The Rule of Thirds in landscape painting (video)

by Will Kemp

in drawing

Video Transcript
How to use the ‘rule of thirds’ in your landscape paintings

Morning class, today we are going to have a quick look at composition and the rule of thirds.

Even though it’s called a rule it’s really just a guide to help you compose a picture that looks natural within a rectangle, or square, I find it always works best though within a rectangle.

All you do is split your page into thirds, horizontally and vertically. And these bad boys on the intersections are what we’re looking for…these are what we can align key points of interest to pump up our paintings to guide the viewer into where we want them to look…

Lets look at this 17th century Dutch painting by Ruisdael and you can see how it creates a focal point on the Windmill on the right. Because the horizon line is so low, a third of the painting, you’ve got this really imposing sky, you can imagine the wind coming through and hitting the windmill, the sails are up on the boat its got a real sense of drama to it and a sense of movement.

When we overlay the rule of thirds over the top you can see how he’s positioned his windmill right up to one of the guidelines and even the masts of the ship are nearly spot on the other guide.The horizontal line at the bottom isn’t plum with the bottom guide, but this doesn’t matter. He hasn’t laid it exactly on the line because he needed to balance the horizon with this taller area of land in the foreground. The right hand side of the painting is higher he’s had to drop the land on the left slightly to balance it, and remember it is just a guide.

A subtler approach, but still sticking to the rules, is Gainsborough’s View of Dedham. This is a warm autumnal scene with a mass of trees, there’s a break in the foliage to help send out eye through into the distance of the picture.

When we put the grid on again you can see how this church is bang in the middle of the guide, it’s not on the crosshairs, but right on the centre line. This is another key point to remember not to get too caught up with everything having to hit exactly on all the crosses.
What is interesting to note though if we focus on the tree line even this tree has a little indent to allow it to sit in the guide, as Degas once said “ Even nature has to be composed”

I hope this has opened your eyes to the rule of thirds, so next time your on holiday click on the grid function on your camera and try and line up some of the key elements of your picture with the rule of thirds.I guarantee this will improve both your photography and your painting.

This is Will Kemp from Will Kemp Art School.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

noella roos September 5, 2012

I like your lessons, intresting to see how you explain things. But why not using the golden mean just as easy you did as here and you will see it fits even better on Ruysdaal. The selfportrait with circle from Rembrandt is a beautiful Golden mean. Even the circle is golden mean if you take it from the middle point. Thanks for your work to explain, Noel

Reply

Will Kemp September 5, 2012

Thanks Noel,
Will

Reply

maebel January 16, 2013

Hi Will,

Great tutorial, Thanks and heads up for this.

Maebel frm the Philippines

Reply

Jerry Minot January 30, 2013

Very interesting and instructive.

Reply

Will Kemp January 31, 2013

Cheers Jerry,

Will

Reply

Sheshe Roberge July 28, 2013

Hello Will, I love painting and drawing. But I am somewhat new to this and just learning some of the key points. I’m so glad I found you to explain these in layman’s terms. Makes it so much less intimidating.

Reply

Will Kemp July 28, 2013

Hi Sheshe,
Thanks for dropping by, and so pleased you’re finding the tutorials easy to understand and are learning some key principles.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Susan September 27, 2013

Hi Will; I find your videos very clear, and you really share your information clearly. I’ve been drawing and painting for a long time, although not professionally; but with training, starting in England, actually – (when I was about 6 (1956) my father was sent there by the Navy, and I still have a painting that was done and shown in school in Bath!) We had good art lessons, and those continued in the Navy school in Canada. I feel strongly that drawing is the foundation to everything.

It’s hard to find good instruction, and you don’t necessarily find it at an art school. I’ve had some good training, some in an art school but there it was frustrating to have concept pushed over skills, and I had to thank earlier teachers for giving me training in drawing. I’ve got holes in my education, but I’ve had enough training to know when a teacher isn’t helping, and I find your videos really, really good. You’re very generous with your information, and clear. The course might be what my daughter and I need to help her towards her BFA, and me to just paint better.

Reply

Will Kemp September 27, 2013

Hi Susan,

Nice to hear from you, and great to hear you’ve been finding the videos clear and easy to follow. Having a solid basis in drawing will always stand you in a good position when learning painting. Enjoy exploring the rest of the site.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Mary Almeida October 31, 2013

This is such a great site!!! I will be soon on my journey to a BFA, and I found a lots of great information and what to expect in class. Thanks Will

Reply

Will Kemp October 31, 2013

Really pleased to hear it Mary.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Elvira December 30, 2013

Hi Will
Thank you very much for teaching. Can I please ask a conceptual question about choosing a scene for a landscape. There is a huge difference between painting ga and photographs. Sometimes I look at he view through the camera, it looks pretty from the top of the hill, but as a painting maybe not. Where is the painter, where is the viewer? Should the landscape scene be close to the viewer’s eyes and not a kind of arial view. How do I look at nature and choose what “works” to be a painting? My question I realize is more about how to look and how it affects the view? What is a successful composition choice? Thank you

Reply

Will Kemp December 31, 2013

Hi Elvira,

This is often where drawing comes in. It acts as a bridge between the view through the viewfinder and the final painting. This is often the quickest way to sharpen your composition.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

William Rodriguez April 6, 2014

When can we expect to have A Beginners Guide to Light & Shadow : Part 3

Reply

Will Kemp April 7, 2014

Should be live next week William,
Cheers,
Will

Reply

patricia May 4, 2014

Hi
I am 66 years old and have a dream to have an art exhibition at 80. I have done a lot of children’s work in schools and church so all my art work have been large visual aids. ie one 10 foot Goliath or 8 foot Big Ben for the Narnia series we did. However it is hard to get SMALL!!!!

I met an artist in Israel last year on a trip and she said you need someone to speak to you about “composition”. So today i looked on the computer and there you were. After only one session my mind is in top gear. It makes sense. And there is more to come!!! I am so encouraged. My confidence has soared,

Thank you so much.
On my way to my exhibition
Patricia

Reply

Will Kemp May 4, 2014

Great one Patricia, so pleased you found the article helpful, great to hear you’re feeling inspired towards your exhibition!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Solly May 21, 2014

Hi Will

I am really interested in doing acrylic painting and your tutorial has helped alot. Thank you for sharing. I am not able to subscribe and participate in your online class, but grateful for some assistance through your web and email correspondence.

Thanks

solly
Philippines

Reply

Will Kemp May 21, 2014

Hi Solly, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons and hopefully the free painting tutorials have been helping you improve.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Alice Ann Hengesbach August 9, 2014

Laughing so hard … I never knew that is the reason for the grid overlay on the camera! Thank you … Alice Ann

Reply

Will Kemp August 9, 2014

Ha ha, pleased it helped Alice!
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: