Focal Point and the Rule of Thirds

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Lyric Kinard wrote
on 15 May 2009 4:24 PM

So - I had a client coming over to look at my work and talk about a possible commission. I wrote about it on my blog. Anyway - the piece has me excited - which is always nice. 

There was however a problem - the piece has no real focal point. It was nice and interesting to look at but felt like it was really missing something. It was an all-over surface designed cloth with multiple overlapping images but none of them were in a really good spot to become a focal point. You can see the fix I'm happy about on the blog.

Have you heard of the Rule of Thirds? Like and "rule" it can be successfully broken, but following it can often lead to greater success. Here it is, divide your composition into nine spaces, like a nine patch. The spot where the four intersections (where the horizontal and vertical seams) would cross make very good spots to place a focal point. So that's what I did with the piece, added an image with the greatest part of it's visual weight in the lower left focal point center.

So - here's a challenge. Go to the piece you are working on now and take a fresh look at it. Where is the very first place your eye stops? What spot draws your attention? That will be the focal point. Of course some artwork doesn't have a focal point, and there can certainly be more than one focal point - but think about where you have placed it.

Tell us about the focal point in your favorite piece of work - or ask a question about focal point. This forum has the potential to be a really wonderful place for working out design issues - but only if you all participate!


Can't wait to hear from you!


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mary j3 wrote
on 15 May 2009 6:58 PM

Thanks for reviewing - I knew there was something the matter with latest little birdie quilt - it's more like a Rococo wreath - birds everywhere - but no focus pt.  Will stare awhile...the birds and their little typewriters are too good to lose all my work.  I think my art teacher used to say "can't see the forest for the trees."  Ahem, it seems I've had this problem before.  ps I loved your articles in QA on basic art theory-   mary j

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reginabdunn wrote
on 19 May 2009 4:38 PM

I'm working on a piece now and I think it has a focal point. I tried to make it be the focal point anyway. The piece is representative of an aerial view of a place in Burma that has hundreds of temples scattered across miles. The city is Bagan (formerly called Pagan). I used photos I had of three temples and printed them on organza. First I created the background by fusing and sewing squares and rectangles of cotton fabrics onto crinoline about 1 1/2 ft wide and 2 1/2 ft tall. Then I fused darker fabrics in strips to represent roads and paths. I added small dark rectangles and sewed beaded spirals on them to represent minor temples. I added thicker dark strips to represent the ancient city walls and placed one of the organza photos inside that in the upper right area (I knew about the rule of thirds) I sewed a shiny fiber around it to frame it and I placed other elements in such a way so they sort of point to it. I put the other 2 photos in other places but they aren't emphasized. The problem is that I think the piece has become too busy. There are sections of it that I like a lot but I'm not sure I can make it work. What does one do to a piece that has too much going on? 

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Carole31 wrote
on 19 May 2009 5:05 PM

I went to your blog Lyric to see the piece in question... I love that violin.... and how it has become the focal point. [I posted on your blog...]

but I want everyone to know that I just received your DVD in the mail toay, viewed it immediately and I am off to start some new work. The DVD is so very instructive, I love how QA sets these up so get get to see it right as if we were there. If anyone is wondering whether or not the should get it, they should!

I have been doing some rusting and want to try some of your techniques with my 'new' fabric. Maybe some copper foil lettering....and doesn't turquoise look good with rust?

Yes, thank you so much Lyric... I am going to have a lot of fun!


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Carole31 wrote
on 19 May 2009 5:06 PM

Where can I see this?


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jakquil wrote
on 19 May 2009 8:28 PM

I have a piece that I nearly completed about two years ago, I was hung up on a part of it and put it away.  I recently  brought it out to my design wall and I noticed something I had not previously noticed.  The piece is named "Asian Wedding" the couple occupies nearly the entire piece, however it is the background that concerns me, the horizontal line. There is the sky, the background depicting snow falling, and the bottom ground of fallen snow.  The bottom ground is less than one fourth of the entire piece and the sky is less than one fourth of the entire piece, that leaves the remaining two thirds in the middle the part depicting snow falling. It just doesn't feel right.  Any suggestions are welcome.



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Dale Kathryn wrote
on 19 May 2009 8:35 PM

HI Jakquil: 

Can you please post a photo? I might not be skilled enough to answer, but a photo would really help. 


"To create one's own world in any of the arts takes courage." - Georgia O'Keeffe

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on 20 May 2009 7:05 AM

Jakquil - could it be that the size of both your sky and the bottom ground are too similar.  Or do your horizontal lines slice through important pieces, ie cut the bodies in half or make them headless!!!  Are those lines straight, would they be better more random?

They often say to take a piece of work and hang it upsidedown, its stops you seeing it as what it is, ie the wedding, and makes you look at it in terms of colour balance, or shape or intensity.  And don't forget how you see it when you work on a piece, ie close too, is not the same as distance viewing.   I know some people who lay their work on the floor and then climb the stairs and hang over the banister to get a distance look.   Sometimes taking a photo of the piece will reveal what's wrong as the camera picks up on things the eye might not.

There is a phrase which I like, which is "interrogate your work until it confesses itself" - that is continually ask the tough questions, even the ones which could mean a radically change and you'll get your answer.

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cmontgomery wrote
on 20 May 2009 10:21 PM

Just a thought I thought I'd pass on. In your description of the Law of Thirds one of the points:mentioned was where the first horizontal and first vertical cross. This point is called Optical Center is the spot where the viewer's eye looks first when looking at any page. It is interesting that all cultures seem to share this point, regardless of the direction they scan when  reading.  This place is a logical location for a focal point as it takes advantage of our physiology.( I suppose it's a case of it being easier to ride a horse in the direction it is already going.) I do agree that any of the points described in the  Law of Thirds are effective. Contrast, balance and movement are key. I've read Quilting Arts & Cloth, Paper Scissors for a long time and look forward to every issue. When I renewed my subscription today I took advantage of  looking through this forum. It's the first response I've ever made so hope it adds a bit of compositional embellishment. If not, please be gentle.  Carol


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CatherineS@2 wrote
on 21 May 2009 7:16 AM

I attended a workshop (my first ever) and came home w/ this painted paper/fiber piece that had a 'tie-died' design on it. You know, the big blob in the center and bands of color around. Had no clue about this third thing.

So, now I have applied roving,etc. and attempted to portray a celestial explosion (supernova). My friend critiqued it for me and also told me about the 3rd thing.. Really a learning curve. I want to show you some 'before' pics and my process. She was playing around w/ it and turned it around and guess what, I looks so much 'upside' down. Who knew? I'm taking out the stark white explosion stuff and and replacing w/ more of a cream. Anyway, I'm going out of town but will try and show ya what I have so far --have not turned it upside down yet.


Well, guess I need to find how to insert pics. Bye for now.

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CatherineS@2 wrote
on 21 May 2009 7:54 AM

Here is the piece w/ 2 different brightness. Yes, it has folds in it. But. it's a learning thing for me.

Can't wait to get back to it next week. Have a great week.


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