner". The color harmony, shapes and lighting design will be discussed as well as the method Rockwell worked with.
Composition 1: Harmony and Opposition 00:25:00
The class will discuss the paintings "Temma on Earth" by Tim Lowly, and "Godspeed" by Rockwell Kent.

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