When it comes to painting (and photography), your composition will always work well when you're thinking about the Golden Rule Of Thirds.
(Please excuse the use of only my own paintings as examples in this Tip - I figured I wouldn't have to worry about copyright this way. I've done plenty of paintings that could have been a lot better if I'd taken my own advice!)
It's simple (and I'm sure you've heard of it before - but hey, I need to be reminded of things pretty often).
- Divide your page into thirds, across and down.
- Then decide what your focal point is going to be.
- Make sure your focal point is sitting on (or very near) one of the intersecting 'third lines'. Or at least ON one of the vertical or horizontal lines.
- Then think of the rest of your image, and see how you can compose the picture to 'guide the eye' to your focal point.
So what's the other Rule Of Thirds?
It's to do with tone - think one third dark, two thirds light, and a little bit of mid-tone. Or the reverse - one third light, two thirds dark, and a little bit of mid-tone. If you squint, it'll be easier to judge the light and dark tones in an image.
I'm happy with the way this painting of "The Germans on Rainbow Beach" played by the rules, clockwise from top left - original, thirds, blurred (see the tones?) and greyed ( another way to see the division of lights and darks).
This cat painting (below) could have been more striking if I'd used more light tones, clockwise from top left - original with third lines, blurred (see the light, mid and dark tones now?) and greyed (see - too many mid tones), and corrected to have more light tones (it's a more striking image - this would look more natural if it had been painted with more light tones in mind)..
This has been a long post, so just one more thing...
I also like to allude to things that are existing 'outside' the edge of a painting. That means cutting off the top of heads at the top of a canvas (as with the little girl at the top of this post), or half a body (as with "The Germans" painting), or even a bit of a bottom (see "Josh Jumping", above), or half a fish (see "Rub a Dub Dub", above).
But remember - YOU CAN BREAK THE RULES! It's just best to know the rules, so you can choose to break them.
Some subjects do work best when they're slap bang in the middle of the painting. Or when the horizon is 7/8ths of the way down the page... and doing this can cause a viewer to stop and take notice. But if you're looking for naturally pleasing compositions, the Rules of Thirds are a great way to go.
My animation this Friday will show the steps in a painting that does use these rules.
Next week, I'll touch on adding variety to your painting. Thanks for listening and if you've got any thoughts on or examples of these rules in your own work, or in paintings that you love, please leave a comment!