Art Composition Rules

By Marion Boddy-Evans

Art composition rules provide a starting point for deciding on a composition for a painting, for deciding where to put things. The Rule of Thirds is the easiest art composition rule to follow in a painting. It’s a basic rule popular among photographers, but equally applicable to the composition of paintings. Applying the rule of thirds to a painting means you’ll never have a painting that’s split in half, either vertically or horizontally, nor one with the main focus right in the centre like a bull’s-eye.

What is the Rule of Thirds?
Quite simply, divide a canvas in thirds both horizontally and vertically, and place the focus of the painting either one third across or one third up or down the picture, or where the lines intersect (the red circles on the diagram).

What Difference Does the Rule of Thirds Make?
Take a look at these two photos of a lion. On the one on the left, your eye is drawn straight into the centre of the image and you tend to ignore the rest of the picture. On the one on the right, where the lion’s face is on one of the Rule of Thirds ‘hotspots’, your eye is drawn the the lion’s face, then around the painting following the curve of the body.

How Do I Use the Rule of Thirds in a Painting?
Until you’re confident mentally visualising the lines, draw them in lightly on your canvas or piece of paper with a pencil so you can easily check that the placement of the elements in your painting adheres to the Rule of Thirds. If you do thumbnail sketches first, draw the thirds grid on top to check the composition.

Rule of Thirds in Photography
When you’re taking reference photos, remember the Rule of Thirds also applies to photography. See these examples of the Rule of Thirds in Photography from’s Photography Guide.

Rule of Thirds in Design
The Rule of Thirds also works well for creating balance in a design.





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