Let’s Talk About the Focal Point in Art (Part 1)

During my years of experience I’ve noticed that many artists tend to ask what my focal point will be before I demonstrate a painting. Fortunately there’s a universal answer to this. For there to be a focal point, there needs to be a peripheral area that’s not that much in focus. If everything is in focus, then the focal area becomes weakened. What is the focal point in art, therefore? The focal area is considered the predominant place where the eye enjoys seeing:

  • The most value contrast (dark against light)
  • Color contrast (chroma versus grayness, red against gray)
  • Hard edges (agrees with the fovea of the eye)
  • Detail (complexity of shape)
  • Warm colors (yellows and reds attract the eye)
  • Texture
  • People, animals and vehicles, which become strong focal points even if they’re small
  • Anything that is peripheral and is not included in the focal point will consist of low value contrasts, low color contrasts, soft edges, simplicity in shape or the lack of detail and, when applicable, the colors will be less saturated. This should be even more taken into account near the edges of the painting, which I refer to as the “peripheral area.”

The focal point isn’t just wherever the eye chooses to see. In paintings, we don’t want the eye to just choose to see what it wants to look for. On the contrary, it’s the painter’s responsibility to direct the eye, to orchestrate its movement within the painting through the usage of linear paths. After the artist has manipulated the viewer, they reward him/her using some or all of the elements mentioned above.

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Most artists will agree that there are four options to place focal areas in a painting. Which is the best? The top right gets 5 stars because we read left to right.

What does focal point mean in art | ArtistsNetwork.com

A focal point should not be overstated; neither should the viewer make a wild guess to determine it.

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Focal point art examples, by Johannes Vloothuis | ArtistsNetwork.com

Above, left: Here is an example of a painting with a strong focal point. We must be careful. We can overstate a focal point and the eye does not feel compelled to move around to explore.
Above, right: In this modified version we have a more subtle focal point and the eye does not feel glued to the orange evergreen tree.


 

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