Rule of Thirds – Composition in Art

The Rule of Thirds is probably one of the most basic rules that has been used in painting for ages.  It is a compositional rule of thumb that is commonly used in the visual arts today including painting, photography and design.

This is a very basic rule about  that is often overlooked by amateur artists and forgotten by many art teachers.  Interestingly, it is one of the most important rules that a novice photographer learns about in photography class!  Using it will help improve the design of your paintings.

Just a reminder…in art, rules are made to be broken!  I have never really liked the word ‘rules’ when it is relates toward art.  To me, art is a way an artist can freely stretch and push the boundaries.  But as my earlier post named, Breaking the Rules in Art I stated,  an artist must first know the rules before he/she breaks them.

Here is how the Rule of Thirds works:

  • Draw two equally-space vertical lines
  • Draw two equally-spaced horizontal lines
  • It looks like a tic-tac-toe board
  • This divides your rectangle or square canvas into nine equal parts
  • This creates four points where the lines intersect or ‘hot-spots’ or ‘sweet-spots’
  • Studies show that placing objects in these intersections creates a pleasing composition
  • Balance in the design can often be achieved by placing a secondary object or counterpoint at the opposing intersection.
  • This creates more interest, tension and energy rather than just centering the subject
  • Applying the rule of thirds to a painting keeps your composition from being split in half either vertically or horizontally
  • Avoids the main focus from the center of the painting like a bull’s-eye.

The Rule of Thirds is actually a guideline more than a rule.  It is intended to help the artist with the placement of the elements and focal point within the composition.  But, if you want your viewer to ignore the other parts of your painting, then go ahead break a rule and center your subject like a big bull’s-eye!  Knowing why you do something and what effect will have on the viewer leads to a good composition.

Below are a two examples of how I used the Rule of Thirds in my paintings.  Notice the birds are in the invisible ‘hot-spot’ of the intersecting points of interest.

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To view more of my art:

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About Lori McNee

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life, and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Mag Board of Advisors, and is an Artist Ambassador to Arches/Canson/Royal Talens. As the owner of, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and named a #TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W Media publications including Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, Photographer’s Market. Also, Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses. Lori is also a member of the CBS Entertainment Tonight & The Insider Tweet Team.


  1. Very interesting and relevant information. I love the paintings, too.

  2. Thank you Lori for remidning me of this “rule”.
    Your patinings are lovely :)

  3. I can tell that this is not the first time you write about the topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?

  4. I am very interested in this

  5. Thank you.

  6. The rule of thirds is so important. I constantly find myself always dissecting paintings now to find the thirds it sometimes can get annoying, lol.

  7. Hey Lori…This is a pleasant, important article I can appreciate. The rule of thirds is indeed a terrific way to work out a composition! I love large, in your face kind of subjects and more subtle approaches the same. Yet, this guideline is one I recommend as it guides the viewers eyes around the painting so well. You are on point in describing it as a target subject when composed to the contrary. Interesting either way, this rule is one to remember and practice. Your example paintings here are perfect beauties! Thanks again for all your abundant knowledge.

    • Hello Adriana, and thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed this post and my art too. The Rule of Thirds really comes in handy in the studio or out in the field. Happy painting!

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