Composition and Design – Rhythm

Composition and Design – Rhythm

Rhythm in art refers to the movement of the viewer’s eye, a movement across recurrent motifs providing the repetition inherent in the idea of rhythm. It is based on repetition and involves a clear repetition of elements that are the same or slightly modified. Most often we think of rhythm in the context of shapes and their arrangement.


Flowing horizontal curves give a feeling of relaxation and calm or connecting and slowing. The rhythmic pattern chosen will quickly establish an emotional response to a piece. If the shapes are rigidly defined with sudden and startling value changes, you will achieve a feeling of abruptness and dynamic contrast. If the rhythm is consistent or regular throughout the composition, the mood will also be consistent. However, if the rhythm is in an irregular pattern, it may be unsettling to the eye.


Alternating rhythm consists of successive patterns in which the same elements reappear in a regular order. This is seen many times in the natural world. Alternating rhythms and rhythmic variety can relieve predictability in a design.

Progressive rhythm gives a feeling of a sequential pattern and is achieved with a progressive variation of the size of a shape. This is seen in perspective changes when we look at buildings from an angle. The perspective changes the horizontals and verticals in to a converging pattern that creates a regular sequence of shapes gradually diminishing in size.

Questions to get you started:

Rhythm is usually associated with music. Can you make a composition that is based on your favorite piece of music? How does the repetition of the shapes you are using remind you of the music? How can you use the various elements i.e. line, shape, color, value, texture to form the rhythm and feeling of the music?

Can you use rhythmic repetitions in your work to show movement? How can you depict sequential patterns? Or alternating rhythms?

8 thoughts on “Composition and Design – Rhythm

  1. Good, clear explanation Ruth. I really like your abstract piece (3rd photo down from the top) and the landscape with the flowers in the foreground.

  2. This makes more sense to me than some of the others, because I can esily relate 🙂 I often listen to music when painting or felting and it definitely influences me. I also did one of those Start2 website excercises about making marks to music and just a few weeks ago, I was carding and listening to music, but ended up doing a big doodle with repetitive lines, swirls and waves representing the tune 🙂 What do I need to listen to to make a picture as gorgeous as the poppy one?!

    1. Thanks Zed, I actually rarely listen to music when I’m creating. I like the silence so I have no idea what tune would work for poppies 🙂

  3. I agree with Lyn. I like the third abstract. The first one is pretty, but thinking about it as music I’d be dizzy. 🙂

    1. Thanks Marilyn! The first one is one I developed from the Japanese Edo period. I’m not one for listening to much music when I create but I could understand the dizziness factor.

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