Most every painting is stronger with an area of interest or focal point. The first thing I think about when I begin a painting, is what do I want to say to my viewer? Usually I’m trying to convey what captivated me to the scene in the first place, what drew me in and grabbed my attention. Then I put everything into service toward that. That’s where the dance is; the orchestration of my piece. I’m serving the focal point. Composition, value, color, texture and mark making are all factors to serve this focal point. Another way of thinking about it is to ask myself, ”what is the star of my piece and what are the supporting cast members?”. I’m setting the stage for the star of my piece. When I think of it this way it gets easier to edit things out and to make an area shine!

Here are some ways to engage your viewer and punctuate your area of interest:

  • include figures or animals
  • include a structure
  • use strong value contrast
  • use intense color
  • include hard edges
  • include small details
  • use strong patterns

One of my favorite pieces by Monet has an incredibly strong focal point. The figure is not only placed to balance the area on the right, but it has the most contrast in value. We know it’s a figure which automatically draws our attention. Remove it and the piece is still lovely, but not the masterpiece it is with the figure included.

This piece by Sorolla leads us to the focal point (the baby!) with the action and gesture of the figures. All the elements lead us there.

George Inness gives us a strong and beautiful focal point in this nocturne. All the values are subdued and lowered so and makes us look at the moonrise.


Next up: How to use action lines to direct your viewers attention through your pieces!

With Warmest Regards,


Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

These “mini-lessons” grew out of my blog. I love sharing my experience behind the easel, so these are free. I write a new one every two or three weeks, so please feel free to share with artist friends.

​These lessons are mostly written text with graphics…short but useful tidbits from the foundations of painting that touch on subjects such as aerial perspective, simultaneous contrast or using negative spaces. I guide you through different aspects of painting and art that will get you comfortable with using pastels. You’ll gain confidence to attempt work that you might have otherwise been timid about.

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