How to Use the Rule of Thirds in Painting Composition
How Do You Create a Good Composition for Design and Paintings?
One of the main goals in compositions is to grab the viewer’s interest, take his or her eyes to the focal point, and then keep them moving around the picture.
This can be achieved with the use of color, lines, and value shifts, but the most important thing is to place the painting’s elements in the right spots, usually avoiding having your subject in dead center with nothing around.
The rule of thirds is a guide to help you compose a picture that looks balanced and interesting.
While I would not recommend using it as the only guidance for composition, it can surely be of big help creating an interesting scene.
Combine it with other classic compositional structures to enhance the visual interest.
The Rule of Thirds: Great Tool for Photography and Painting Composition
The rule of thirds has been used to create appealing art compositions by the greatest master painters with remarkable results.
Among the most common places where the rule of thirds is taught are professional photography courses.
Since the upcoming of the digital era, the rule of third has been applied also in all kinds of graphic design and web design.
You just need to open any web page or a magazine and look at the graphics and photos, and you’ll be able to notice how the focal point of the picture is strategically placed according to this rule.
The rule of thirds is about creating a sense of balance in the composition.
What Is the Rule of Thirds?
It's a guide to help you compose a picture that looks balanced and interesting.
Here is how you do it:
- Start by drawing equally spaced lines, two horizontally and two vertically.
- The lines split the picture surface into thirds.
- The intersections of the lines mark the sweet spots, where you can place the points of interest of the composition.
Planning your composition, position the elements of your painting in reference to the lines of the grid and the focus points, to guide the viewers’ eyes to what you want them to notice.
With focal points that are not in the center of the picture and the space divided into thirds, instead than in half, you can avoid a picture that looks too static. Also, the rule of thirds allows you to create movement and a sense of complexity without making it too busy.
Drawing a Composition Following the Rule
When you start drawing your composition, start by drawing the lines that divide the picture’s surface into thirds, then plan the composition, either referring to a real subject or from your imagination.
For example, drawing a landscape, you can place a house on a soft spot, and use the lines of thirds to draw the horizon and the other lines on the landscape, like trees, roads, clouds, etc.
Use lines and color to create a focal point, but also generate interest in various parts of the painting.
Its Use in Landscape Paintings
When you look at a landscape and try to find a good viewpoint and crop to represent in a painting, it helps a lot to use a viewfinder.
When you are standing in the open, it can be quite overwhelming to focus on only a part of your surroundings and choose what to include in the picture and what is better left out.
The use of a viewfinder can simplify this process a lot. You can purchase a viewfinder at an art store, or you can build your own using a mat. Here is a link to ; I saw a friend using it, very useful tool. an example of viewfinder that also has value filters
You can add strings to the viewfinder and split the view into thirds, so it will be easy to pick a good composition for your painting.
You can use your digital camera set it so you see the lines of thirds on the monitor and view the scene through that, moving around to pick the best views.
Apply the Rule When you Take Your Reference Photos
When you are taking reference photos, make your life easier by applying the rule of third to each shot.
Seeing a well-composed reference photo will make your painting composition easier to plan, and usually much more successful.
Many times when I'm having troubles with a painting and something is not right, but I can't tell what it is, it's most probably a badly planned composition.
Good composition a good value structure are the two elements that go hand-in-hand to make a good painting. If you plan those well before starting your painting, the whole creative process will be easier.
Breaking the Rule
As every good rule, the rule of thirds is bound to be broken by free artistic instinct and different approaches to the painting’s composition, mood, and emphasis.
You may find that for some artwork it works better to have a central focus or no particular focus at all.
The artist’s inspiration and judgment take the lead on the creative process and if a rule is too limiting, it’s okay to disregard it. Breaking rules can be very rewarding when you end up with a work of art that makes you proud.
Knowing the rule gives you the power to make informed and smart decisions on how and why you choose to ignore it.
How to "Move" Your Subject and Apply the Rule of Thirds
Add Several Elements for a Strong Composition
To plan your painting well, you need to keep in mind all the elements that create a composition. The rule of third can be a starting point, but you'll get more interesting results if you integrate more structural elements and make the scene interesting.
Below are some compositional elements that are very important, no matter the subject of the painting. They can be skillfully used to capture and guide the viewers’ eye within the picture:
- Shapes and how they are arranged
- Relative value of those shapes (darkness and lightness)
- Lines and their direction
- Value contrast
- Color temperature and intensity
Try to keep your subject interesting, avoiding predictable compositions with the focal point exactly on the sweet spot, the horizon on the line of thirds and nothing else.
Use the rule as guidance, but feel free to add as many interesting elements as you like.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Where did you learn about the rule of thirds?
I heard about the rule of thirds for the first time during a training at work, when I was a Functional Technologist Specialist, and the Department of Defense (my employer) was teaching us how to help youth create awesome videos. I remember them mentioning the rule of thirds like it was a given knowledge for anyone, and I was sitting there thinking "why have I never heard of it." That thought is what inspired me to write the article a few years later.Helpful 8
© 2012 Robie Benve