Rule of Thirds

Jill Poyerd
A free video tutorial from Jill Poyerd
Professional Artist and Fine Arts Educator
4.8 instructor rating • 8 courses • 21,312 students

Lecture description

In this section, we explore nine composition tools used by both historic and contemporary painting Masters. The first and perhaps most common of these tools is the Rule of Thirds, where your focal elements are lined up along third lines and intersections.

Learn more from the full course

Developing an Eye for Landscape Composition

Learn to successfully see a landscape when painting in oil, watercolor, or acrylic or in photographic compositions.

03:44:31 of on-demand video • Updated September 2020

  • Break down the landscape into manageable broad planes.
  • Understand what differentiates landscape from other subject matter.
  • Identify the focal point in a landscape scene.
  • Determine the lines in a landscape and how they lead the eye.
  • Recognize composition design tools used by painting Masters.
  • Learn the common Dos and Don'ts of landscape composition design.
  • Be able to see or design a landscape composition that has the best chance of success.
  • Conduct a successful photoshoot to gather reference material.
  • Reconstruct a troubled composition to increase success.
  • Understand how to create and the benefits of creating a value sketch.
  • Use a Notan design to double-check composition designs.
English [Auto] In this section of the course we're going to discuss some of the tools that are commonly used in composition design and will use works from some of the great masters as examples designed tools rely on the lines in a scene these lines the ones that guide your eye can be lined up in predictable patterns known to successfully guide the viewers eye masters throughout the ages have used some of these tools when developing their painting compositions. The first and perhaps most well known of these tools is the rule of thirds. This is a very popular design format and it involves dividing up your image in two thirds both horizontally and vertically. The theory is that if you place your primary objects or your focal point where the lines intersect or along the lines you'll have a successful composition. So if we were designing a landscape we could position the horizon line along one of the third markers and then place the highest point of a mountain at one of the intersections. We could then place a focal point element at the opposing intersection or perhaps select a different intersecting spot. Being aware of these lines and points can help you when evaluating a landscape seen. Let's see how it works in real life. If I place lines dividing the image into thirds you can see that two of the lines intersect right where the setting sun is located. And notice that one of the Third's ran along the horizon line itself. The value contrast of the sun and the end of the pier happened to be our focal point and is made stronger by its placement along the intersecting lines. Here is another example. If we divide this image into thirds and then follow the dominant lines in the seam you can see that they take you right through several of the intersections ending at the upper left intersection which happens to be our focal point. Let's see how the Master is applying this concept in this piece by Tanner. When we established the third lines you can see how his key elements line up. His primary element the unusual tree is centered on the left third vertical and passes through two intersections. It encompasses pretty much the entire left third of the scene. Interestingly Tanner placed the couple in the lower right section not along a line but rather centered in that spot. It's pretty close to the edge but in doing this he balances the weight of the tree elements close to the edge have more visual weight than those further in the seam. He placed the third key element the moon close to the upper right intersection. Now whether he did all this consciously I don't know but it clearly lined up that way visually as he planned his painting the moon by the way also helps balance the weight of the tree. Here's another good example in this painting you can see that Giffard placed his horizon line close to the bottom third line. He also placed his primary focal element along the right third line vertically with the base along the intersection. What a beautiful rendering and use of the rule of thirds. If you've heard of the golden ratio or the golden point error are number names that's similar to the rule of thirds but I find the rule of thirds much easier to understand before we move on to the next design tool. I want to let you know that I created a worksheet for each of the tools to help you reinforce each concept if you like complete the activity and then move on to the next design tool. An extreme horizon line.