Centering the viewer’s interest
As the director and producer of your painting, you need to choose a star of the show, known as the center of interest. The center of interest is the focal point of the painting, the main object or area that you want viewers to see. Everything else should be supporting players in your stage show. If you give equal importance or attention to more than one item, you confuse the viewer, distract her attention, and make her eye leave the painting in search of something she understands more easily. You may even bore her, and you want to entertain her. So you need to decide what you want your audience to see in your painting. What struck you when you were moved to make this painting? What inspired you to paint this scene, this group of objects, this creature? The answer to those questions is what you want in your center of interest.
How do you make your item or area the center of interest? You tell your audience that it is the focal point of the painting by making it more detailed, brighter, bigger, sharper in contrast, or the lightest light against the darkest dark area.
In contrast to its name, you do not want to put the center of interest in the center of your painting. If you draw an X that reaches the four corners of your paper, the intersection of the lines is the exact center of the page. Nothing of importance should go there.
Instead, take a lesson from the Greeks and Romans, who invented the rule of thirds. Actually, they called it something a lot more complex – you know those Greeks and Romans. They made some very complicated formulas you can follow to find the perfect point of placement, but they liked math more than I do. An easy way to get to the same spot is to imagine a big tic-tac-toe board on your paper, which divides your paper into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The intersections of the lines are the choice spots to set your center of interest. Choose one.
The center of interest doesn’t have to be just one item; you can have an area of interest, rather than one center of interest. If you are painting a grouping of flowers, you can make one area more defined and interesting, thus making it an area of interest.
Sidestepping Composition Blunders
When it comes to day-to-day living, avoid these things: walking down dark alleys late at night, consuming too much alcohol, eating too much fried food, getting too much sun. In painting, you also want to avoid certain things, such as placing important elements at the center or corners, to make your compositions better.
Steering clear of the center
Just as the center of interest doesn’t belong in the center of the page, don’t place other elements there either. A horizon cuts the painting in two if placed in the center. You do better to shift it up or down for a more interesting painting.
Avoid dividing the paper vertically too. Don’t have a tree, a flower, a sailboat mast, or anything else split the paper into two equal sides.
Equality has no place in art. Make variety your new motto. Vary the sizes of the spaces, the colors, the directions — everything should have variety.
Staying out of the corners
A line leading to any corner of the paper is an invitation to the viewer to follow that line right out of the painting and on to the next one. If you have a road or a river leading into the picture, make sure the continuation of the line, even if it isn’t visible or painted in the picture, leads the viewer’s eye above or below the corner and not directly to it.