The rule of thirds is our shortcut for easy composition.
It is a tried and true method used by artists and photographers for centuries. It was first written about in the 1700s.
They talked about having unequal parts in a painting. Such as, one third land with two thirds sky or vice versa. They suggested painting everything in a 2:1 proportion.
Think of a teeter tooter.
A heavy person sits on the short end of the teeter tooter. In order to balance, the lighter person sits way out on the longer side of the teeter tooter.
In a painting we place our subject, the focal point one third of the way into the painting. The rest of the painting takes up the remaining two thirds of the space.
Just like on a teeter tooter, this makes a balanced painting.
A painting with unequal parts is more interesting and attractive to the viewers. The focal point draws the people in. Then their eyes have space to move around in the other parts of the painting.
Divide the painting surface into nine equal parts.
Place lines horizontally and vertically at one third and two thirds.
The main subject of the painting is placed at or near one of the intersections of the lines. (See the painting above.)
In our culture most of us read from left to right. So the bottom right intersection is considered the ideal place for the focal point.
In this case, I used the top left intersection for the main subject.
It gives the artist breathing room. We can count on the rule of thirds for a good composition.
Then our attention can turn to color and other skills because we know the composition is a done deal.
Symmetry is boring.
Nothing in nature is ever in perfect balance. Even one side of our face is not an exact mirror image of the other side of our face.
Only man makes things in balance in our buildings, formal landscapes, etc. They have their place and can be attractive, but not so much in paintings.
There are times we may place the focal point directly in the middle of the painting. One example would be in a portrait. Normally the subject should not be looking directly at the viewer. It is best to place them in a three quarters view.
Placing the subject in the center is not a good idea.
The viewer's eye is drawn to the subject, then they don't look around the rest of the painting. Why?
A focal point dead center in the middle of the painting, divides
the painting in two. The focal point draws the viewer into the painting. Then they don't know whether to look left of
right. Indecision causes them to lose interest in the painting.
In a landscape painting, if the horizon is placed in the middle of the painting, it cuts the painting right in half. The viewer feels discontentment and moves on to look at other paintings.
Paintings subjects may also be placed along the third lines.
This works for either horizontal or vertical subjects.
Vertical subjects such as a tall waterfall, a tall building, a tree or even a lighthouse may be placed on or near one of the vertical divisions.
The other two thirds of the painting balances the tall object.
The lines of land or water may be placed at or near one of the third horizontal lines.
This gives us the 2:1 ratio of land to sky or land to water.
That's what the artists were talking about in their writings back in the 1700s. This method of creating a composition has been used for centuries.
Place a secondary focal point at another intersection.
A second focal point gives the viewers more to look at and keeps them interested in our paintings.
In this painting the hummingbird and the flower are each placed near an intersection of the third lines.
The subjects are placed diagonally across from each other. This creates a dynamic tension that creates more interest for the viewers.
Hummingbird paintings are fun!
Do we always follow this rule?
Of course not! But, it is an excellent tool for the artist's tool belt. We paint for the viewers and the rule of thirds makes it easy.
Many artists don't paint equal parts of anything - light, darks, shapes, color or anything.
Asymmetrical balance works for many areas of a painting. This is the basic premise of How to Paint Good Art.
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