Virtual Art Academy
A Day at Carmel Beach by Barry John Raybould

Using Focal Areas to Make a Good Painting Composition

Put more details in one area

Carmel Beach Party, by Barry John Raybould
Carmel Beach Party, by Barry John Raybould

A painting is much more interesting for the viewer if it has areas that the viewer spends more time looking at. Usually there is something, an interesting shape or color, or an idea, that attracted you to a particular scene and that made you want to paint it. That is what you want to focus your painting on. These are called focal areas, and generally it is a good idea to put more detail in these parts of your painting.

focal areas
Focal Area

Once you have decided upon your focal area, you need to direct the viewer’s attention to that part of the painting. One way of doing that is to simply put more detail in the focal area, leaving the rest of the painting less defined. You need to be careful not use the same level of detail elsewhere in your painting or the viewer will not know where to look. Another way is to put the darkest darks and lightest lights together in the focal area.

This is the focal area. See how much more detail there is in this part of the painting than in any other part. The darkest dark and lightest light are right next to each other here.

Using Focal Areas to Make a Good Painting Composition

These segments, away from the focal area, are the same size as the focal area itself. Note how much more detail there is. There are fewer shapes, and the brushwork is much less evident.

To learn more about focal areas

To learn much more about focal areas and all my discoveries on how to direct the viewer’s attention to your center of interest, such as: level of detail, contrast of value, contrast of shape, contrast of saturation, directing lines, isolation, and many other techniques, see the Composition Building Block in the Virtual Art Academy online painting classes.

Using Focal Areas to Make a Good Painting Composition

1 comment

  • I really liked what you said about having a focus in a composition and having interesting paintings that allow people to explore and make discoveries. That’s why I like narrative paintings with a story to tell.

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