Thirds

By Sally Pudney on 2nd July 2016

A little tip that I find really useful when starting a new painting – as I have been doing the last couple of days – is the use of thirds – many of you may know about this already, but if you don’t it may be a helpful way of thinking about picture composition. I think it was my friend, the lettering artist Martin Wenham, who first taught me about this, and it is something which I often think about when I’m planning out a painting and attempting to get the structure right.

Basically, this is what it is: the horizon line is best either a third down from the top of the picture plane, or a third up from the bottom. (If it is in the middle the picture as an uncomfortable, unbalanced look.) Any strong vertical accents work best if they are a third in from one of the sides. And if there are basically two kinds of area in the painting it is best if the ratio is roughly one third/two thirds.

For example, in my new painting, I started by drawing in an guide horizon line a third up from the bottom of the board.

ThirdsSometimes there isn’t an horizon visible in the picture – for example in Essex Wood: May. What I did here was to use the strong horizontal accent of the top ‘edge’ of the bluebells as my eye-line – and I positioned this one third down from the top of the painting.

Others, like the dinghy paintings, have no horizons and no strong horizontals either, so this is where the one third/two thirds in picture area  is a useful guide to make them feel balanced. The area of the picture plane which is taken up by the dinghy and it’s reflection is about a third of the total, and the area of water is about two thirds of the total area. If you have a look at Blackwater Reflections you will see an example of this. In some of the dinghies I had to think a bit more though! In my newest one, Waiting for the Tide III, the presence of the rope and the anchor dug into the mud visually enlarges the area taken up by the dinghy – the dinghy sort of ‘spills over’ visually into that space between the bottom keel of the boat and the line of the rope.

I hope that’s useful!

We have just had the most tremendous thunder storm here, but I hope you’re enjoying your weekend whatever the weather. 🙂


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