Composition and Design – Focal Point

Composition and Design – Focal Point


Montana Wildflower Wall HangingWe’ve made it through all of the elements of design and today we start with the first principle of design, the focal point. How do you get someone’s attention with your work? Without an audience’s attention, any message or artistic value is lost. To attract the viewer’s eye, a center of interest or focal point is needed. This emphasized element can attract the eye and encourage the viewer to look further.

Ways to achieve emphasis:

form tree sketch

1. By contrast – one element in the design differs from the others – can be contrasting values, contrasting styles within the composition, contrasting shapes or sizes, contrast in color, hard edges vs. soft edges, the actual size of the work itself may draw the eye. This is called emphasis by contrast. The element that contrasts with, rather than continues, the prevailing design scheme becomes the focal point.


2. By isolation – one element by being alone, by itself, gets our attention. The contrast is achieved by placement of the focal point in an isolated manner.


3. By placement – If many elements in a design point to one item, our attention is directed there, and a focal point results.

Bird with Orange Card

4. By content – a human form or any living thing draws the eye, letters or words can give emphasis, the meaning or story behind your work may be the emphasis.

Value Sample 13

5. Absence of focal point – A focal point is not always necessary. You may wish to emphasize the entire surface over individual elements i.e. Andy Warhol or traditional quilts.

The focal Area is roughly 25% of a work of art and should overlap the center of the piece. The placement of this area should be one of the first things you think about when beginning your creation. The rule of thirds says that most designs can be made more interesting by visually dividing the page into thirds vertically and/or horizontally and placing our most important elements within those thirds. Take this concept a step further, especially in photographic composition, by dividing the page into thirds both vertically and horizontally and placing your most important elements at one or more of the four intersections of those lines.


Questions to get you started:

Finished Free Motion Stitched Seed Heads

1. How can I use each of the elements of design to create a focal point? Line? Shape? Form? Texture? Color? Value?

2. What happens if the focal point is in the center of the piece? Does this make the piece stronger or weaker? What happens if you crop the piece to move the focal point to a different area?


Free Motion Stitching on Felt - Berries

3. After you’ve put in your focal point, stand back and look to see if it catches your eye. Are there other contrasting elements that could enhance your focal point/area?

Fire Painting

4. Looking at other art, ask, where is my eye attracted? What draws it there? What elements did the artist use to develop the focal point?

Painted and Free Motion Stitched Poppy on Felt

5. Can you create a focal point in a composition by contrasting realistic and abstract elements?

12 thoughts on “Composition and Design – Focal Point

  1. Hello Ruth, i always love your explanations, your tutorials, I recognize them from schooltime. It is a kind of ‘ aha, yes ..’…shaken awake …with that in mind I have starting point, motivation for going on. All is clear again, it was fade away..
    So thanks again!

    1. Thanks Jifke! I like doing the posts for that same reason. I always learn something again or remember what I had forgotten 🙂

  2. I find this very helpful–the focal point % and location…I did not know this. You are like our own personal art instructor. I tend to just “start” when I’m creating a felt painting. And although I usually have a picture or several pictures (photos, drawings, whatever) for inspiration, I have never really thought much about the science behind what makes a good composition. I will use this approach on my next project. Thanks!

    1. I have had to learn much of this on my own so I understand completely what you mean. Zed had asked that I repeat these here so more people could hopefully find them useful. I am glad you are learning and enjoying the posts.

  3. Thanks for this, Ruth 🙂
    I’m like meterrilee, I just ‘start’, usually with nothing more than a few colour ideas in mind. I don’t often do anything other than abstract, in felt or other media really, but there’s no reason why the same rules can’t be applied, maybe using a larger, bolder accent colour/texture etc on an abstract piece.

    1. You’re welcome! I think that abstract pieces need more thought about composition than more realistic pieces. At least for me anyway 🙂

  4. Thanks Ruth. You explain it better them my art teacher ever did. I hope you going to tell us about perspective and how to technically figure it out. I seem to remember using a ruler and lines to find the vanishing point and then being able to put everything thing in the picture in perspective.

    1. You’re welcome Ann. Glad it was understandable. Sorry to say I don’t think I did a post on drawing perspective. I might have something in one of the posts but not much. But it sounds like you have it correct about how to draw it.

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