Tips for Creating Strong Compositions in your Paintings

Composition is one of the most important aspects of painting. A pleasing composition is one where shapes and colors in a painting are organized in such a way that there is a sense of balance. Creating a balanced and interesting composition is more challenging that it may appear. If something is out of place or wrong, the viewer is left confused or uninterested. The following tips should help steer you in the right direction.


The rule of thirds is a tool made popular by photographers but equally important to painters and is used to help artists create a strong and balanced composition. There are certain things you can do to the composition of a painting that will make it unbalanced or unpleasing to the eye. For instance, a common mistake is to place the focal point of a painting directly in the center. Another common mistake is to split the painting directly in half as in a landscape painting where the horizon line is directly in the middle of the painting.

To construct a rule of thirds, equally divide your canvas or other support into thirds by drawing two equally spaced vertical and horizontal lines on your support. You would then arrange the important compositional elements of your painting along these lines or on the points of intersection.

The rule of thirds is a broad topic that would take up an entire article all on its own. I highly recommend you do additional research on this topic.


The focal point in your painting is the main element or subject in your painting and should attract the viewers eye. All other elements in the composition of your painting should help to guide the users eye to this focal point.

Using Color as a Focal Point

An excellent method for creating a focal point in your painting is by using color. For instance, you could have a painting that is predominantly blue and make the focal point stand out by using yellow. This warm yellow will stand out against the cool blues in the rest of the painting.

Using Contrast as a Focal Point

Another excellent method for creating a focal point in your painting is by using contrast. For instance you could use mainly dark values in your painting and create a center of interest that is light in value.

Using Size as a Focal Point

You could utilize size differences in your painting to create a focal point. For instance, if you were to create a city scape, you could make a tall skyscraper stand out amongst smaller buildings.


It is often recommended when composing a painting, that you use an odd number of elements. No one is exactly sure why this works. One theory is that a viewer mentally groups even elements together thereby breaking up the composition.


If you have more than one object in a painting, you need to carefully consider how to arrange them with regards to the distance between them. Objects should never “just touch” one another. You should either overlap objects or have space between them. Try not to equally space objects, but instead, vary the distance between objects to create more variety.


When composing a painting, you should either choose a predominately warm or cool color theme. Do not mix the two into one painting or you could confuse the viewer. This is not to say you cannot use warm and cool colors together in a painting. Just try and make one more dominant than the other.


Value is how light or dark a color is in your painting. A painting that is all one value is boring. You need to have a variety of light and dark objects in a painting to create more interest.


Often, there is a lot going on in our surrounding environment. It can be difficult to frame a scene and imagine a composition without the use of certain tools. I find the following two tools to be extremely helpful in capturing a scene.

Using a View Finder

A view finder is a handy little tool to have. It is basically two L-Shaped pieces of cardboard that when placed together create a frame. You then look through this frame to capture your scenes.

Using a Digital Camera

Another great way to capture a scene is by using a digital camera. Looking through a digital camera gives you an obvious way to frame a scene, but it also gives you a way to take snapshots and return to your studio and further analyze the composition or add various effects to them.


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