Techniques and Tips

The Picture Plane: Divide and Conquer

The Picture Plane: Divide and Conquer

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Today’s message comes from Mark Mehaffey, who wrote the following for Watercolor Artist (February 2013). If you want your paintings to reach their full potential, developing your awareness of compositional issues and planning your design will substantially increase your odds. To make a painting–whether it be a landscape, still life, portrait or abstract–that captures visual interest, one of the basic principles of composition you must learn to master is division of the picture plane.” Keep reading for Mark’s sage advice on dividing the picture plane for successful composition!

Rule of Thirds by Mark Mehaffey (click here to share this on Twitter)

You can create exciting divisions of space by placing the major horizontal and vertical lines in your painting so that they divide the picture plane into unequal spaces. Asymmetrical shapes generate excitement; symmetrical ones create visual boredom.

So, if you’re painting a landscape, avoid putting the horizon line exactly halfway between the top and bottom edges of the paper. Instead, try placing it one-third of the way down from the top or one-third of the way up from the bottom. The same goes for vertical lines: Place strong vertical elements not at the center but left or right of center.

Once you’ve planned your asymmetric placement of vertical and horizontal lines, try placing important shapes in your composition at or near a spot where those lines intersect. This principle is called the “rule of thirds.” Use it consistently to plan your paintings and see how much more interesting your compositions become. ~MM

Like what you see? Get more in-depth instruction from Mark in his newest DVDs from

• Abstract Painting: Watermedia on YUPO
• Watercolor Painting on YUPO: Painting Waterfalls
• Paint Acrylic Landscapes en Plein Air
• Paint Acrylic Landscapes: Light and Shadow en Plein Air

The painting above is from one of Mark’s plein air painting sessions in a meadow. Get inspired, and get painting!

Until next time,

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• Don’t miss this bonus article on the evolution of one’s art.

Watch the video: Programming Interview: Convex Hull Problem Quick Hull Algorithm Divide and Conquer (June 2022).


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