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 on how to create point perspective. Alternatively, discover 7 tips to improve your gouache paintings.
So let’s get into it!
What Is The Rule Of Thirds?
The rule of thirds is a composition device that splits an image into three equal parts. Three horizontal lines and three vertical lines. Many artists and photographers use the rule of thirds to create compositions.
It’s a framework and offers a platform to work from. The rule of thirds is a simplified version of the golden ratio and the golden spiral. That’s not to say it’s any less important. Basing a composition on this structure can make your images pleasing on the eye and create engaging compositions.
Let’s take a look at the example image below. I’ve positioned a figure in the centre of the image looking at the sun above, with the ground beneath. This composition is dull. However it becomes alluring when I base the composition on the rule of thirds. The ground sits on a horizontal line, the figure rests on the intersecting lines, with the sun opposite.
Which do you prefer?
Another example of the rule of thirds features in this illustration. This narrative illustration was constructed using the rule of thirds, with the edge of the building sitting along one of the vertical lines. The bottom of the windows and building to the right sit on one of the horizontal buildings too.
How To Create The Rule Of Thirds
To create your own image using the rule of thirds, split your image into three equal parts. Three equal horizontal lines, and three equal vertical lines. The rule of thirds works regardless of your image dimension or ratio.
From here you can base your composition on this structure, leading the eye around the image.
Base your composition on these lines for effective results. Instead of basing your image with no structure, this gives you a solid foundation to create amazing art. I use the rule of thirds within my illustrations and sketchbook drawings.
In photography, the rule of thirds is prevalent. This is especially the case when you look through a camera’s viewfinder. A viewfinder shows the rule of thirds as an overlay. This prompts strong compositional technique in photography, and for good reason.
Pro Tip: You can overlay your image with the rule of thirds by selecting your crop tool in Adobe Photoshop. With the tool selected, click the button next to where it says ‘Straighten’, and click ‘Rule of Thirds’. Once 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 below.
Artistic Examples Using This Method
Past (and also present) artists used the rule of thirds to create masterpieces. Let’s take a look at a few examples to inspire and show you why this technique is great.
J. M. W. Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ is a masterpiece 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 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.
Finally, lets take a look at the legendary Vincent Van Gogh. What a great artist he was. I’m always inspired and influenced by him, especially within my map illustrations. I’m studying two fine examples of ‘Prisoners Exercising’ and ‘Wheatfields With Cypresses’. The focal point of ‘Prisoners Exercising’ concentrates on the prisoner at the bottom, arranged on a horizontal line. The prisoners circle around this horizontal line, with the window in the middle sitting on the opposing horizontal line. The walls match up with the vertical lines too. ‘Wheatfields With Cypresses’ is another fine example of composition. 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 sits 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 this as inspiration to create your own.
What Have You Learnt?
Constructing my illustrations, designs and canvas paintings on this technique 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.
Lets recap what we have learnt:
- You can create your own rule of thirds by splitting an image into three equal parts.
- Divide the width of your image by three, and divide the height by three.
- This gives you a solid foundation to work of when creating your art.
- Position your composition on these lines.
- Using the rule of thirds doesn’t automatically result in good compositions. However, it’s a great starting point to work with.
- Numerous past and present artists have used this methodology.
- Have fun with creating your own, and see what different compositions you can arrange!
I hope 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, master the triadic colour schemes. Alternatively, check out my top art tools that I use to create my art. Or finally, grasp how to create a drawing habit.
Thanks guys, and happy constructing!
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