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How to Set Up a Portrait Composition in Corel Draw – Tutorial

December 30, 2009

It’s always important to determine your composition before starting a drawing, and sometimes it can be useful to do this with the computer. Using photo editing software allows you to combine various images, see what the finished product will look like, and best of all, to make changes easily. I use Corel Draw to create all of my compositions. It’s a very intuitive, easy to use program, but it’s also quite powerful.

Creating compositions this way can provide you with a reference to draw from, and it can also be something that you send to a client before starting a commission. I’ve used Corel Draw to bring figures closer together than they were in the original photograph, to combine the body from one photo with the head from another, and to find the best way to arrange multiple subjects.

This tutorial is meant to teach you how to use Corel Draw to manipulate your photos and create a composition. I’m using a single subject, but you can do this with as many figures as you need to.



 Bring your photo reference into Corel Draw. You can do this by clicking file-open, file-import, or you can just click and drag your photo into the program.




 Click on the shapes tool, circled in red. This tool allows you to crop your image by changing the outline. After clicking on the shapes tool, click on your photo. You will see the black boxes in each corner change to smaller white boxes outlined in black. 




With the mouse, hover over one of these “nodes.” You’ll notice that it gets a little bit bigger. Click and hold as you draw in towards the photo. Here I’ve cropped the upper right corner. We can get an even closer crop by adding nodes. To do this, simply double click anywhere on the outer edge of your photo. A node will appear and you can drag it inwards.




You can get really fussy with this if you want, adding nodes to get a smooth outline, but there’s no real need. Just get the basic outline of your figure.




Now we want to create our frame. Click anywhere on the background or white space and you will see this menu appear. It allows you to change the units of measurement. Depending on what size you want your finished drawing, choose the appropriate units. I like to work in inches.




Notice the rules along the top and left edges of your workspace. Put your mouse on top of one of these rulers, click and drag into your document. You have just created a guide. These guides can be moved and deleted just like any other element of your page, but when you line them up with the ruler, they are great for measuring. Here I’ve used guides to create a 5″ x 7″ frame, the size that I want my drawing to be.




Now you can scale up your image to fill the frame. Click and draw one of the corner boxes to make your image bigger or smaller. This is where you can play around to find the best composition or arrangement. The great thing about this is that you can actually see what your finished drawing will look like.




If part of your image happens to go outside of your guides, just use the shapes tool again to crop off that part.




Now that you have your basic composition, you may want to consider a background. Use the rectangle tool to draw a rectangle the dimensions of your frame. Then, on your keyboard, hit ctrl-page down. This layers the rectangle underneath your image.




On the right hand side, click the object properties tab. Here is where you can change the properties of your rectangle. Use the gradient fill to simulate shading and play around to see what looks best.




Once you’ve picked a background, it’s time to save your picture. It’s a good idea to save a Corel file in case you need to make change, but you will also want to export a jpg. To do this, simply click file-export, choose jpeg as your file format and click “export.” At this point, you could also add grid lines if you chose.




Here is the final image. I’ve taken it into a simple photo editing program and decreased the saturation to make it grayscale. This can now be used as your reference, or sent to a client to approve the composition!

sample portrait composition


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