Finding the visual sweet spots
It just so happens that when you divide your horizontal and vertical planes into thirds using two parallel lines each way some interesting things happen to your artistic field of play. The use of this 9 paneled grid dates back to the times of the Renaissance.
In 1797, J.T. Smith wrote of the rule of thirds for landscape painting in his book "Remarks on Rural Scenery."
He requires that 1/3 (one third) of the painting be reserved for land and water and the upper 2/3 (two thirds) are to be used for air and sky. The land and water bottom third is again divided into thirds, reserving the lower 1/3 (one-third) for land and the remaining 2/3 (two thirds) for water. J.T. "Antiquity" Smith
was a contemporary of English watercolourist John Constable (1776-1837)
- The proportions of the rule of thirds echo the proportions of the Golden Ratio and give a quick approximation of its mathematical divisions.
- The resulting "sweet spots" are generally good places to put a focal point, a change in compositional direction, a point of dark contrast or highlight, or other point of interest.
Dividing things up
Using only 4 lines, the 9 celled grid before you defines the rule of thirds. The four intersecting points the lines have created have a peculiar importance and impact on a person's visual experience. Building a composition with this underlying geometry in mind seems to evoke a universal response of visual pleasure, dramatic interest, and a certain "rightness".
The rule requires that you place your center of interest on one of these intersecting points, I'll call them sweet spots, and arrange a pleasing composition based on that focal point.
If you are drawing exploratory sketches and learning how to draw things, you can draw in the middle of your page as much as you want, otherwise...
If you are designing the composition of a drawing or painting you have to make it interesting and at least mildy challenging for the viewer.
Try not to place your focal point in the very middle of your painting. The composition is very static with not much visual challenge.
Note: Some of you will see this "rule" as a personal affront to your artistic license and try to prove me wrong. I did that too.
A little better
An immediate change happens when the focus hits a rule of thirds sweet spot. This variation offers more interest by offsetting the focal point up and left. This opens up the foreground for considering some secondary points of interest with the waves.
But it's not quite there. The horizon line is too close to the true horizontal center.
An immediate change... wait I said that already. I've aligned the far shoreline with the first horizontal division and shifted the image left and up. This offers a pleasing balance while being more dynamic than version number 2.
In this example I have inverted J.T. Smith's classic landscape divisions by using the lower 2/3 (two thirds) for land and water while using the upper 1/3 (one third) for the air and sky.
Implementing the rule of thirds when designing your compositions can help you overcome the most glaring and obvious design flaws.