Composition: A Definition

According to Wikipedia, the word composition means putting together. Composition in a work of art or craft refers to the arrangement of design elements to create an image – a picture. The way the image is put together, the composition, is different from the subject of the work. The subject is what the work is about. The composition is how the work is put together. Sometimes the word design is used instead of composition.

An image might be made ups of shapes, lines and colour, but it’s the way each person puts those elements together that makes the work unique. Every individual artist or craft maker adds their own skills, techniques, imagination and feelings to their work. The colours, shapes and images we choose are influenced by our experiences and traditions. Another person looking at the work, the viewer, will interpret the picture based on their experiences and traditions. A particular shade of blue might have a religious meaning to one person, represent the colour of the sky to another, and be the colour of a flag to a third.

Subject Matter

Artists distinguish between image and subject. The image is the complete work. The subject is what the work is about. For example, hills and trees might be the subject matter of a landscape painting. A memory of your mother hanging clothes on the line might be the subject matter for a hooked rug.

Pictures tell a story. What story does your work tell? Is it a traditional pattern that tells someone who sees it about who you are and where you come from? Is it a design that is specific to you or traditional to your community? Is it drawn from your imagination – or from what you see in your environment?

Visual Language

The way we read pictures is similar to the way we read books. Design elements are like the words and the way we put them together, design principles, are like sentences and paragraphs that tell a story. Cultural traditions affect the way we read and understand pictures. For example, in the western world we read books from left to right, top to bottom. We also tend to look at pictures from top left to bottom right. If you look at a comic book, you know to look at the pictures from top left to bottom right. In Japan, where words are read from right to left, the pictures in a comic book start at the top right and end at the bottom left.Learning about the elements and principals of design can help us to understand how our choices affect our artwork, our crafts and the photographs we take.


Our choices for design and composition can be influenced by the world around us, by our culture and traditions, and by the feelings, memories and imagination within us. Where can you find inspiration?

  • Something you see.
  • Something you feel. Images can evoke a feeling, or give a sense of time and place, even a memory.
  • The natural world or an abstract image? An image can be abstract and still be inspired by what you see and feel.
  • A pattern – repeating a line or shape.
  • Something inspired by your collection of photos, objects, sketches, ideas.
  • Traditional patterns that you, your family, or your community have used. Patterns can be used in other ways to create new designs.
  • Iconic shapes and images. Often in Labrador we use the shape of traditional objects or northern natural elements to create an image that represents Labrador. The twig on the Labrador flag is an iconic image that represents the people of Labrador.
  • Materials and techniques used to create the work are also part of the composition and affect how the work looks and feels. The materials also affect the design decisions you make.

In this module we will talk about separate design elements and design principles that we use in composition and we will see how several Labrador artists and craft makers approach composition in their work – where they get their inspiration, and what process they use.

Composition – A Design Learning Module

Chapter 1: Elements of Design

This workshop is about creating effective displays in a retail setting or for a craft fair. In this chapter, we will look at basic design elements and how they apply to creating displays.

There are elements of design we can use to help us focus the buyer’s attention on our products. We can use them to focus attention to specific displays or specific areas of a retail shop. We can also use them to bring elements together to make a pleasing arrangement of products in a display.

These design elements include: Colour, Contrast, Repetition, Harmony, Emphasis and Balance.

This workshop is about creating effective displays in a retail setting or for a craft fair. In this chapter, we will look at basic design elements and how they apply to creating displays.

There are elements of design we can use to help us focus the buyer’s attention on our products. We can use them to focus attention to specific displays or specific areas of a retail shop. We can also use them to bring elements together to make a pleasing arrangement of products in a display.

These design elements include: Colour, Contrast, Repetition, Harmony, Emphasis and Balance.


Elements of design are the parts that make up the whole. We don’t always think about the parts when we are creating a picture or a design, we usually rely on our intuition to tell us if the parts look right. Here are some of the elements that we are working with when our intuition is telling us what looks good in our work.


The shape of your work is the frame, the area you are working within. It could be a rectangle or circle, or any other shape. The outer shape affects how you arrange the visual elements within it, and it is a visual element itself.


Lines form a visual path. Lines can help create movement that the viewer can follow through the composition. Horizontal lines can give a feeling of calm, like calm water. Vertical lines can give a sense of height. Diagonal lines can give a feeling of tension. Lines can be created by the edges of shapes. Lines can be used to create texture.


A shape is an area defined by edges. In some types of work, like quilting and applique, the work is all about shapes and how they work together.


Often when we are planning our work, we concentrate on the shapes we are making and forget about the space around them. The shapes we make, the objects in our design take up positive space; the space around those shapes or objects is negative space. Negative space makes a shape of its own and can affect the balance of your composition.

Negative space can be used to create movement in a composition. If the spaces between objects are all the same, the design is static; if the spaces are different, the viewer’s eye moves around and through the composition creating movement.


Textures can come from the materials and embellishment in your work, or the look of textures can be created in the drawing, painting or photos you use in your work. Using different textures can add contrast and emphasize specific elements in the overall design. Texture can also give more information about a shape.

Value: Light and Dark

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of colours. White is the lightest value and black is the darkest. The value halfway between is called middle grey. Using different values, different degrees of light and dark, you can create contrast, or create shading to show forms and indicate if an object is near or far. Objects that are further away are lighter in value and have less contrast. Objects that are closer show more contrast – the darks are darker and the lights are lighter.


Depth refers to how near or far objects seem in a picture – the foreground, background, and middle ground. Depth can also refer to how three dimensional something appears.

Focal Point

The focal point is most interesting part of the composition, the place where you want the viewer to look the longest. The design elements you use can guide the viewer’s gaze through the work to the focal point.


Colours have different effects depending on how they are used in a composition. Some colours seem different next to certain other colours. Red, for example, seems brighter when placed beside its opposite, green. Colour can be used to create emotion, to give a certain feeling to what you are making. It can also be used to recreate the natural world or to give life to something from your imagination. Colour can even be used to create a sense of time and place. Vintage colours for an old fashioned quilt can create a sense of nostalgia or bring up old memories. Colour symbolism can be different in different cultures. Different viewers might have different interpretations of a colour depending on their traditions.

A colour scheme, or a colour palette is a group of colours that you choose to work with in your design. Often we make choices about colour based on our instincts or on traditions and trends. Each work that you make has its own colour palette. You might find that you have a colour palette that is personal to you that you use often in your work. There are also types of colour schemes based on colour theory. Three common types of colour schemes are monochromatic, analogous, and complementary.

Using similar colours, using contrasting colours, creating patterns with colour – there are as many ways to use colour as there are colours in the world. Understanding colour is important, so we have created a separate page all about Working with Colour that will help you understand how colour can be used in creating a composition.

Chapter 2: Putting Things Together

Photos on this page by Jamie Pye, for the Coastal Heritage Collection.

A work of art or craft is made up of design elements, like colour, shape and line. The way we arrange them into a picture in our work depends on our experience, traditions and inspiration. There are also some common design principles that we might be using when we make our decisions about composition. Identifying the decisions we make can help us understand how the design elements work together.

Proportion and Placement

The size and placement of design elements affects how they relate to each other. For example, the size of an object can indicate if it is near or far. Where we place objects in our design can also show the viewer if it is near or far. Larger objects at the bottom of the picture seem closer, smaller objects in the middle or near the top seem further away. We can also use size and placement to create emphasis.


We often crop photographs to focus on the area of interest, or to make the picture more balanced. When we chose a specific area within our view to use for the picture, we are cropping the image – even if it’s only in our imagination at the time. We are making important decisions about what we will use, and what we will leave behind.


Movement is created by the path followed by the viewer’s eye when they observe an image. We can use design elements to take the viewer from point to point through our composition. Lines, pattern and emphasis can all be used to guide the viewer from one part of a composition to another.


You can create contrast by placing opposite elements next to each other. The colours black and white create the greatest degree of contrast. Complementary colours also contrast with one another. Contrast can be used to create visual interest and to direct the viewer’s attention to a particular point, the focal point of a design. You can also create contrast with texture (rough and smooth) or shape (large and small, or simple and complex).


Repetition not only attracts the eye, it also creates a sense of order in a design. It can be used to create rhythm, gently guiding the viewer through the space, or through the items in a design. By repeating design elements we can create patterns. Pattern is often used to form a border.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds tells us that if we arrange the important elements of a picture near the lines that would divide the picture into thirds, it seems more natural and is visually pleasing. This is a design principle that is often used in photography.

In the photographs of the lighthouse below, imaginary lines have been drawn to divide the photo into thirds horizontally and vertically.

  • In the first photo, we can see that the lighthouse is two thirds of the way over from left to right, and the line where the land meets the water is one third of the way up.
  • In the second photo, the lighthouse is one third of the way over and the horizon line is one third of the way up.

Sometimes you want to create a symmetrical design where both sides are the same, or a design that is the same all the way around.

  • In the third photo we can see that the window is right in the middle, dividing the picture in two and creating a symmetrical composition.

Unless you want to create a symmetrical composition, the important elements of a design should be off-centre, and can be balanced by smaller elements. If there is a horizon line, it should be positioned above or below the centre to emphasize either the sky or ground.

Odd and Even

Having an odd number of elements in an image tends to be more interesting than an even number. An even number of elements can be used to create formal symmetry – in a patchwork quilt, for example. But formal symmetry can appear less natural, so an odd number of elements can be used if your intent is to have a more natural look – in a landscape quilt, for example.


Compositions with a lot of elements can create distractions and make it difficult to identify the subject of the picture or design. Simplification can be used to help the viewer focus on the important elements.


We make choices about the viewpoint when we are putting our composition together. For example, you might decide to take a photograph from a certain angle. When someone views that photograph, their feet are in the same place that yours were when you took it. They see what you saw. We can use viewpoint to bring ourselves and the viewer to a certain place – in the middle of the action, viewing from the sidelines, or seeing into our imagination.

Unity and Variety

Unity is created by similar elements within a composition that give a sense of harmony. It could be a similar theme, colour scheme, or material, or the items could be grouped by similar use. Variety is created by the use of contrasting elements and can add interest or emphasis to a composition.


When we are making a work of art or craft we are constantly making decisions about line, shape, colour, texture and so on, and what it all means when it is put together. The meaning of a coloured form is determined by its position, colour, and shape and by the interaction between it and other parts of the composition. The meaning is determined by the viewer, the interpretations the viewer makes.


Different design elements carry different visual weight, or impact. Something that attracts the eye and makes it rest there longer (colour, shape, texture, contrast) is said to have more visual weight. Balance refers to the equal distribution of visual weight in a composition.

When something is balanced it gives a sense of order. When something is unbalanced it can make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Balance is an important principle in design and understanding it can help us to make decisions that affect how our work feels to a viewer.

When you have a complicated design with many elements it can become difficult to identify how individual elements create balance. That is when your artistic intuition takes over. You sense that it works or doesn’t work.

There are different types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial.

Symmetrical Balance is created when two sides of a design are the same, a mirror image of each other. Symmetrical balance is formal and very stable. It uses repetition to create visual interest.

Asymmetrical Balance is created when the two sides of a design are different, but the visual impact, or level of interest, is the same on each side. For example, one side of a design might have a large image and the other side a group of small images. The group of small images can carry the same level of visual interest as the large image on the other side. Asymmetrical balance is useful in design because it keeps the viewer’s eye moving and can create drama.

Radial Balance is created when there is a focal point in the centre and items of equal interest are placed around it, like the numbers on the face of a clock. In your crafts you might use radial balance in beadwork to create a flower or snowflake design on a slipper.

How Design Elements Affect Balance

  • Size: Larger shapes or objects have more visual weight, or visual interest.
  • Position: the further a shape is from the centre of a design, the more visual weight it has, so that a small shape on the outer edge can balance a large shape at the centre.
  • Quantity: A group of small shapes carries more weight, or has more visual interest and can be used to balance a large shape.
  • Meaning: Meaning adds visual weight in a composition. A photo of a face has more visual weight than a shape the same size and colour with random texture or pattern.
  • Space: Negative space is the shape created around an object by the background. When we have a single shape, or a simple group, another shape is created by the negative space in the background. The shape of the negative space can be used to create contrast and balance. A small shape in the middle of a design can seem uncomfortable because the negative space overwhelms it. Too little negative space can affect a design too. Sometimes if a design is too close to the edges of the work it can feel uncomfortable because the eye has nowhere to rest.
  • Isolation: A shape on its own has more visual interest.
  • Diagonals: Diagonal lines or a diagonal arrangement of shapes pull the viewer’s eye through the design. They can be used to create drama. Horizontal and vertical lines create a feeling of stability and generally have less visual impact than diagonals.
  • Colour and Value: Brighter colours have more visual weight than lighter colours. Dark shapes or images have more visual weight than lighter ones.
  • Shape: A complex shape has more visual interest than a simple shape. A small complex image or shape can balance a large simple image or shape.
  • Texture: A shape with heavy texture has more visual interest than one with no texture. Textures can be used to create contrast within the design.

What do you do when it doesn’t work?

There are a few things you can try – turning your work upside down or looking at it in a mirror to get a fresh view. Sometimes taking a photo helps. Suddenly you see your work as a whole picture, not as the ideas, brushstrokes or stitches you have put into the work. Now you can analyse what works and doesn’t work with a fresh eye.

Exercise: Experimenting with Design Principles

Experimenting helps you to identify the design elements that do and don’t work for you. With this exercise, you can move design elements around, change out backgrounds and colours and pause to see how each design works. Try taking photos of the compositions you make. You can then analyse the photos to see what is making each composition work or not.

Our exercise is available here in PDF format:
Exercise Experimenting with Design Principles

Chapter 3: Different Approaches

Photos on this page by Jamie Pye, for the Coastal Heritage Collection.

Different Craftmakers, Different Approaches

We have interviewed several Labrador artists and craft makers about how they approach composition. Some are inspired by everyday life, others by traditions and others by storytelling. See if their stories inspire you.

Shirley Moorhouse

Shirley Moorhouse is a heritage crafts artisan, fabric artist, painter and printmaker. She hand sews her wallhangings on a background of black stroud and incorporates found objects. Shirley’s inspiration comes from within, from her cultural traditions, and from the world around her.

Shirley tells us about her inspiration and her process

“When thinking of creating any work, be it a hand beaded, hand sewn wallhanging, a painting, a garden, or a bouquet of cut flowers I first give a mindful intent and prayer of thankfulness, peace, wholeness, and healing. I ask that my work help in my spiritual growth as well as the viewers. Next is intent. I ask, “What is it I want to convey from the deep within; that will sometimes strike a chord of knowing to the viewer? How can one portray the ethereal, the spiritual, the knowledge hidden deep within us? I found through patience, experimentation of material, form, and colour has helped me achieve the desired effect. Yet, still I seek.“

Inspiration is all around us. The air we breathe, the mountains and seas we have, our knowledge. Our love. Our beliefs. Our dreams.

“Sometimes the wallhanging or painting is waiting in my consciousness. Sometimes when inspiration seems unattainable I sew a random design, paint with no aim in mind and inspiration comes with intent. Going for a walk, working in the garden, making a bread; any physical activity engages and clears the mind and works the muscles. This in turn clears the channels which allows inspiration to flow.

“I sew my wallhangings on a background of black stroud. Black is the depths of a clear night, the depths of space and consciousness.

“It is a place of exploration on which I can sew my palette of emotions and beliefs. I start my paintings on an off white canvas tinged with blue. Painting, to me has an immediacy of action and thoughts. Wallhangings, with the time, effort, material and intent invested, tend for a more serious or introspective discussion.

Does she have any suggestions for checking a composition to see if it is working?

“When to know you are done and it is complete, take a step away from your work and look at it through fresh eyes. It will either have a feeling of this needs to be done/undone. This feels right and this doesn’t. When it feels whole, balanced, complete and has an identity of its own, you will feel a sense of joy and rightness. Your intent has come through as a natural beauty and its own light.”

Carol Best

Carol Best makes wall hangings using quilting or trapunto. She sometimes embellishes her work with embroidery and beading. Trapunto uses padding on the underside to make a raised surface on the quilt.

What is Carol’s inspiration for her compositions?

“I want to exhibit joy – the pieces that feel joyous are the ones I love the best. I try to make each one unique even if they are duplicates in design. I always use different fabrics or colours of fabrics, different border fabrics, widths, even different stitching on the borders. I would get bored doing the same thing over and over. Sometimes I use bright colours for the entire piece, and sometimes the piece is made with more subtle muted colours. Just depends on my mood or inspiration from the fabric.

“I have a huge stockpile of fabric. It is my vice. I always buy fabric when I travel. 1/2 meter goes along way!“

I almost always have some yellow in my finished work – sometimes a touch of yellow, sometimes one of the borders. I just love yellow and nothing seems finished until I add yellow.

“I get my inspiration from photos – Them Days, websites, sometimes I just google words like drum dancer or Inuit and look at the images that come up. I usually extract one or two figures out of a group photo and use those as the models. I have done some work with the computer and LCD projector where I trace out the silhouette. I try to capture movement to capture the joy – standing with a harpoon very still but ready to thrust it into the ice, holding a drum overhead and ready to strike it, leaping into the air. I distort the image – chop it into pieces with negative space between each part or stretch it to exaggerate. Faces are usually stylized, with just stitching or lines for eyes – or no faces.“

I have a binder full of photos for ideas for the future. I would like to do a silhouette of “Giant” with his group walking behind, pulling sleds, with a point of land – spruce trees – jutting up out of the ice.”

What is Carol’s process?

“I watch YouTube videos to get ideas for new techniques. Whenever I travel, I look in craft shops and art exhibits to get inspiration.“

I use Wonder Under [a soft iron-on interfacing] on the fabrics, draw and cut the shapes, then place them freehand on the background fabric and iron them on. I use a fine close zigzag stitch to secure, and do freehand scrolls and random lines for the background. That gives a lot of movement, like wind and clouds almost. Sometimes I embellish with beads or French knots embroidery just to get an added dimension. Usually it is just machine stitching. I am experimenting with thread painting now, and I also have fabric markers now so that I can try highlighting areas of fabric before I thread paint to give more depth. Up to now, most of my work has been very simplistic and flat – I want more depth.

“I have done a few botanicals – very stylized and only from my imagination. I like crackerberry plants the best as the leaves have lots of lines and colour variations, as do the flowers. I like combining many different fabrics with similar tones and variations of patterns in the leaves.”

“I have also done some wall hangings of faces in trapunto with watercolour accents. I use Duck canvas or unbleached cotton back ground with a thin layer of cotton batting and plain broadcloth on the back. I draw the picture to be stitched on the broadcloth and stitch on that side. The opposite side is the finished side. These are usually very muted and tone on tone. It is the stitching that makes the art, not the paint. The stitching holds the paint in areas. I like the lines in the faces of elders – smile lines, forehead creases, deep lines in cheeks and chins. There is so much wisdom (and joy) in these faces. I get the images from Them Days, but I recently took photos of elders at a gathering with their permission to recreate them in stitching. It is all machine stitching.”

What is Carol’s process?

“Design ideas come from inspiration – I observe always, find that inspiration in people/places/things/news stories, and then look for still photos to help me figure out how to portray the inspiration. As for the composition, I try not to rush. I lay it out and look, take a photo, make changes in the layout, take another photo, repeat that a few times. Then I line up the photos to see which composition is best.”

Charlene Rumbolt

Charlene is a visual artist and craft maker. Charlene paints mainly in oils. She finds that the process takes longer than with acrylic paint, but the paint can be manipulated longer and she is able to achieve more depth in her paintings by layering colours. She also enjoys working with Duffel and does hand embroidery.

What is Charlene’s inspiration?

“I find inspiration just in things around me – both things in the present day and in memory.

“How do I pick something? It evokes an emotion in me – something that makes me smile or makes me sad. That dictates my colour palette. Usually, for something that makes me smile or make me happy I use vivid colours, with high colour contrast. Something peaceful or sad, it’s usually more subdued or a limited colour palette.

“I don’t have a favourite colour. I do prefer things that are bold and stand out. I’m not much into pastels.

“I find beauty in many things. Some may view an item and think it’s just ordinary but if you look at it from another angle or focus on just part of it, you can view it differently. I like to hone in on smaller features – a close-up of Labrador Tea, for example. Even with faces I pull in tight on it. I find it gives me an opportunity to do more contrast and have a more detailed image.

“I use photos as reference. I usually take the photos myself but I have used other’s images or searched on line to find something if I don’t have a photo on file. After viewing an image, I’ll say, “I need to paint that”

. I will sketch it first to see if I like it and if it works. Sometimes, I’ll crop it, or use pieces of it, or manipulate it – to get a stronger sense of perspective, for example.“Lately I’ve been doing a lot of paintings on commission. Someone provides me with a photo and I look at it to see if it will make a good painting. I check for things like contrast and clarity and make suggestions if needed.”

How does Charlene begin?

“I usually play with the photo on my iPad first. I blow it up, see what I like, then crop it in. I always rough sketch my paintings on the board first. Then I pick the colours based on the reference photos but I do make changes if I feel another colour would work better. Some paintings come together fast; others take weeks to come together. I spend the most time painting portraits since they are more involved.”

What is her process?

“Thinking about composition, your decisions about design are made when you choose and crop, or manipulate the photo. Sometimes I play with the photo for a while and realize it’s not going to work. Sometimes I will take things from more than one photo to achieve something unique.“Colour decisions are made during painting, influenced by the picture itself, or the need for a higher contrast, and sometimes its mood.“Photos are chosen based on eye. I take lots and lots of photos, but don’t make lots and lots of paintings.“My style – I like high contrast. I did a class in school and I concentrated on perspective, manipulating it to make it interesting. I have carried that through in my painting.”

Does she have any tips for checking a composition to see if it’s working?

“If it works in black and white it works in colour. I look for what pops, and play with contrast – high contrast, low contrast. I also follow the ‘thirds rule’ when doing a landscape. I don’t centre items. When you place the dominant focal point to the side, you achieve a more interesting piece.”

Cynthia Colosimo Robbins

Cynthia Colosimo Robbins is an illustrator and craft maker. Cynthia has illustrated children’s books about local history and legends as well as community history panels.

What is Cynthia’s inspiration?

“My inspiration comes from history and stories, but not my stories. As an illustrator I am usually commissioned to make an illustration for someone else’s story. I often look at a lot of historic photos, maps, paintings or illustrations before I start. I also like to read historical texts about the time and location where the stories take place.”

What is her process?

“I start my compositions with a rough drawing (or sometimes a very rough drawing before that), and I show it to the client and we discuss changes. Then I do a pencil drawing that has the changes, and discuss that with the client. That gives me another chance to make changes and then I do the colour drawing. Once the watercolour paint is added, I can no longer make changes. The paint soaks into the paper and makes it impossible to erase the pencil marks. If the client wants changes after that, I have to make a completely new drawing.

“I like to have a curve or a diagonal in the drawing that brings the viewer’s eye into the composition. I also like to have a foreground where some things, or people, are larger, a middle ground and a background. I like the idea that the person looking at the drawing will first see the things that are near, and that the curve or diagonal will draw their eye in to look at the story that is happening in the middle ground and then the background.

“Often, I’m doing illustrations for a book or a panel and there will have to be an empty space to put text. The drawing can look empty until the text is added. The text becomes a visual element and balances the composition.

“Sometimes I have to make more than one picture work as one composition. In one project, I had to make a set of pictures that looked like you were looking out of three windows onto a cove. Each window had four frames. I had to make 12 pictures that all worked together as one composition.”

Seaview Restaurant Window Illustrations

“My colour choices are usually the natural colours of Labrador and the people and settings I am drawing. Often the colours are based on historical pictures. I’m more comfortable with drawing than painting. I’m not very adventurous with colour. I just use the watercolour paint to colour in my drawings. Sometimes though, the client has a set of colours they want to work with, or there are special considerations for colours. In the samples I’m showing here, the clients had a specific set of colours for me to use.”

Cynthia gives an example of her process

“In 2013 I had an opportunity to do a series of illustrations that would be used by the French Shore Historical Society as patterns for embroidered panels. They use the Bayeux tapestry stitch, a crewel embroidery stitch on linen in fine wool. Each shape has an outline that is a different colour from the fill. I had to draw my illustrations as shapes that could be outlined and filled with two different colours. It was different from my usual type of drawing which starts out very sketchy and has shading. I couldn’t use sketchy lines or shading. I also had to use the colours of the tapestry wool that the embroiderers would be using.“

The story I had to tell in the picture is described in a text panel that goes with the finished embroidery. I started with a very rough drawing. This sketch wasn’t very dramatic, and after discussing it, I changed it a lot for the rough drawing.”

“The story is taking place at a French trading post. Acoutsina, a local Inuit girl who was captured by the French is teaching her language to Madame Courtemanche. An Innu family who are there to trade with the French are camped on the shoreline. French traders are loading their ship. The trading post supplied Quebec City with furs, salmon, cod and seal oil.

“The drawings shows the changes. The composition has formed with the ship as the focal point. The curve created by the line of the ship brings our eye from the wharf, to Acoutsina and Madame Courtemanche, then the continued curve of the shoreline brings us past the trading post to the Innu family at the left.

“Each of the embroidered panels had a border at the bottom. In some it was another scene, in others it was items related to the scene. For this one we wanted to include Labrador animals that were important to local trade. We experimented with them at the bottom and the side and settled on just the bottom. The embroiderers made some final changes to the row of animals. You can see how the border changed from the rough drawing to the finished drawing.”

“The finished colour drawing was a pattern – the hard work hadn’t even begun yet. The finished craft item was an embroidered panel done by the French Shore Historical Society. The exhibit had eight panels, all about the French in Atlantic Canada before and after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The embroiderers were: Ruby Brenton, Anne Byrne, Lucy Byrne, Dorothy Loughery, Joan Simmonds, Daphne Symmonds and Doris Randell. The exhibit is housed at the French Shore Interpretation Centre in Conche.”

Does she have any tips for checking a composition to see if it’s working?

“Look at it in a mirror. We get used to working on a design or a drawing and sometimes it looks okay because we’ve been working on it so long. But if you look at it in a mirror you’ll see it with completely new eyes. It will be much easier to see if there is a big area of empty space that needs filling – or a busy area that needs some empty space. I find I see lines that I thought were straight that look totally out of whack in the mirror.”

Pete Barrett

Pete Barrett is a jewellery maker and textile artist and was formerly a Craft Specialist with the provincial government. She and her husband George operate Experience Labrador Tours and the Mealy Mountains Gallery in Cartwright. Pete makes products for sale in the gallery and at other locations around the province. She is also a craft instructor and offers craft experiences through her business.

Read more… Pete Barrett – Design Inspiration (PDF file).