Remember Your Focal Point when Painting

The term focal point has been popping up all around me lately as I continue on the journey to become a better painter an artist. It’s almost like somebody is trying to tell me something. I know that sometimes I do cram a lot into one of my pieces. Looking back, I think it would be fair to say that this artist could have taken more advantage of using a single focal point at times. I will be doing much better in that department from now on…


What is the Focal Point?

The focal point of a drawing or painting is the essence, or the point you are trying to make. It’s where you hope to attract and interact with the viewer. That “special something” that you are trying to capture, which may or may not have been your inspiration in the first place.

Everything in the painting can be supportive of that focal point. All else is the background, or the supporting cast. The focal point is where you could put the greatest contrast, the hardest edge, that spot of amazing color, that rich bit of texture, an interesting shape, or anything else you can think of to do to make your point.

Think about a spirited conversation you have had with someone and how you tried to convey your point. Sometimes it is a short, quite statement you make that gets your point across. Sometimes you may need a big presentation to state your case. And dammit, sometimes you just have to shout at the top of your lungs to make your point.

The focal point can be subtle or small, it doesn’t have to be bright and bold. It can be like that soft, pure note in your favorite piece of classical music, or it can be like your favorite rock n’ roll guitar riff.

Where Should the Focal Point Be?

While there is no rule book, (and if there was, you should try to break as many rules as you can), a guideline you could use for locating your focal point would be something like the illustration below:

The four dots indicate where a painter might put the focal point in a painting

 Each one of the four dots above can and have been used very successfully by many artists’ for the location of a focal point. If you choose to put your focal point to close to any one edge, the risk is that the viewer may just leave the painting all together. Putting the focal point in dead center could be a little boring, but it could work too. When your thinking about your painting and what and where your focal point might be, remember that you want the viewer’s eye to move around the painting, not just stay in one spot. So keep it interesting all over, but lead the audience back to your focal point.

Can You have more than one Focal Point?

You can do anything you want to do…just as long as it works. Let us say for example that you were painting a horizontal piece, with a crowd of people standing from left to right. You may want to lead the viewer into the painting from the left, and give them small points of interest to allow them to move through your crowd of people all the way to the right. When using more than one focal point, you want to be careful not to let your composition become so busy that what you were trying to say becomes lost.

I am no optometrist, but I did read something awhile back about the human eye. Something to the effect that the human eye can only see one small 3 Dimensional object at a time, and everything around, behind, and beside that focal point is blurry. Maybe it’s quite alright if we make a painting that way too.

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