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.

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