Thursday, April 25, 2013

X is for X Marks the Spot...Understanding Focal Points

'The Four Mile View'           9x12           pastel        ©Karen Margulis

Focal Points. I'll always remember a workshop I took from Terry Ludwig.  He kept a pocket full of imaginary focal points and would come up to your painting and hand you one.  "Did you forget your Focal Point?" he would ask us.  And yes, we usually had forgotten to make sure our paintings had a focal point.

So what exactly is a focal point? You also hear the terms Focal Area and Area of Interest. I like the term Area of Passion (more on this later)  Some artists distinguish between a focal point and a focal area with the former being a specific small area or spot that draws the eye while the focal area can be a larger part of the painting.  It can be confusing! And what if your painting isn't about one area but rather about a mood or feeling? Isn't it just easier to ignore the whole idea of focal points???

Instead of getting confused about how to use the various terms, I like to make it simple. Try comparing your painting to a Treasure Map.
  • Your painting expresses something that is important to you even if it is just a mood. You need to know what is is that you want to express. The entire painting is a treasure map.
  • You decide what part or parts of the painting best expresses your idea. These areas become the focus of the painting.  These areas will have the most clarity of detail, sharpness, contrast or color. The most important area is the TREASURE. This is the X spot on the map. It doesn't have to be a 'spot' it can be an area.
  • You can have other areas that are important but not quite as clear or detailed as the X spot. These areas can be used to lead the viewer around the painting until they find the treasure.


In this painting I was drawn to this interesting stand of trees in the marsh. I decided the painting was about the trees. They would be my 'Treasure' and more specifically the lower right trees.  I also decided on a secondary focal area in the grasses on the right. I added touches of violet in the grasses. I also decided to add a spot of color up into the left trees to help pull the viewer's eye around the painting. 

1 comment:

Pam Short said...

Thanks, Karen! Many times I have a hard time with focal points because there is a lot about the subject that I like and I have difficult time determining the focal point. This is very helpful.