The Two T’s of Painting | Theory and Technique, Part 3 | Points of Interest

In addition to the essential topics of atmospheric perspective and the contrast effect,  I want to discuss points (or areas) of interest within the confines of a paintings composition. Often referred to as focal points, these represent a center of activity, attraction, or attention in a painting—a point of concentration. They are a place where the viewer’s attention pauses before moving on. Without them, the viewer will not know where to look and quickly lose interest.

Minnesota Morning, 9x12 en plein air pastel field sketch by richard mckinley


Most successful paintings are built around one dominant area of interest. It is the most important visual place in the painting. For the viewer’s eye to travel within the confines of the painting’s composition, a few other well-placed points of interest that are somewhat subordinate have to be developed. These strategically placed focal points act as counterweights to the main point of interest. When placing them, think of a theatrical production. There is a star (the main point of interest), supporting cast (counterweight points of interest), and bit players (the rest of the painting). You act as the director telling them where to stand and how to deliver their lines. When well orchestrated, the audience becomes mesmerized; you hold their attention.
As painters, rather than directors we have to employ the major visual tools of our trade: texture, edge, value, color, and chroma (saturation). Contrast is used to accentuate these elements and attract the viewer’s attention. The textural quality of an area may be varied, edge delineation sharpened, value extremes heightened, complementary colors employed, and chroma intensified. When something is different, it stands out. The viewer is drawn to it. You have created a point of interest.


Points of Interest

Note the three points of interest in this pastel field painting.

In my en plein air pastel field sketch Minnesota Morning (9×12) shown here, there are three main points of interest where contrast is employed to hold the viewers attention:

  • Area 1: The sky hole shape accentuates the largest mass of light in the sky against the largest dark mass of the tree. Stronger edges, texture variation, and blue color saturation are also utilized to attract the viewer’s attention.
  • Area 2: Lighter value and sharper edges within the tan grasses and the indication of intense orange flowers in contrast to the dull blue/violet surrounding grasses draws attention to this area, making the viewer pause.
  • Area 3: Dancing textural marks of yellow in contrast to the subtle violet grasses of this area create visual activity and another point of interest.

Free Download: 5 Simple Effects to Gain Atmospheric Perspective in Your Art


Subscribe to Pastel Journal magazine

Sign up for your Pastel Journal email newsletter & download a FREE issue of Pastel Journal magazine

Watch pastel art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Get unlimited access to over 100 art instruction ebooks

Online seminars for fine artists

Find pastel painting downloads, books, videos & more

You may also like these articles: