Understanding the 3 rules of composition

By Nicole Tinkham

Understanding the 3 rules of composition

Composition in a piece of artwork is incredibly important. It’s what catches the viewer’s eye and draws them in. Composition tells a story. It’s as if the viewer is reading a book. You must consider where you want them to start and what you want to leave them with in the end. It brings everything together in one cohesive piece. To achieve successful composition, you must include three things: A focal point, structure, and balance. In this blog we’ll go over all three and show you how you can use it in your next piece.
#1 Focal point

What is the viewer automatically drawn to? What do you want them to notice first? What is one CLEAR element in your piece? These things would describe your focal point. If there isn’t a clear focal point, it’s often difficult for the viewer to understand the piece and the artwork can get boring. We know you don’t want that! Keep it to just one focal point though. Too many, and the piece can become distracting. So how do you distinguish a clear focal point?

•    Camera focus or more details in a drawing or painting
•    High contrast
•    Motion
•    Saturation
•    Framing

Note: While you want to draw the eye to the main focal point, you don’t want to ignore the rest of the piece. You must have BALANCE in your work to make in interesting. We’ll get more into that later

#2 Structure

Having your focal point in the ideal placement can draw the eye to that area. This is a way for you to direct the viewer on where to start in your piece. There are many ways to structure your artwork but let’s start with one you may be familiar with, the rule of thirds.

The Rule of Thirds
Basically, you’ll want to divide your piece into thirds. This can be done in your head or you can lightly draw in guidelines with your pencil. Your focal point should land on the intersecting lines. This will prevent you from automatically placing your focal point in the center, which most of the time we tend to do.


The Golden Ratio
We don’t want to bore you with the mathematical equation on the Golden Ratio so we’ll be brief with this one. If you check out the image below, you’ll notice that your focal point will be situated in the tiny part of the spiral. Your eye will start there in the center and work its way outward. This will create a pleasing flow in your artwork.


Symmetry works really well with architecture either horizontally or vertically. We mentioned earlier that your focal point shouldn’t be in the center of your piece but when it comes to architecture, it works well.

#3 Balance

So you’ve put a lot of time and thought into your focal point and you have it nailed down. That’s great! But one thing to keep in mind is the rest of your piece. You don’t want to neglect the background. A great way to check to make sure your piece is visually balanced is to squint your eyes when looking at the piece. Which elements pop out to you? While you’ll have your clear focal point, there should be other areas of interest in the piece as well.

Many times we can think of art as “just winging it”. We get a burst of creativity, an instant idea, or a creative spark and we go after it without much thought. That’s fine! But before you put pencil or brush to paper, quickly think over the composition. What’s the best structure for your piece? How will you create balance? Have these things in mind before you begin the piece so you’re not trying to adjust it later.
Composition can be a tough concept to wrap your mind around but we hope the tips in this blog have helped! Do you have something in particular you’re currently struggling with? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to provide a solution in a future blog post!

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