Focal Area or Center of Interest in a Painting: Composition

by Neadeen Masters on November 24, 2012

What is this focal area all about?
When it comes to composition in art, there is no difference between a Focal Point and a Focal Area, or the ‘Center of Interest’. This pretty much refers to the same place in a composition. It is not mandatory in order to have a successful painting however most artists will agree there should be one area of a painting that is outstanding, relative to the rest.  This area is the ‘Focal Area’ or also described as the ‘Center of Interest Area’.  The Focal Area acts as a guide to pull the viewer into a painting.  In conjunction with using proper values, light, color and temperature, as well as contrast, interest and drama if possible, each element will lead you from the focal area through the rest of the painting.  It’s all about telling the story of the painting and suggesting who the main character of the story is.

George Inness: Focal Area: Composition in Art

Look for the focal area that first gets your attention. What do you think it is?

Where is this focal area located? The artist establishes an area in a composition where the viewer’s eye will be first drawn into because of interest, vibrant color, contrasting values and differences, textures, etc. In the photograph above, the artist George Inness used the golden tree and the sunlit area behind and around it to attract and hold the attention from everything else in the painting.

How do I Start to decide where the focal area should be? Not all areas of a design are best for the Focal Area.  As a general rule of thumb the placement of the ‘Focal Area’ should be developed not generally in the center of the composition, but off to one side or another.  We can apply the ‘Rule of Thirds’ to almost any composition.

How do I find this area? The Rule of Thirds is a geometric method used to help find the most interesting area of the composition. Let’s try this using a sheet of paper as illustrated below.  Divide the paper into thirds vertically and horizontally) into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Open paper and place a dot at each intersection (see diagram).  One of the four intersections would be the better position for a ‘Focal Area’.

Now 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, differences such as short versus tall, small versus big, round  versus square, smooth versus rough, etc.


Once you find the focal area, how do you lead away from the ‘Focal Area’? Try dividing the painting into three areas.  The Focal Area #1 area, #2 area, and #3 area.  The Focal Area #1 has the most of everything, the #2 area lessons slightly in the amount of interest, and the #3 area lessons slightly in interest from the #2.

Nothing In a Painting Stands Alone: To learn how to put it all together, we can learn about the ‘formal’ elements of art and the principles of design. Some of the other concepts that will help you understand this, are color Temperature, Value and Intensity and Contrast. Nothing stands alone, it all needs to work together to be harmonious.

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