a few design considerations

Posted on by Wess Foreman

This is a longish post about one or two aspects of design - good for any aspiring artist or backyard photographer to know [could even make your digital snapshots into masterpieces . . . maybe it could.] To read more, click
This is the still unnamed painting that will serve as our demonstration painting. As it stands right now, I'm pretty happy with the design aspects of it, although there is a delicate balance to it with no real center of interest.

Center of interest, or focal point, is a very important principle of design. To put it simply, the center of interest is where the eye of the viewer is drawn to the most in a work of art. This can be achieved easily enough by putting a big red blob of paint in the center of an otherwise white canvas - and that would work [and probably has been done before] - but by adding some more principles of design, we can make a much more interesting painting.

Step one: squint. I'll do it for you:
There. I will often squint at my paintings to "blur away" the details and get to the heart of the matter when it comes to center of interest. Now, looking at the blurry painting, we can agree there are a few places toward which the eye is drawn [this can be a bit subjective, of course, but bare with me]. There are three points of interest that I can see:
The first is the point on the left, then my eye travels to the right, and then to the top - lather, rinse, repeat. The fact that the viewers' eye moves around the painting is a great thing when it comes to design - if this were just a blob of red in the center of a white canvas, it would take me a second or two to see everything there is to see of the painting . . . in other words, letting the eye travel around the painting gives the painting more depth, more interest.
One thing I considered, was adding more interest to the lower right side of the painting [I don't know, I guess I didn't like the left side getting the first of my eyes' attention]. So, many times when considering the center of interest "balance" of a painting, I will squint and hold up my brush [in this case where the yellow square is, in the above picture] to get a sense of what it would look like with something in this spot or anywhere else I may be considering. One reason I considered this spot in particular, is that this is one of four "sweet spots" in a painting, as far as design is concerned. Here is how you find the "sweet spots" in a painting:
Mentally, draw a tic-tac-toe grid over the image, and everywhere the lines intersect . . . well, there's yer sweet spots. [By the way, this works great for photography as well, so listen up!] The reason these are the sweet spots in a painting, has something to do with the inner workings of the human brain and perception and the like - matters I do not understand completely, but here's the way I see it: Consider the red blob in the center of a painting scenario . . . boring, right? Why? Because it's like a bullseye, a target - might as well be the logo for a national department store. Too static.

Well, what would make a more dynamic design? put something off to one side or the other, right? Right. Same goes for top to bottom - it's more dynamic if it's higher or lower than dead center. But put something all the way to the edge and you get decreasing returns. Anyway, that's the way I see it. I don't think about all that, of course - it's just built into how I see the world as an artist. [I thought of all that already during many an art class]

One final note about the principles of design. These "rules" are something that is crucial for every artist to know - there are no downsides to knowing them, at any rate - but it's also, in my opinion, crucial for every artist to know how and when to break these rules. That's what's great about these principles of design. Meant to be broken - there I said it. In my unnamed painting, for instance: although there is no bullseye effect, there also are no obvious points of interest in any of the four sweet spots either. But it's still an interesting, enjoyable painting for me.

Well, that's all for this little lesson. It's a pretty basic concept. And it works:

  1. Squint.

  2. Find the points of interest.

  3. Does your eye travel around the painting?

  4. Would adding anything in the sweet spots help?