What’s the Point of Focal Points?
What makes a viewer pause to view one painting but pass by another? While artists can’t entirely control how a viewer will take in their painting, there are ways artists can add interest and direction to pull the viewer in.
The focal point is the key point of visual interest in a composition. Knowing how to create strong focal points is something every artist should study. It is the most eye-catching point in a composition and the viewer’s attention to that point should help them understand the artist’s intent in capturing the scene. The artist’s use of focal points essentially facilitates the viewer’s discovery of their work of art.
Creating focal points in your artwork is one way to increase control of how your artwork is viewed. Intelligent placement and use of focal points can positively impact the overall composition of an artwork.
Focal Point by Contrast
One way to create a defined focal point is through the use of contrast. Contrast refers to striking differences. Any type of difference in the imagery will result in that element becoming a focal point. Artists can use contrast in many different ways using color, value, texture, shape, or form.
For example, using highly saturated color on a neutral background or shading the focal area lighter than its surroundings are both ways to draw the viewer’s eye. Artists can also combine multiple elements to increase the contrast and further strengthen the focal point. For example, an artist could combine differences in texture, color, and shape to define the focal point from the rest of the composition.
Focal Point by Isolation
Another way to create a focal point is through isolation. By nature, isolating something from the “crowd” brings more attention to the lone thing. As a result, whenever one object or element is separated from a group, it becomes isolated and thus more likely to receive notice. In addition, by separating the subject from other distracting elements and placing it on a plain background, the viewer has nothing left to focus on but the subject.
Focal Point by Framing
Think of a picture frame that highlights and calls more attention to an artwork. Artists can direct attention in a similar way within their art. By framing an object or element within a doorway, window, objects associated with the subject (e.g. a cook framed by hanging pots or pans), or other environmental elements, it can highlight the subject and also reveal something about it.
Focal Point by Focus
When we look at something, we focus on it so we can see in sharp detail. In art, areas depicted in sharp focus will be dominant. Blurring the background can be a good way to reduce distracting elements and help isolate the subject. This technique is called shallow focus, which refers to an instance when the subject is in sharp detail while objects in front or behind the focal point are blurry.
Focal Point by Placement
Naturally, objects that are placed in the center or near the center will become the focal point. However, a majority of the time, a focal point that is slightly off center is preferred. By placing an object or element off center, the artist can create a focal point by placement alone. Another visually-pleasing, classic focal point by placement is to place the subjects one third down or one third across the composition, or at the golden ratio.
Focal Point by Convergence
Using implied lines is another way to direct the viewer’s eye to an object or element. A line, arrow, or similar triangular or elongated elements can indicate a direction and point toward something, leading the eye in that direction. When multiple elements “converge” toward a point (e.g. lines going back into perspective), they then create an even greater pull of attention in that direction.
Focal Point by the Unusual
Another way to create a focal point is to introduce an object or element that is unusual to the scene. Something irregular or an “anomaly” doesn’t blend in. It sticks out and breaks the visual pattern, calling the viewer’s attention to the abnormality. An anomalous object will naturally stand out and demand attention.
Sign up for an LEC art class to put these focal point techniques into action!