5 practical tips for improving composition in surrealism
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Play with scale to achieve surreal effects
  2. Use color to create mood and atmosphere
  3. Employ juxtaposition for visual interest
  4. Incorporate dream-like imagery
  5. Utilize symmetry and patterns for visual impact

Unleashing your creative potential in the realm of surrealism is like embarking on a thrilling journey into the depths of your imagination. But, how do you turn those wild visions into captivating compositions? Let's delve into some practical tips on how to improve composition in surrealism.

Play with scale to achieve surreal effects

When it comes to surrealism, playing with scale is akin to a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat—it's unexpected, delightful, and can breathe life into the ordinary. Altering the size of elements in your composition not only creates a sense of intrigue but also amplifies the surrealistic impact.

Understanding Scale

Scale refers to the size of an object in relation to another within an image. In the world of art, it's a powerful tool that can drastically alter the viewer's perception. By playing with scale, you can transform a mundane scene into a magical wonderland.

How to Manipulate Scale

  • Enlarging Objects: Imagine a tiny butterfly, now picture it larger than a tree. This manipulation of scale triggers a sense of awe and wonder, a cornerstone of surrealism.
  • Shrinking Objects: Consider a skyscraper, now see it smaller than a daisy. This reversal of expected proportions can create a captivating, surrealistic effect.
  • Placing Objects Out of Context: Think of a giant teacup in a forest or a tiny elephant on a bookshelf. The unexpectedness of these scenarios can be visually arresting, enhancing the surrealistic vibe of your composition.

Examples of Scale in Surrealism

The technique of playing with scale in surrealism can be seen in the works of renowned surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. Dalí's "The Elephants," for instance, features elephants with impossibly long, thin legs, while Magritte's "The False Mirror" presents an oversized eye filled with a cloudy sky. These artists knew how to improve composition in surrealism by manipulating scale, creating art that still captivates audiences today.

So, as you embark on your own surrealistic journey, don't be afraid to play with scale. It's a simple, yet powerful tool that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, enhancing the overall impact of your surrealistic compositions.

Use color to create mood and atmosphere

If scale is the magic trick in surrealism, color is the spell that enchants. By skillfully using color in your surrealistic compositions, you can create a mood, set an atmosphere, and take your viewers on a visual journey like no other.

Color and Mood

Colors have the power to evoke emotions. A vibrant red can stir up feelings of passion or anger, a calming blue can evoke a sense of peace, and a sunny yellow can inspire happiness. When you're looking for ways on how to improve composition in surrealism, consider using colors strategically to induce certain moods.

Color and Atmosphere

Color can also establish the atmosphere of a piece. A cool color palette of blues and greens can create a mysterious, dreamlike environment, while a warm palette of reds and oranges can suggest a fiery, intense scene. Experiment with different color combinations to create the atmosphere you desire.

Implementing Color Techniques

  • Color Contrast: Use colors that are opposite on the color wheel to create strong visual contrast in your surrealistic compositions.
  • Color Harmony: Choose colors that are next to each other on the color wheel for a harmonious, pleasing look.
  • Color Symbolism: Use the symbolic meanings of colors to add depth to your artwork. For example, black can symbolize mystery, while white can represent purity.

Color in Surrealism: A Case Study

Consider the works of Frida Kahlo, a celebrated surrealist painter. Kahlo's "The Two Fridas" is a stirring example of how color can be used to create mood and atmosphere. She uses a stark white color for the dresses of the two figures, symbolizing vulnerability, and a bright red for the heart and blood vessels, representing pain and passion. This strategic use of color enhances the emotional impact of the painting.

So, as you continue your exploration of surrealism, remember to wield color like a wizard's wand. By thoughtfully choosing and applying colors, you can create a mood, set an atmosphere, and dramatically enhance the surreal effect of your compositions.

Employ juxtaposition for visual interest

Another great way to improve composition in surrealism is to employ juxtaposition. Juxtaposition in art involves putting two or more contrasting elements side by side. The more disparate the elements, the more striking the effect. It's like placing an elephant next to a teacup — the contrast catches the eye and stimulates interest.

Understanding Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition in surrealism can involve contrasting colors, textures, shapes, sizes, or concepts. The aim is to challenge the viewer's perceptions and encourage them to see things in a new light. When used effectively, juxtaposition can create a sense of surprise, irony, or deep meaning in a composition.

Using Juxtaposition in Surrealism

  • Size Juxtaposition: Playing with scale is a common form of juxtaposition in surrealism. You can create a compelling composition by placing a small object next to a large one, or vice versa.
  • Conceptual Juxtaposition: In surrealism, you can juxtapose opposing concepts, such as life and death, or nature and industry. This can provoke thought and spark interesting discussions about your artwork.
  • Texture Juxtaposition: Placing smooth and rough textures side by side in your composition can create an appealing visual contrast.

Juxtaposition in Surrealism: A Case Study

Take, for instance, the iconic painting "The Son of Man" by the surrealist artist René Magritte. In this piece, the artist juxtaposes a natural element (the apple) with a human figure. This unusual combination creates a visual interest and sparks curiosity about the hidden face of the man.

As you experiment with juxtaposition in your surreal compositions, remember it's all about creating contrasts that capture attention and provoke thought. The more you play with juxtaposition, the more you'll discover its power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Incorporate dream-like imagery

When pondering on how to improve composition in surrealism, incorporating dream-like imagery is a fantastic approach. Surrealism, in its essence, is all about exploring the strange and the subconscious. And what better way to dive into this realm than by drawing inspiration from our dreams?

The Power of Dreams in Surrealism

Dreams are a treasure trove of bizarre and captivating imagery. They blend reality with fantasy, logic with absurdity. Thus, they serve as the perfect muse for surreal artists. By tapping into your dream world, you can create compositions that feel both familiar and otherworldly, sparking intrigue and fascination in your viewers.

How to Use Dream-like Imagery

  • Record Your Dreams: Keep a dream journal beside your bed. As soon as you wake up, jot down your dreams. These entries can serve as the starting point for your surreal compositions.
  • Combine Real and Imaginary: Dreams often involve real-world elements behaving in impossible ways. Capture this aspect in your artwork by merging the real with the imaginary.
  • Embrace the Bizarre: Dreams are naturally surreal, full of odd juxtapositions, distortions, and transformations. Don't shy away from these elements. Instead, embrace them to enhance the surreal quality of your compositions.

Dream-like Imagery in Surrealism: A Case Study

Consider Salvador Dali's painting "The Persistence of Memory," famous for its melting clocks. Dali claimed the idea came from a dream he had about camembert cheese melting in the sun. The bizarre image stuck with him, and he incorporated it into his artwork, resulting in one of the most iconic surreal paintings of all time.

So, why not let your dreams guide your brush (or pen, or pencil)? Drawing on dream-like imagery can add depth and intrigue to your surreal compositions, making them stand out and truly resonate with viewers.

Utilize symmetry and patterns for visual impact

Another key technique to improve composition in surrealism is the utilization of symmetry and patterns. Symmetry creates harmony, balance, and can often lead to a sense of calm, whereas patterns can create rhythm and movement in your artwork. Together, they can make your surreal compositions even more compelling.

The Role of Symmetry and Patterns in Surrealism

Symmetry and patterns, while often associated with order and predictability, can be used to create surprising, impactful effects in surrealism. They can bring a sense of structure to the chaos, a sense of familiarity within the unfamiliar—making the surreal feel strangely real.

How to Apply Symmetry and Patterns

  1. Balance Your Composition: Symmetry doesn't mean everything has to be identical. Instead, it's about achieving a sense of balance. You can do this by mirroring shapes or colors, or by balancing different elements against each other.
  2. Create a Rhythm: Repeating patterns can establish a rhythm that guides the viewer's eye through the composition. It can be as subtle as a repeated color or shape, or as bold as a recurring motif.

Symmetry and Patterns in Surrealism: A Case Study

An excellent example of symmetry in surrealism is René Magritte's "The Son of Man". Despite the surreal elements—the floating apple, the cloudy sky reflected in the man's face—the image is strikingly symmetrical. This symmetry grounds the composition, making the surreal elements even more jarring.

When it comes to patterns, think about M.C. Escher's works. His intricate, repeating patterns create a mesmerizing rhythm, drawing the viewer into impossible, surreal worlds.

Remember, symmetry and patterns are powerful tools in your surreal composition toolbox. By using them creatively, you can make your surreal compositions more striking and impactful, enhancing your viewer's experience.

If you enjoyed learning about improving composition in surrealism, you'll definitely want to check out the workshop 'Tips To Compose More Compelling Photos' by Austin James Jackson. This workshop is an excellent resource for those looking to strengthen their photography skills and create more impactful images, regardless of the genre. Don't miss out on this opportunity to learn from a pro and elevate your work!