Creating a Strong Focal Point

So often I see paintings that are beautiful and technically well done, but I don’t have a clue as to what I’m looking at. I have to work so hard looking at all the various things going on in the painting I get dizzy. To me, it’s very boring and confusing. The problem is lack of a strong focal point, and the result is that I, the viewer, have no interest in or feeling for the painting.

A focal point is simply where you want the viewer to look in your painting. Whatever attracted you to make a painting in the first place (i.e., your subject) is what you need to concentrate on and make your focal point. The goal is to pull the viewer into your painting immediately and help him quickly understand what you’re trying to express. You don’t want the viewer to have to work hard and wonder what it is that you’re trying to say. For this reason if nothing else, a strong focal point is important.

Where do you place your focal point? In one of the four areas shown in my sketch of a full sheet of paper (below). This is called the Golden Mean or Golden Section.

As I was painting A Blessing, I recorded my efforts to make the white horse my focal point. I felt my first attempt was a little limp, even though the white horse was the focal point (see A at right). I really wanted the white horse to pull the viewer in, so I kept working on it, using darker colors to make the horse really stand out. It worked (see B at right)!

When you’re working on your focal point, keep in mind that you want more light in that particular area. To do this, you simply darken the areas around it. This will make your subject jump right out at the viewer. Check out paintings by the Old Masters. This is a trick they often used to make their focal points stand out.

Judi Betts is a painter, writer, instructor and juror. Her memberships include the American Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society and Federation of Canadian Artists. Her most recent book is Painting … a Quest Toward Xtraord!nary. Her most recent article in The Artist’s Magazine is “Sketches of Color,” March 2001.

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