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Guide Your Viewer To The Main Focal Point In Your Painting

Geraniums by Barry John Raybould, oil on linen, showing how to use focal point in your painting
Geraniums by Barry John Raybould

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Use varying levels of focus and detail

When you are looking at a view, your eye sees only one part of the scene clearly in focus. You see the rest of the scene in a more generalized way using your peripheral vision. You should do the same in your paintings by keeping the objects in the main focal point in your painting in sharper focus, compared with objects in other parts of the painting.

Avoid making your painting look like a photograph in which the whole scene is in focus.

How to create varying levels of focus and details

Two techniques you can use are:

1. Brush size

Use two brushes that have a great contrast of size and shape so you cannot create too much detail outside the main focal point In your painting. Use the small brush only in the focal area.

2. Edges

Use soft edges in the less important parts of the painting, like in the right hand edge of the plant pot.

soft edges

In this painting you can see the flowers and leaves in the foreground are much more defined than the plant pot and the table, which blend into the background. The areas of light hitting the pot also have some hard edges in their brushstrokes.

hard edges


  • Do not show the same amount of detail throughout your painting. Keep detail to the focal point of the painting and use less detail away from the focal point.
  • Generalize objects and shapes away from your focus area by blending shapes of one tone together into larger shapes.
  • Use sharper edges in and around the focal point and focal areas, and softer edges in other areas of the painting
  • Be very careful about key perspective lines. Make them very accurate, even if they are in looser, less defined areas.

More examples of sharper objects in the focal point in your painting

Cat. No. 1231 Pianello Roses, Lunigiana,Italy – 16in x 12in – Oil on Board – 2018
Cat. No. 938 First Light Over St Marks Venice - 8in x 10in - Oil on Linen - 2009
Cat. No. 938 First Light Over St Marks Venice – 8in x 10in – Oil on Linen – 2009

Old master examples of of sharper objects in the focal point in your painting

Woman at Her Toilette by Berthe Morisot
Woman at Her Toilette by Berthe Morisot
Fumee d’Ambre Gris by John Singer Sargent
Mist Over Point Lobos by Guy Rose
End Of Winter by John Henry Twachtman

To learn more

To avoid the problem of your paintings looking too much like photographs, and learn how to use brushwork in your focal areas to add life, variety and interest to your work, sign up for the Virtual Art Academy® Apprentice Program.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share it with friends. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

What The Students Are Saying

Guide Your Viewer To The Main Focal Point In Your Painting


  • Your course sounds wonderful! I’m working in pastels. You mention at least once that I would learn about the use of pastels if I take your course. Is that true! THX

    • Hello Cynthia,
      Thank you for your question. I have several students working in pastel to do the Apprentice Program. The way I designed the course is that I focus on explaining all the fundamental principles you need to know about to create beauty in your paintings, and these principles apply to pastels just as they do to other media, such as oils or watercolors. So for this reason, the vast majority of the online painting classes apply equally to all media.

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