Thursday, August 2, 2012

Creating a Quality Focal Area

The Given Place

All composition is based around placement and delineation of the center of focus, or focal area. The decision of what you want to be your focal area is as personal as the subject matter. Whatever you decide, there are several ways to make sure it remains the focal area.

Here are 9 ways to create a focal area. It is probably best to use more than one of these. Too many though and you may create a bullseye effect, where the eye doesn’t leave the focal area and wander around the rest of the painting.
  • Placement in the Picture Plane. Where the focal area is placed can help to naturally lead the eye to it. The grids discussed earlier are beneficial in understanding where to place the focal area.
  • Highest Contrast of Values. Placing the highest contrast of values next to each other in a painting. This does not have do be the lightest light and the darkest dark in the painting (though often is), just the highest contrast between values.
  • Most Intense Color. Where the purest and most intense color is used.
  • Hardest/Sharpest Edge. Where the hardest, or sharpest edge in the painting are placed. (This commonly is used along with high contrast.)
  • Highest Level of Detail. The place where the most detail in the painting is found.
  • Alien Color. The eye is naturally drawn to things that are not like other things. So a color not used anywhere else in the painting will automatically differentiate an area and draw the eye to it.
  • Alien Shape. Using the same idea as Alien Color, it's a shape that is not used anywhere else in the painting. (i.e. a geometric shaped barn in the middle of a grouping of organically shaped trees.)
  • Face Factor/Building Factor. Our mind create faces in objects that aren't human (i.e. the man in the moon, or Nixon on a potato chip.) A face will immediately draw the eye to it, whether it is human or animal. Single man made structures, like barns, signs and such will do the same thing.
  • Texture. The place where the thickest amount of paint is used (impasto)
While some of these have a stronger visual pull than others, the key to making all of these work is making sure that areas of interest in other parts of the painting are subordinate to the center of focus. When looking at paintings, try to figure out which elements the artist has used to create a center of focus.

Below are some paintings by past and present masters. Also, the last few are mine, and I'll let you judge whether or not I'm succeeding in creating a gquality focal area. See if you can find out which of the 9 ways are being utilized (texture will be more difficult because you can't really see it in a photo of the work).

Lupine by Dan Gerhartz

Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Leighton
Seascape by Frederick Judd Waugh

by Edgar Payne

Inner Light
Farm on 450E

Last Vestige