Focal point

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CLASES AT MAA

The focal point is just a small part of what we explain at the Madrid Academy of Art. If you are further interested in finding out more,

 

WHAT IS THE FOCAL POINT?

It is a key point of interest where you want to direct attention. In other words, it should be the most interesting point in your drawing or painting.

 

But the question is...

 

DO YOU NEED A FOCAL POINT?

It is not essential to have a focal point for your painting, however, it is recommended, especially if you are just starting out. If you don't have a focal point, you run the risk of your painting having no real direction or purpose.

In some of Claude Monet's paintings (like the one just below), it could be argued that there is no particular focal point, but that the painting as a whole is the focal point. In this case, it is essential that there is enough harmony and small points of interest throughout the painting.

 

HOW MANY FOCAL POINTS CAN YOU HAVE?

You are not limited to a single focal point. Some paintings have up to four different focal points.

If you have more than one focal point, then you should consider making one of them your main focal point and then use the others as accents. This way, you limit the number of focal points competing with each other for attention.

If you have two focal points that are of similar or equal strength, then people may be confused about where to look.

 

THE RELATIVE POWER OF YOUR FOCAL POINT

Your focal point is as significant as you consider it to be in relation to the rest of your painting (just check the painting on the right).

Instead of always trying to make your focal point more active and interesting, you might make the rest of it unattractive in comparison.

 

WHERE TO PLACE THE FOCAL POINT?

The optimal positioning of your focal point is around the center, but not directly in the center. A focal point that is placed directly in the center can look unnatural. In general, off-center positioning is considered to look much more natural.

 

HOW TO WORK WITH THE FOCAL POINT?

Because our eyes are more receptive to value contrast than any other form of contrast, it is our most powerful tool for establishing focal points in our paintings.

 

EXAMPLES OF FOCAL POINTS

Below is an interesting subject but, if we are not careful, we could end up with two conflicting focal points.

By increasing tonal contrast and exaggerating color and detail in one window, we create a strong focal point and relegate the window on the right to a secondary role.

 

WHAT SHOULD BE YOUR FOCAL POINT?

The reason why you are drawing or painting this subject and not another one.

Knowing this...

What do I choose as a focal point?

The lightest light and darkest dark in our painting should be placed side by side to establish a focal point.

The contrasting color is the next most noticeable element we can use. If your painting has a dominant warm overall color, a cool accent will draw attention to the focal point and vice versa.

Next step will be deciding:

 

Where should we put the focal points?

Unless you are looking for a formal, static composition, keep the focal point away from the center of the painting (both vertically and horizontally).

 

Focal point in the center

With a focal point in the center we are not encouraged to look left, right, up or down. Our attention is focused on the focal point.

 

Focal point to the left

Moving the focal point to the left provides breathing space and encourages the eye to move from the focal point to the area on the right.

 

Focal point at lower left

Moving the focal point to the left and down encourages visual movement to the right and up. This placement also feels more natural, since the random placement of something is less likely to occur precisely in the center.

 

DOMINANT AND SUPPORTING FOCAL POINT

A painting with a single point of interest can be difficult to see. The eye must be able to move away from the main focal point to minor points of interest and then back to the main point of interest.

Always try to reinforce your main focal point with other less important points of interest.

 

CHANGE OF FOCAL POINTS

As you work, watch where you are drawing attention. Sometimes, even after much careful planning, too much attention to detail can pull the focal point away from where it should be.

 

THE RULE OF THIRDS

The rule of thirds involves cutting your reference in thirds in both directions using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines down. You'll end up with nine sections.

The rule of thirds is a fairly safe choice, but experiment with pushing the focal point closer to the edge if you want to create a restlessness in your painting or closer to the middle if you want the painting to be simple and formal.

 

THE FOCAL POINT AT INTERSECTIONS

Intersections are very important, as they are the generally preferred areas to place the focal point. This is because these areas are slightly off-center.

If you place your focal point on the edge, you run the risk of leading the viewer away from your painting or drawing, rather than through it.

 

SINGLE SECTIONS

You should try to make sure that each section is unique to some extent. If you have two or more sections that look very similar, then your composition may look soft.

 

EXAMPLES OF RULE OF THIRDS