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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Creating the Perfect Composition; it’s all about Focus

"Reggae Night" acrylic on canvas
In art circles, creating a center of interest, relies on “the big three:” dominance, contrast and repetition. Not surprisingly, viewers will look at a painting in the same way they read a book from left to right. It’s ingrained in our schooling and in the way we were taught. The walls of caves were painted from the left, and printed pages throughout history were printed using this innate formula.

It’s only natural then that people will start their perusal of a painting from the left. The best designs not only have a lead in on the left but from several different vantage points. The secret to a successful composition is moving from one point of entry into the painting and around the entire scene. An interesting painting keeps the eye continually moving. If the eye stops at all, it should be on the “center of interest” or the focus of the entire piece. Movement creates energy and excitement.

"Hey, Coconut Mon" mixed media on canvas (the boy is off-center and many of the background parts are blurred)
Contrast and a few well-chosen highlights will emphasize this focal point and continually draw the viewer’s eye back for the impact it makes and the enjoyment it creates. A strong focal point leaves a lasting impression that may influence the reputation and popularity of the artist perhaps even impacting sales.

In an artist’s attempt to create a dramatic center, there are also dangers. If the composition or design components lead the eye automatically to the center we end up with a “bull’s eye” composition. Essentially the eye does not wander through the painting but is trapped in the middle. A Center-focused painting is boring. The eye is locked in and the painting becomes static and uninteresting.

(This painting could have been much better by removing the chest of drawers. The uneven height
and the interesting outline of the figure, buggy, and cat would have been more interesting.
As it is, the eye is locked into a clump in the middle)
You can avoid this death trap by placing your center of interest off-center. Make sure there are enough uneven edges and lines to create interest. Check out the negative space around your focal point. Are the shapes interesting? Are the lines and values leading the eye on an interesting journey to your central focus? By analyzing your composition early on, you can avoid some of the pitfalls.

Another simple device for creating memorable paintings is the principle of “balance.” Do all elements in your painting look the same? Do they all scream out for attention or do some of the parts fade into the background. Having parts of your painting downplayed is called “subordination,” another device for making the center of interest dominant. These contrasts in value and subordination add depth to an otherwise flat painting.

"With These Hands -- Hope" acrylic on canvas (Notice how the background figures are fuzzy
and faded? The focus is on the girl trying to make a basket and her challenger)
Creating out of focus elements may also increase the contrast between the center of interest and the less important parts of a composition. Photographers use this design concept by blurring an otherwise overpowering background so that the focus is clearly on the focal point.

"With these hands -- Love"  (This painting could be improved by adding more shadows, thus giving it depth)
I have made many mistakes over the years, learning the hard way the importance of these timeless truths. Once understood, setting up the perfect composition using these design elements becomes easier.