Design Focus Friday – Center of Interest or Focal Point

We’ve made it through all of the elements of design and today we start with the first principle of design, the focal point. How do you get someone’s attention with your work? Without an audience’s attention, any message or artistic value is lost. To attract the viewer’s eye, a center of interest or focal point is needed. This emphasized element can attract the eye and encourage the viewer to look further.

Ways to achieve emphasis:

1. By contrast – one element in the design differs from the others – can be contrasting values, contrasting styles within the composition, contrasting shapes or sizes, contrast in color, hard edges vs. soft edges, the actual size of the work itself may draw the eye. This is called emphasis by contrast. The element that contrasts with, rather than continues, the prevailing design scheme becomes the focal point.

2. By isolation – one element by being alone, by itself, gets our attention. The contrast is achieved by placement of the focal point in an isolated manner.

3. By placement – If many elements in a design point to one item, our attention is directed there, and a focal point results.

4. By content – a human form or any living thing draws the eye, letters or words can give emphasis, the meaning or story behind your work may be the emphasis.

5. Absence of focal point – A focal point is not always necessary. You may wish to emphasize the entire surface over individual elements i.e. Andy Warhol or traditional quilts.

illustration from

The focal Area is roughly 25% of a work of art and should overlap the center of the piece. The placement of this area should be one of the first things you think about when beginning your creation. The rule of thirds says that most designs can be made more interesting by visually dividing the page into thirds vertically and/or horizontally and placing our most important elements within those thirds. Take this concept a step further, especially in photographic composition, by dividing the page into thirds both vertically and horizontally and placing your most important elements at one or more of the four intersections of those lines.

Questions to get you started:

1. How can I use each of the elements of design to create a focal point? Line? Shape? Form? Texture? Color? Value?

2. What happens if the focal point is in the center of the piece? Does this make the piece stronger or weaker? What happens if you crop the piece to move the focal point to a different area?

3. After you’ve put in your focal point, stand back and look to see if it catches your eye. Are there other contrasting elements that could enhance your focal point/area?

4. Looking at other art, ask, where is my eye attracted? What draws it there? What elements did the artist use to develop the focal point?

5. Can you create a focal point in a composition by contrasting realistic and abstract elements?

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