Focal Area: How To Choose One?

by Neadeen Masters on November 23, 2012

How to determine which area could be the most interesting focal area?

There are numerous ways to determine which area of the painting could be the most interesting for a focal area.  The number one way that comes to mind  is the area with the greatest contrasts.  We all know that too much of the same thing is boring, the eye will get tired and lose interest quickly.  To determine which area would be the most interesting we can follow these guidelines:

Looking for a ‘focal area’ in a composition – Where is best?

The greatest contrasts create the greatest Focal Area

For Example: Look for these textures, shapes, edges, color temperature, etc…and make a note of thich area of the composition might offer these to you. If you are working from a setup, you might want to keep these guidelines in mind as you position each of the elements to create your still life composition. These elements will also help you select interesting objects for the still life arrangement. This will help avoid choosing objects that all share the same properties and characteristics.

  • Smooth versus Rough – texture
  • Tall – Short – shape and form
  • Dark – Light – value
  • Cool – Warm – color temperature
  • Linear – Round – shape and form
  • Compliment – Compliment – color relationship
  • Neutral – Intense – color relationship
  • Soft Edge – Hard Edge – edges – Depth and dimension
  • Busy – Quiet – interest and details
  • Bright – Dull – Color Intensity,  chroma or saturation

These are just some of the concepts artists will consider before they decide on the actual ‘focal area’ or ‘center of interest’. Look closely at the photographs of the composition of the kitchen still life featured in this blog post. Based on the rule of thirds (also discussed in the previous blog post) Where do you think the main center of interest area could be? Take note of the details in the image below and use the list of properties to help you make your selection.

Focal Area – Could it be Lower left?

 Applying the ‘Rule of Thirds’ to find your Focal Area

Remember the Focal Area usually falls in one of the four intersecting areas as shown in the diagram below. Study the chart carefully to see where this might be in your composition. This design rule applies to most genres of paintings. Landscape, Floral Still Life, Still Life, can usually follow the same ideas. In the example above, the lower left side of the composition holds quite a lot of contrasts as there is texture, color, different shapes, etc. Do you agree?

Use the composition drawn onto the size of paper that fits your surface size.After the intersections are established, study each of the four areas to see which one has the most potential for colorful choices, interest and differences.Such as short versus tall, small versus big, round versus square, smooth versus rough, etc.


'Rule of Thirds' - Grid

‘Rule of Thirds’ – Grid

Can you see the focal area falling under the intersecting lines of the grid in the lower left quadrant of the photograph? This is referred to as applying the ‘Rule of Thirds’. Each section of the grid divides the composition into thirds. Always look for areas that offer the most interesting details or an area that is in close proximity to any one of the four areas of the intersecting lines of the grid.

As you learn more about painting and composition in general, there are specific design principles that become very helpful. This is only one of them. Understanding how the principles of art all work together to create outstanding paintings is all part of the artistic journey. The greatest investment you can make in your own art journey is to know what these elements of art are.

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