The Rule of Thirds is probably one of the most basic rules that has been used in painting for ages.  It is a compositional 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.

In art, rules are made to be broken!  The artist should be able to freely stretch and push the boundaries. However, in my post Breaking the Rules in Art , I mention that 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 few example of how I’ve loosely used the Rule of Thirds in my paintings.

©2015 Lori McNee, Old Bottles and Wildflowers

Winter's Glow 8x8 LMcNee 72dpi
©2015 Lori McNee, Winter’s Glow

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