Sunday, 12 January 2014


Subordination - Apples
Ink on Rice Paper
15cm x 18cm (6" x 7")

Subordination is the third of the five principles of composition from chapter 3 of Composition by Arthur Wesley Dow.

The first two principles are:

Dow defines subordination:
"To form a complete group the parts are attached or related to a single dominating element which determines the character of the whole. A tree trunk with its branches is a good type of this kind of harmony; unity secured through the relation of principal and subordinate, even down to the veinings of leaves - a multitude of parts organized into a simple whole." 

Examples of Subordination - copied from Composition
Ink on Rice Paper
18cm x 19cm (7" x 7.5")

He identifies 3 types of subordination that can appear in line drawings - subordination:

  • By grouping about an axis, as leaf relates to stem, branches to trunk.
  • By radiation, as in flowers, the rosette, vault ribs, the anthemion (a motif in decorative art that resembles the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree – also called a palmette). 
  • By size, as in a group of mountain peaks, a cathedral with its spire and pinnacles, tree clusters, or Oriental rug with centre and border 

Subordination - Sailing Off Brighton
Ink on Rice Paper
16.5cm x 25.5cm (6.5" x 10")

Dow stresses Subordination is about fine relationships – it is not as simple as making one object bigger than the others:
"A work of fine art constructed upon the principle of Subordination has all its parts related by delicate adjustments and balance of proportions, tone and color. A change in one member changes the whole."

Subordination - Orchids
Ink on Rice Paper
12.5cm x 24cm (5" x 9.5")

There is a variety of exercises:

  • Copying examples from the book
  • Arranging drawings of flower or fruit with stem and leaves in various rectangular spaces
  • Designing rosettes, anthemions, and palmettes
  • Finding examples of subordination in nature and the landscape 

Subordination - Scallop Shell Palmette
Ink on Rice Paper
20cm x 18cm (8" x 7")

Dow’s instructions for the exercises are:
"After choosing the best out of many trial sketches, draw in line with the Japanese brush. Then, for further improvement in arrangement, and refinement of line-quality, trace with brush and ink upon thin Japanese paper." 

Preparing the Apples

The photograph shows some of my preparatory sketches for the apple composition. I used a marker pen or a brush pen on tracing paper for most of the drawings. The photocopies on the right of the picture are the images from the book that I used as a starting point.

Subordination - Holly
Ink on Rice Paper
14cm x 12.5cm (5.5" x 5")

The first sketches of the orchid and the holly appear on Why Can't Plants Keep Still? and Preparing for Christmas. The drawings on this post are the result of many experiments with cropping and rearrangement of the elements.

The process of tracing and refinement is more enjoyable than I anticipated. I could happily spend more time improving the drawings, but I've been working on them for weeks - its time to move on.

Paul Foxton has some interesting posts about Subordination (see A Powerful Way To Improve Your Compositions You (Probably) Haven't Tried and Designing Nature: A Series of Composition Exercises - Part One)

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