Little Thing Called Composition

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Sometimes it seems strange that so much technical knowledge is needed to being creative in Clip Studio Paint. We have learned a lot so far but if you are still here listening to my video, then I can already tell that you have the dedication it takes to make something truly great out of this or maybe wish to read some of my 'written thoughts' that off the record because somehow I can't have it shown to the entire process of recording.

Welcome to “Little Thing Called: Composition”.

In this tutorial we will look at some of the techniques I’ve developed to create compositions within concept art (mostly background paintings) using Clip Studio Paint.

This is supplemental knowledge to compose image in Clip Studio Paint, not a beginner how-to or design tutorial; meaning, I will not show you the absolute basics of drawing or brushing in Clip Studio Paint, but hopefully provide a better grasp on more efficient methods of creating versatile concept art creation inside the program (without ever go back to other app just to use golden ratio or rule of thirds grid).

I hope by the end of the chapter you have a better idea of some default even more powerful tools available in Clip Studio Paint, and maybe come up with some of great ideas based on what is shown here. Let’s get started!

What is Composition?

Composition is the first word on the best artist's lips when they start an image.

But what is composition?

It's basically the LAYOUT of ELEMENTS and a VISUAL VOCABULARLY that leads your eyes around an image and makes it interesting!

It's the FIRST CRUCIAL STEP in making your IMAGE INTERESTING from the get go.

Image above is the result of applying composition. But at first; I start everything without detail, fancy colors, lighting or action. Those elements will not be able to substitute composition.

Even though composition theory has rules that have been used for hundreds of years, you can always find NEW and INTERESTING ways to apply them to your compositions.

Try to think outside of the box. I'm going to take you through a quick GUIDE to EASY COMPOSITION and see where it leads us, and what we discover along the tutorial.

The ancient Greeks used the golden rectangle that had divine proportions. The golden rectangle is a rectangle that has sides which are approximately at a ratio 1:1,618.

By using these proportions you get a very balanced and pleasing composition, with a strong focal point. The divine proportions appear in many life forms, including humans.

Derived from the golden rectangle is the "rule of thirds", which was adapted to cope with a wider range of aspect ratios.

By dividing your frame into three equal parts from each side you create FOUR POWER POINTS where the lines intersect each other.

For example, the image on the canvas above uses the principles of the rule of thirds by having the converging lines create focal points. (It was made during other tutorial and pandemic).

Now those are the basic theories I can share, how to apply will be explained on next chapters.

Rule of Thirds with Vector Layer

My document size: 1920 x 1080 pixel with 300 resolution.

[ New Vector Layer ] needed to create the grid.

[ Tool ] --> [ Direct Draw: choose Rectangle ]

Color: depends on you, I choose bright red / dark pink in order to see it easily and can be changed later if somehow I feel it's best with cyan blue or something.

You can change color with [ Tool: Operation ] and select the Main Color. Anyway, the [ Brush ] on that panel will be useful to change the density (width) of your lines.

In order to duplicate those Vector layers, simply using those options:

Option 1:

Copy with standard command on selected Vector layer [ Ctrl + C ] then paste with [ Ctrl + V ] and it's automatically duplicate the layer.

Option 2:

Also by holding [ Alt ] on your keyboard button then drag your layer to the right, it's automatically duplicate the Vector layer.

Now after you have duplicated layers, simply click the button on [ Layer ] find the icon that represent: [ Merge Down ] to make your layers clean and efficient.

Note: Having too much layers sometimes can be pain in the neck (especially for those who had lower computer spec to process things).

Now after merged, I suggest to simply duplicate again BUT then; you need to TRANSFORM using [ Ctrl + T ] to make the grid.

But notice that I am changing the [ Scale Ratio ] and [ UNCHECK KEEP ASPECT RATIO ] so the 'H' [ Height ] will be 50%.

After finish with the [ Ratio ] you can duplicate again and move the duplicated layers before you merge it down and make the 9 x 9 squares.

Btw you probably want to correct me by saying 'it's NOT SQUARE' but 'RECTANGLE'.

I know, well anyway if you're using social media such as Instagram. That grid system can be called 9x9 square grid too right? :D

Now feel free to use TRANSFORMATION with [ Ctrl + T ] and move it to fill the entire canvas. Because mine is 16:9 which approximately 1920 x 1080 pixels dimension; so it will show you 9 rectangles or you may called it 4 intersection lines.

That's it, our Rule of Thirds grid is finally done. I use blue dots on the other layer, it's only a presentation for you to see them, but actually the grid itself already enough or suitable to be used onto another painting off yours.

TIPS: you might want to export the grid to Vector based image (.eps) that can be imported to other program such as Adobe Illustrator if you're using the latest version of Clip Studio Paint. Or simply export it to PNG and use it whenever you like.

Try to use the 'blue dot' as the FOCUS of where do you want to put it as the main object.

Flip the Grid by using [ Ctrl + T ] then [ Flip Vertically ] or [ Flip Horizontally ] as long as it fits you then start to create the FOCUS and the rest of the scenery.

You can also create the painting with elongate composition, meaning if you want to make horizontal composition change into vertical canvas: simply rotate the canvas with

[ Edit -- > Rotate/Flip canvas: Rotate by 90 degree clockwise ]

That's it, how to apply Rule of Thirds, you can make the [ Opacity: 20 - 50% ] for the grid then start to create your own composition!

Leading The Eye

Simple compositions can sometimes be the most effective!

Sometimes less is more.

For example, you can use perspective to lead the viewer into the picture and directly to your focal point.

Use whatever objects you have in your scene to focus on detailed images, my painting will be focused on the cowboy and his horse near the middle of canvas.
So, I use the stone arc to guide the viewer's eye.

I took longer time to make the shapes of horse's silhouette as well as the cowboy's with bonfire in between them because these are the main focal points of the entire image.

You really need to gather your own references (let’s say: horse silhouette) if you need it unless you're already capable of doing so without any.

At this point, quick and effective composition technique is basically having your image layout follow certain shapes. Even strokes, a bit of textures, but no need to overwhelm it.

Try to use simple color is one thing BUT make your layers simple is another thing!

Separating the colors into 3 (will be explained later in depth composition) but note that I'm using ONLY ONE layer to drop the 3 COLORS SEPARATION.

Then I create new layer for the BG as well as the ACTUAL COLOR for the whole arc thing.

Using [ Selection Tool ] for each color can be done by the bottom layer, then go to the top layer to drop the colors that I really want so the background gradient and the arc will be on the same feel (atmosphere) just like image below.


1. Create a [ New Layer ]
2. Use either [ Tapered Pen ] or [ Textured Pen ] for solid color of fire; orange and yellow.

3. Use [ Blend ] --> [ Finger Tip ] to make the fire somehow moving.
4. Optional; you can also adding more color spread using [ Blur ] around the flame

5. Use [ Airbrush ] --> [ Droplet ] and remember to change its [ Particle Size ] to make the fire sparks surrounding the bonfire.

6. Recommend to use [ Soft ] brush for the reflections of fire near the horse and cowboy's body and bounce the lights to the ground and even the arc on the right.

7. Also it's good to experiment using [ Running Color Spray ] from [ Airbrush] if you wish to make the arc feels having the textures of bouncing light. BUT REMEMBER to [ Lock Layer Transparent ] so the color from lights will not go outside the arc.

:: Creating STARRY SKY ::

Using simple [ Tone Scraping ] from [ Airbrush ] with adjusted [ Particle Size ] will be the easiest step since the default brush already has the randomness.

My next recommendation of tool will be [ Soft ] brush to create somehow 'shimmering' lights from the stars. Also if you think the 'randomness' of stars quite near from each other, simple erase it with [ Transparent Color ] while brushing with [ Soft ] brush.

Then it's finished! You may want to experiment by yourself for the tools such as [ Design Pencil ] that I use often for sketching out or draft before using [ Tapered Pen ] because somehow I feel the need of using its texture to fill some areas of painting. So it will not looks too digitally or just plain texture for the stone arc.

Last but not least, I am using [ New Correction Layer ] then play with the [ Gradient Map ] or any other methods to achieve this 'retro colors' look. The tutorial of it can be found on my other tutorial about RETRO DESIGN here:

Next chapter will be focused onto color adjustments, feel free to continue if you wish to learn some quick tricks or just skip it to the [ Depth ] composition.

Color & Contrast Adjustments

Some of us struggling to pick colors to choose when we understand how to create composition. This will be my tricks to (almost) 'instaneously' - instantly and generously make your painting better to look at!

First, start with simple circle (can be made using CIRCLE from DIRECT DRAWING tool).

Fill inside of the circle with dark colors. Anything can do!

Who has no Instagram nowadays? Well, my color inspiration came from Instagram's logo.

You can also try to use [ Soft ] brush to color it BUT DON'T FORGET to use [ Lock Layer Transparency ] so the brushes will not go outside the circle.

After done, resize the circle and pick the gradation as minimum as 3 or 4. As you can see from image above; I make my own 'color pallet' to LIMIT my COLOR CHOICE when doing the COLOR COMPOSITION.

And yes. STAY WITH THE FLAT if you wish to fully concentrate on making the composition (with or without grid).

From the video you'll notice that I only have less layers in order to create the image composition but you might be wondering why; I am not using my Rule of Thirds grid:

I want you to focus on how to drop the colors and make the habit out of it rather than complicated color pallet to start on any painting, just remember this: Less is more. Keep that in mind. After you're getting used to it, adding more colors will be your decision to make. :)

From image above, I'd like to show you that I only have 3 separated layers for the actual painting.

1. Purple for foreground
2. The house with red purple, orange and a bit of lavender color for the midground
3. Pale purple for the background (sky and cloud)

After done, we can start to blend them all!

Well, I start with the cloud, I want to make this painting simple and as the example only. So I will choose NOT TO GO WITH DETAILS AT ALL.

Use [ Airbrush --> Soft ] to make the clouds blending BUT feel free to use other brushes as your way of exploring and using brushes inside Clip Studio Paint.

EVEN YOU CAN DOWNLOAD for FREE or PAY with GOLD with Clip Studio Assets!!

Now, put a bit of textures with [ Design Pencil ] so the painting will be better to look at but please, never overwhelm the entire painting with unnecessary details.

You can use [ Tapered Pen ] too if you wish to add more hard strokes.

:: Quick SKY OVERLAY ::

Create a new layer with [ Gradient ] for the sky and change the [ Layer Mode: Overlay ]

It's the simplest method to achieve the gradient to change the mood of the painting.

Also, you need to give the same mood or atmosphere to the house by using the [ Soft ] brush around the edge of the house. Notice in the video that I did also to the ground and make the shadow of the house longer and wider too.

NEVER FORGET to [ Lock Layer Transparency ] before doing so to the house layer (midground).

Now into [ Layer Adjustment ] or you can play with the CONTRAST & COLOR with this method.

Simply go to MENU:

[ Layer ] -- > [ New Correction Layer ] --> [ Gradient Map ]

Feel free to explore which color adjustments you like! Also you can add more adjustments with [ Brightness/Contrast ] or [ Level Correction ] and [ Tone Curve ] and all will be added into the separated layers on top of those layer you've made earlier.


Now with that understanding, you might want to test your new intelligence by using only those 4 colors and making adjustments later on from image above to the result below!

It's nothing fancy I know, I'm not trying to create delicate image, just a quick one when I recorded this, I apologize for the lack of retails and everything. :)

Depth of Field Composition

Creating D.O.F is also one of many tricks I use in between my concept art composition. I will NOT using COLORS, just TONES for this tutorial above. Colors can be easily made by applying [ Gradient Map ] later on or you'd like to finish the overall composition with adding more colors.

Feel free to use whatever methods to suit your final image.

You will color better when you know how to put shadows and lights in the right places. Many clip studio tutorials talked about values, so feel free to find ‘rendering with values’ from other great artists from Clip Studio TIPS!

But for this part, I will be using the same technique we've been discussed about from previous chapter to make this simple composition only with 3 values and Gaussian Blur!

Thinking about DEPTH will be more UNDERSTANDABLE than anything else for the still image composition.

Yep, always with 3 colors to start! But I prefer to use TONES for it.

Dark tone, mid tone, and light tone.

Separate the layers with following:


And if you're a bit of perfectionist like me (even I try NOT to, but hard hahah), I add some shadows in the MIDGROUND to separate those branches like image below:


Change the STRENGTH to suit your style, but I prefer around: 40 - 50


Change the STRENGTH to suit your style, but I prefer around: 15


Change the STRENGTH to suit your style, but I prefer around: 25

Now the choice is yours, if you see on my layers over there, have you notice that I duplicate each of those layers (dark, mid, light) first before applying the blur?

It's good if you wish to focus on the MIDGROUND for the overall drawing composition and have the others as 'backup' layers to be used later on. Let's say you have 'backup layers' before make them blurred.

Thumbnails & Final Artwork

Thumbnail Creation:

I mostly use [ Direct Draw: Rectangle ] as the first step in creating the thumbnails. Well for this one; I am NOT USING VECTOR layer, because this is only for drop some ideas before the bigger composition picture or Final Artwork Preparation.

Several composition shots will be a good and better 'kickstart' of your mind before focusing to pick 1 to render it with details and all.

Start with simple alpha numeric if you DON'T KNOW HOW TO START...

Well I forgot to mention, I click [ TAB ] to hide and show the MENU & EVERYTHING that might get in a way of creating thumbnails like image below!

When you’ve done thumbnail images preparation, we are now ready to ‘blocking in’, as all we’ll do is roughly lay the colors down on the canvas in blocks.

The best brushes to use for this are the Pen brushes such as Tapered Pen, an even-edged Textured Pen, or rounded one such as Turnip, Mapping or G-Pen (either smooth or textured) with various size.


Something to consider when you start blocking in your painting, is where the light would be coming from, and perhaps even whether there will be a second or third light source.

Never blocking your paint with so many layers! When working on the base of your painting, whether with a landscape or other scene, there is no need to add a new layer, but if you feel more comfortable with it so the choice is yours - but, well... I suggest to merge it down to one layer only - it will make your drawing and life easier that way. :)

The other chapters about DEPTH can be applied here with only 3 TONES. It creates the DEPTH WITHOUT BLUR because later when you color, you can use either [ Watercolor Brush ] from [ Watercolor ] or [ Soft ] brush from [ Airbrush ] to help you handle the background painting.

Why am I urge you to not using more layers for every single object in your painting?

This often ends up looking very ‘rigid’, no dynamically overlapping nor interesting. Because the different objects don’t really interact with each other’s.

This often ends up looking very ‘rigid’, no dynamically overlapping nor interesting. Because the different objects don’t really interact with each other’s.

Something to consider when you start blocking in your painting, is where the light would be coming from, and perhaps even whether there will be a second or third light source.

But always remember that values will be on top of everything else. That's it, now you can even check again if the composition needs to be improved with your own Rule of Third grid or Golden Ratio grid by yourself.


Staying organized keeps you moving smoothly throughout the painting process!

Thank you all for viewing my tutorial! Compositing in Clip Studio Paint is a methodical process so planning with thumbnails, organizing and merging your layers with only 3 or 4 layers, and knowing your tools is very important for every concept art creation.

I hope this was a good introduction of...

Little thing called composition!



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