Focal Point

Learn the fundamentals of this important and essential aspect of art forgotten by many artists today: the focal point.

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Step 1 - Introduction
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There are many things that make up a piece of art. However in order to make a piece of art into a masterpiece, there are several components that it must have. One of these components is a focal point.

Definition Focus: “a. a center of activity, attraction, or attention b: a point of concentration”

The focal point is the center of a piece of art. By center I don’t mean literally center (although in many cases it is) but rather the most important part or parts of a piece. For example, if one were making an image of a bird sitting on a tree, the bird would probably be the focal point.

Why is the focal point important? Without a focal point, a spectator will lose interest quickly because he does not know where to look and what part is the most interesting. It may sound silly but it is the truth.

Take a look at the following painting:

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This painting is called “The Last Supper” and was created by Leonardo da Vinci from 1495-1497. The painting depicts the moment when Christ reveals to his disciples that he is to die. If you did not guess already Christ is the one in the middle.

Where did you look at first? Chances are you looked at Christ first. Why is this? This is because Leonardo da Vinci is arguably one of the greatest masters at focal points. In this lesson we are going to teach you the basics of how to make a focal point.

There are three things that make a focal point what it is: Color, contrast, and structure.

Step 2 - Color
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There is a simple chant that you can memorize for the colors:

“Complimentary colors = focal point”


I have highlighted the complimentary colors on this focal point: orange and green. Human eyes are attracted to complimentary colors.

What is a complimentary color you say?

Color Wheel

Take a look at the color wheel to the left. Complimentary colors are colors that are on opposite ends of the color wheel. The arrows above show one set of complimentary colors: light blue and red.

By using complimentary colors on a focal point, you can draw the human eye there.

(You may have noticed the disciples are wearing red and green as well. They are secondary focal points so they use more faded versions of the red and green Christ is wearing.)

Step 3 - Contrast
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ContrastContrast is one of the biggest draws of the human eye. By using it properly, it is the most effective way to create a focal point.

If you immediately saw the white square then you just experienced a drastic version of using contrast for a focal point.


I have highlighted the contrasted part of the painting, the windows. By placing them directly behind Christ, the focal point, they help cut out Christ from the rest of the image.

Brighter colors will draw the human’s eye faster than darker colors. However, there are exceptions where everything is bright and the only dark spot is the focal point but the latter is more uncommon.

Be careful not to use too much contrast in your image or else the rest of the image will receive no attention. Also, you do not always have to make the focal point bright but as Leonardo did, you can make the area around the focal point bright.

Step 4 - Structure
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A more subtle way of drawing the eye to a point, structure is just as important. Take another look at the original painting:


If you look carefully you will notice that almost everything smoothly flows towards the focal point.


The most obvious is the architecture of the building. The ceiling bars and wall decorations all point towards Christ using clever perspective.

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Harder to catch, even the people are subtly pointing at the focal point.

By drawing lines towards a focal point, one can effectively move a spectator’s eye. Architecture and people are not the only things that can point to a focal point. Almost anything can from a river in the background to a abstract 3d spike ball going out from the focal point.

Step 5 - Conclusion
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Focal points are very important in order to make one’s art powerful and interesting. One can create a focal point by using complimentary colors, contrast, and structure flowing towards the focal point. By employing these three techniques, one can effectively create a focal point that will assist the spectator in staying intrigued longer

I hope you liked this fundamental tutorial on an important aspect of art.

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