Rule of Thirds 

 Composition in Art

painting - self portrait - jackie jacobson

Self Portrait • © Jackie Jacobson

” This is my favorite rule.
Even though I hate rules…I actually use this one.
It does give you a very dynamic composition.
Whatever you are designing, photographing, painting, weaving… Remember this one.
And then use it !

April 10, 2009 By Lori McNee

Composition - Rule of Thirds

Composition • Rule of Thirds


The Rule of Thirds is probably one of the most basic rules of composition that has been used in painting for ages. It is a composition rule of thumb that is commonly used in the visual arts today including painting, photography and design.

This is a very basic rule about that is often overlooked by amateur artists and forgotten by many art teachers. Interestingly, it is one of the most important rules that a novice photographer learns about in photography class! Using it will help improve the design of your paintings.

Just a reminder…in art, rules are made to be broken! I have never really liked the word ‘rules’ when it is relates toward art. To me, art is a way an artist can freely stretch and push the boundaries. But as my earlier post named, Breaking the Rules in Art I stated, an artist must first know the rules before he/she breaks them.

Here is how the Rule of Thirds works:

Draw two equally-space vertical lines
Draw two equally-spaced horizontal lines
It looks like a tic-tac-toe board
This divides your rectangle or square canvas into nine equal parts
This creates four points where the lines intersect or ‘hot-spots’ or ‘sweet-spots’
Studies show that placing objects in these intersections creates a pleasing composition
Balance in the design can often be achieved by placing a secondary object or counterpoint at the opposing intersection.
This creates more interest, tension and energy rather than just centering the subject
Applying the rule of thirds to a painting keeps your composition from being split in half either vertically or horizontally
Avoids the main focus from the center of the painting like a bull’s-eye.

The Rule of Thirds is actually a guideline more than a rule. It is intended to help the artist with the placement of the elements and focal point within the composition. But, if you want your viewer to ignore the other parts of your painting, then go ahead break a rule and center your subject like a big bull’s-eye! Knowing why you do something and what effect will have on the viewer leads to a good composition.

Below are a two examples of how I used the Rule of Thirds in my paintings. Notice the birds are in the invisible ‘hot-spot’ of the intersecting points of interest.

Painting - LoriMcNee

Painting • ©Lori McNee • "Remnants"Painting • ©Lori McNee • "Bluebird - Turkish Vase"


Painting - Lori McNee

Painting • ©Lori McNee • "Bluebird - Turkish Vase"

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