When you are arranging your subject, whether it be a still life, portrait, or landscape, you will most likely have
a center of interest, or focal point. It's usually the thing that attracted you to the scene in the first place, if it's a landscape, or it's what you want to be the "big thing" in your still life painting. Usually in portraits or figures, it's the face (not always, but usually).
There's a little principle of composition called "The Rule of Thirds". It just means that if you divide your painting into thirds, horizontally and vertically, that at any point where those lines intersect is a good spot to place your focal point. You can easily remember it by thinking of a tic tac toe grid. Here, I've done one below.
That orange which is so obviously the attention-getter in this painting, is placed on that bottom right intersection.
It usually NOT good to put your center of interest smack dab in the middle, or way off to one edge, where it might lead viewer's eye out of the painting. It's most often best to place a center of interest in either the right top or bottom intersecting point.
Why? We "read" paintings like we read words... from left to right. Looking at a painting is like a little visual journey.... we tend to start at the left (unless there's a compelling reason to start somewhere else) and walk through the painting to reach the center of interest. If that center of interest comes right away, on the left side, then we don't have any good reason to keep going. Our visual journey is over, and we leave. Now, there are ways to direct eye movement back and around in a painting - I'll talk about that a little bit here.
Here's a couple of other examples:
Another top right on a vertical format:
Top Left (this requires directing the viewers eyes through the painting in a backwards "C" to get them to the focal point.
Here's a bottom left:
In this case, the path, leading to the very bright spot, is compelling enough to keep the viewer going, following that, back down the trees to the water puddles on the path and back to the hiker. At least that was the plan. But it's tricky putting a focal point on the bottom left like this. Here's another.
In this case, the focal point really could be either the pint of Guinness, or the group of figures by the bar. In either case, the eye certainly lands on the pint glass first, but the explores the painting - going to the group of figures, over to the gal in the reddish shirt, down to the foreground figure and back to the pint glass. So, I think this works, though it requires some thought and planning to put a center of interest so "soon" in a painting.
Well, hope this gives you some ideas when you go to plan your composition. This is a tried and true principle and it WILL help you. That doesn't mean you can't break the rule and still have a good painting, but you'll just have to work alot harder to make a pleasing arrangement that keeps the viewer entertained.
Just another reminder of my new blog to document an experiment of doing 120 paintings (nearly daily).