Focal Points

Focal points are the “start here” portion of your painting.

Remember that most paintings are spotted from 6 – 8 feet away, from across the room, so they need something to draw the viewer in to take a closer look. It’s like getting that special someone’s attention at a party by making eye contact.

Creating an effective focal point means understanding what attracts the human eye. Going back to our primitive roots for survival clues is really helpful.



Sparkles: Primitive humans were always in search of water for survival. Therefore out eyes are attracted to anything that resembles water, anything shiny. This is one of the reasons that I like to put water in my landscape paintings.

IM000760.JPGWarm colors: Warmth and fire were also crucial for survival.
The human eye is naturally attracted to anything resembling sunlight or fire. 

Primitive humans were also very sensitive to anything unique. This could signal danger or a new source of food. You can create a noticeable focal point by creating any of the following changes in your painting:

  • Dunbar's Mask

    Dunbar’s Mask

    Shape: A pear in a bowl of green apples will be noticed.

  • Color: The eye will notice a green leaf among a vase full of white flowers.
  • Temperature: A cool color (such as green or blue) will stand out in a warm painting (mostly reds, oranges and yellows) Be careful to be subtle with this in most cases. In a mostly warm painting, adding a touch of blue to a warm color will “cool” it down enough to create a pleasing focal point and still maintain the overall harmony of the painting.
  • Size: The viewer will notice an apple among grapes and strawberries, even if the colors are similar.
  • Texture: A fuzzy knit blanket hanging over a hard, wooden rocking chair on a hardwood floor will become the focal point.
  • Position: Placement of an object also affects whether or not it will be the focal point of a painting. See the article on placing objects for more information.
  • Eyes: Eyes are the window of the soul and are almost always the focal point of a painting featuring humans or animals.

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