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8 Ways to Create a Focal Point in Your Painting
During my years of experience I’ve noticed that many artists tend to ask what my focal point will be before I demonstrate a painting. Fortunately there’s a universal answer to this. For there to be a focal point, there needs to be a peripheral area that’s not that much in focus. If everything is in focus, then the focal area becomes weakened.
What is the focal point in art, therefore?
The focal area is considered the predominant place where the eye enjoys seeing:
- The most value contrast (dark against light)
- Color contrast (chroma versus grayness, red against gray)
- Hard edges (agrees with the fovea of the eye)
- Detail (complexity of shape)
- Warm colors (yellows and reds attract the eye)
- People, animals and vehicles, which become strong focal points even if they’re small
- Anything that is peripheral and is not included in the focal point will consist of low value contrasts, low color contrasts, soft edges, simplicity in shape or the lack of detail and, when applicable, the colors will be less saturated. This should be even more taken into account near the edges of the painting, which I refer to as the “peripheral area.”
The focal point isn’t just wherever the eye chooses to see. In paintings, we don’t want the eye to just choose to see what it wants to look for. On the contrary, it’s the painter’s responsibility to direct the eye, to orchestrate its movement within the painting through the usage of linear paths. After the artist has manipulated the viewer, they reward them using some or all of the these elements mentioned.
Most artists will agree that there are four options to place focal areas in a painting: top right, top left, bottom right and bottom left. Which is the best? The rule of thumb (and there are always exceptions) is that the top right area gets 5 stars because we read left to right and our eye will linger longest there.
Focal Point Demo
A focal point should not be overstated; neither should the viewer make a wild guess to determine it. Below on the left is an example of a painting with a strong focal point. Too strong? Possibly. We must be careful with focal points. We can overstate a focal point and the eye does not feel compelled to move around to explore.
In the modified version on the right we have a more subtle focal point and the eye does not feel glued to the orange evergreen tree. This reduction in intensity allows the viewer’s eye to wander and more thoroughly observe all the details of the rest of the painting.
More Painting Strategies to Discover
Join me at my next Paint Along workshop where we will delve into even more painting techniques and tips for stronger, more powerful paintings. Paint Along 46: Visual Music, the Key to Great Paintings is the perfect setting for learning artists to absorb more teachings about what goes into memorable paintings, from focal points (of course!) and beyond! And you can always catch up with me on my website as well.