Do you want to improve your artistic compositions with the rule of thirds?
Composition is such a valuable tool for any artist. It has helped artists such as Van Gogh to Picasso create artistic masterpieces, and understanding this handy and simple tool can help improve your art.
Within this blog post you will discover the rule of thirds, how it can help your artistic compositions, how to create one yourself, and lots of analysis to help you along the way.
If you are unfamiliar with this blog, I’m a freelance illustrator and designer, and share tips and tricks to help you with freelancing, illustration to your creative journey. Check out my previous blog post helping you discover the baseline grid.
So let’s get into it!
What Is The Rule Of Thirds?
The rule of thirds is a composition method which splits an image (of any ratio) into 3 parts – 3 equal lines horizontally and 3 equal lines vertically. The rule of thirds is used widely by artists and photographers. The rule of thirds guides artists to base their composition on this structure.
The rule of thirds gives a composition a framework and offers a platform to work from. This structure is similar to the golden ratio and the golden spiral, however the rule of thirds is a simplified version. That is not to say it’s less important. Basing a composition on this structure can ensure your images are pleasing on the eye, and makes you think about a composition before committing.
Let’s take a look at this example. In the image below I have positioned a person in the centre of the artwork looking at the sun above, with the ground beneath. You could say that this composition is quite boring. However when I base the image on the rule of thirds, it becomes more interesting to look at. I have based the ground on one of the horizontal lines, arranged the person where the horizontal and vertical lines intersects, and have positioned the sun opposite to this.
Which do you prefer?
Another example of the rule of thirds in this illustration that I’ve produced for my illustration portfolio. This illustration was constructed using the rule of thirds, with the edge of the buildings sitting along one of the vertical lines, and the bottom of the windows and building to the right sitting on one of the horizontal buildings too.
How To Create The Rule Of Thirds
To create your own image using the rule of thirds, simply split your image into three equal parts horizontally, and 3 equal parts vertically. The image below shows you how this method works across all image dimensions regardless of its ratio.
From here you can base your composition on this structure, leading the eye around the image.
When constructing your image using the rule of thirds, base your composition on these lines for effective results. A good rule of thumb is to arrange your compositional elements on opposite ends of where the horizontal and vertical lines intersects. This makes you more likely to create an appealing image.
In photography, the rule of thirds is prevalent. This is especially the case when you look through a camera’s viewfinder. Depending on your camera’s setting, a viewfinder can commonly show the rule of thirds as an overlay, offering a photographer this structure before taking a photograph. This compositional technique is engrained in photography, and for good reason.
Pro Tip: When using Adobe Photoshop, you can overlay your image with the rule of thirds by selecting your crop tool, and with the tool selected, clicking the button next to where it says ‘Straighten’, and clicking ‘Rule Of Thirds’. Once this has been selected with the crop tool still active, click on the top right of your image to see the overlay. You can then draw guides to aid your composition. A mini tutorial is below.
Artistic Examples Using This Method
Artists past and present have used the rule of thirds to create masterpieces. Let’s take a look at a few examples to help inspire and show you why this technique is great.
J. M. W. Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ is a masterpiece in itself for his use of colour, painting technique and symbolism. However the composition is what pins it altogether. As you can see, the horizon fits on one of the horizontal lines, and the ship is inline with the left vertical line. Coupled with the sun being arranged around the right vertical line too.
Next up is ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’ by Rembrandt, and what a golden piece of work this is! I love this painting as it’s remarkably painted. When we place the rule of thirds structure on top of this painting, you can see Rembrandt has purposely positioned the image around this structure. The corpse’s head, one of the student’s heads and the tutor himself sits perfectly on the rule of thirds.
Ending with the legendary Vincent Van Gogh and these two fine examples of ‘Prisoners Exercising’ and ‘Wheatfields With Cypresses’. Starting with ‘Prisoners Exercising’, the focal point of the piece is concentrated on the blonde prisoner at the bottom, sitting on one of the horizontal lines. The prisoners circle around this horizontal line, with the little window in the middle sitting on the opposing horizontal line. The walls nearly match up with the vertical lines too. ‘Wheatfields With Cypresses’ is another fine example of composition. Here the bush on the left hand side intersects the horizontal and vertical line, with the horizon sitting on this structure too. The tall tree to the right is placed within the two boxes on the right.
You can see that famous past and present artists have based their compositions on this structure, so take his as inspiration to create your own.
What Have You Learnt?
Constructing my own art on the rule of thirds has massively helped me. If it has helped me, it can certainly help you too! I would love to discover how you get on with your own rule of thirds creations – let me know in the comments section below.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand the rule of thirds for your artistic compositions. If you’re in the grove of learning and want to discover more, check out my previous blog posts or check out my illustration portfolio and see what you think!
Thanks guys, and happy constructing!
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