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And so......What’s Your Point? 😂

This blog's topic is about a focal point. The question this week is, is a focal point necessary? The short answer is, yes!

In this contemporary and liberated age of art creation, numerous creators, including myself, have either not been exposed to, or deliberately chosen to disregard the traditional "rules" of composition imparted by the old masters. We’ve left them on the cutting room floor along with all the other “should” and “should nots” in art making. We do what makes us feel good and to hell with the rest, right? Well….., maybe not. Or at least, maybe not this one.

Personally, I struggle with this topic because I’m a proud, self-proclaimed rule breaker. That said, I think this is a good rule to adhere to. Why?

Let’s explore:

I like to meander in my paintings, and by that, I mean I like creating several interesting moments. For instance, say something totally unexpected and organic happens in one area of a painting, that turns out fabulous. Then, something deliberate and phenomenal happens in another. Am I supposed to choose between the two, to make one of them my focal point? That seems unfair! I mean, doesn’t having both these components make my painting all the more interesting? The answer is yes…… and no.

The Significance of the Focal Point

The focal point is the single most essential element in any artwork, regardless of the medium. It is the nucleus around which the rest of the composition revolves. Without a focal point, a piece feels disjointed and/or confusing. Can you recall a time you’ve looked at a piece and felt lost – not to what the artist was conveying, but to the direction of the piece? I say this with much trepidation, but I feel that way when I look at Pollock’s work. Yes, I’m an abstract expressionist, and I feel that way. However, I’m also a huge proponent for negative space and know that my eyes and brain need places to rest when looking at a painting - obviously, negative space was not his friend.

Can We Have More Than One Focal Point

The “rules” say it’s alright to have more than one focal point in a piece. However, it’s "recommended" they be organized in a hierarchy of dominant to subordinate. That’s because, although it's hard to accept, we humans really can’t focus on 90 different things at one time. Studies have shown that although we believe we can multitask, we really can’t, and similarly, the human eye is drawn to the area of greatest contrast first —it can’t help it – I know, booooo! Therefore, while taking our viewer on a meandering journey is a great way to build interest, like any fab road trip, with stops along the way, at some point we want get there. (In the painting above, I have a few areas of "interest", but my focal point is the hot pink area near the top center).

Historical Evolution of the Focal Point

est. 15,000 - 10,000 B.C.
The Caves of Lascaux, est. 15,000 - 10,000 B.C.

The concept of a focal point in art has evolved over time. In ancient cave paintings, focal points emerged through bold lines and vibrant colors, leading the viewer's gaze towards crucial elements like a hunting scene or a ritual. During the Renaissance, artists like

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo masterfully utilized chiaroscuro, a technique that manipulated light and shadow to create a strong focal point and imbue their subjects with depth and realism.

As art movements progressed, artists experimented with various focal point placements and techniques. The Impressionists, for instance, employed broken brushstrokes and vibrant colors to create focal points that engaged the viewer from a distance, allowing them to blend the colors optically as they approached the artwork. Meanwhile, Cubists, led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, shattered the conventional focal point, presenting multiple perspectives in a single composition, challenging the viewer's perception.

So, now that we ALL agree that we need a focal point 🤣🙌🏾, let's look at how we can go about creating one in our work.

Techniques for Creating a Focal Point:

  • Contrast:

One of the most effective ways to establish a focal point is through contrast. By juxtaposing elements in terms of color, value, texture, or size, we can make certain areas stand out from the rest, capturing the viewer's attention.

  • Leading Lines:

Using lines to direct the viewer's gaze towards the focal point is another super useful technique. These lines can be implied or explicitly drawn, guiding the eyes along a path to the center of interest. Personally, I like to employ this technique through the use of color. Often, I'll create a "line" of color that goes through a painting. It may may breaks up at points or change shapes, but it leads the viewers eye where I want it to go. For example, going back to my painting above with the hot pink focal point, if you'll notice, there is a black line going down the center of the painting. It breaks and changes form as it progresses from the top to the bottom, but it leads you right past that hot pink focal point (as if you could have missed it.... 😊).

  • Composition:

Skillful placement of elements within the composition can create a natural flow leading towards the focal point. The rule of thirds, for instance, divides the canvas into nine equal parts, where the intersections of the lines indicate ideal focal point placements.

  • Color:

A pop of vivid color amidst a subdued palette can immediately draw the viewer's eye. Using complementary colors can enhance the impact of the focal point. This one is another of my faves. For the longest time, I couldn't understand purpose of using complimentary colors, since when paired together, they "disagree", so to speak. I mean, they're on totally different sides of the color wheel! Then one day, I put them next to each other in small quantities, and wow! The effect was awesome!

  • Detail:

By rendering the focal point with more intricate details compared to the rest of the artwork, we can emphasize its importance and invite closer examination.

Enhancing the Visual Experience

A strong focal point serves not only to captivate the viewer but also to control the narrative. It allows us artists to communicate our intended message and convey our emotions more effectively where needed. When viewers encounter a well-crafted focal point, they are drawn into our story, compelled to explore, and engage with us on a deeper level.

Moreover, focal points play a significant role in the aesthetics of our pieces. They create a sense of harmony and balance, guiding the viewer's gaze throughout the piece and preventing it from feeling cluttered or chaotic. The focal point acts as an anchor that ties together various elements, ensuring our work feels cohesive and intentional.

I'll leave you with this. I’m the first to admit that I’m quite a lazy painter, and I don’t want painting to feel like work. With that in mind, I try to work smarter, not harder, when creating my work. Understanding my typical viewer's brain helps me with that effort, so I can spend more time focusing on conveying what's in my heart and spirit more effectively. Just my two cents. I'd LOVE to hear yours in the comments below!

Until next time, keep those paint brushes strokin'!🎨


21 views3 comments


Aug 26, 2023

Hi Michelle

Good topic!

As of late my artwork has consisted of figure drawings and portraits in graphite, and nature photography. I almost always think in terms of focal point in my photography, but do not consciously do so in my portraits or my figure drawings. But I can see how emphasizing a focal point could add a lot to my drawings. This would allow me to communicate more fully with the viewer. I will start beginning my drawings with focal point in mind. I believe this will make my drawings more interesting and will allow my drawings to speak more directly to the viewer. Thanks for this blog post Michelle!

All very interesting!


Aug 02, 2023

Thanks for this excellent blog post, Michelle! Even though I feel I'm quite good at color mixing, I still struggle with composition, and you've given me some food for thought regarding focal points.

Aug 09, 2023
Replying to

OMG!! That is so kind of you to say, Kerry! I'm so glad!

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