What is the Visible Path of Your Paintings?

This can be a detailed information on the concept of a visible path or journey {that a} viewer takes by your paintings. That is one thing I actively take into consideration every time I’m drawing or portray. I contemplate questions like: The place does the journey begin? What course is the viewer pulled? How do they work their means across the portray? What stops do they make alongside the best way? What’s the top vacation spot?

Dan Scott, Maleny, White, Purple, and Blue Flowers, 2022
Dan Scott, Maleny, White, Purple, and Blue Flowers, 2022

What’s the Purpose?

The objective is to craft a visible path that invitations the viewer in and guides them across the paintings, making a couple of stops alongside the best way and finally touchdown on the finish vacation spot (the focus). And it ought to accomplish that in a means that’s thrilling and attention-grabbing.

There must be a way of stream and interruption. That’s, areas the place the viewer’s eyes can transfer effortlessly by the paintings, then areas that interrupt that stream. That is the way you add stress and drama. Areas that interrupt the stream are like exclamation factors. They maintain the viewer on their toes!

Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night time is a basic instance. Van Gogh takes our eyes on a visible journey by the panorama and sky together with his swirling brushwork. Every space results in the following and the journey is simple and nice. However then van Gogh smacks an enormous tree on the left-hand aspect, interrupting our journey and forcing us to pause for a second earlier than persevering with. There’s stream and there’s interruption. That’s what you must take into consideration whenever you’re creating your paintings.

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889, Drawing
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night time, 1889

You’ll see stream and interruption in good classical music. The piece will begin with notes that observe a logical and predictable method that’s nice on the ears. This can proceed and regularly construct up and as much as a peak. However as a substitute of hitting that peak be aware, it would play an off-note or a be aware that doesn’t fairly get there. This interrupts the stream and catches you off guard. Solely after enough drama and stress have been established will you lastly get to listen to that peak be aware across the finish of the piece. With out this interruption, there can be no drama or stress. It is perhaps nice at first, however you’ll develop bored. Benjamin Zander explains it properly on this video:

The transformative power of classical music | Benjamin Zander

The place’s the Focal Level?

You need to design the visible path in a means that directs consideration towards the focus. Consider the focus as the ultimate vacation spot to your viewer’s eyes.

In my portray, New Zealand, Foggy Mountains, the focus is that faint waterfall within the distance. It’s not a powerful focus, but it surely’s a focus nonetheless. Discover how your eyes are pulled into the portray with the upward strokes within the foreground. You’re then led by and across the portray by the snaking stream and the traces created by the hills and mountains. Your eyes finally arrive on the distant waterfall.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Foggy Mountains, 2020
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Foggy Mountains, 2020

For artworks with out a transparent focus, you would possibly use the visible path to maintain the viewer’s eyes shifting from one space to the following. That is the case for my portray, Mount Tamborine (see under). I didn’t have a focus in thoughts after I painted this. However I nonetheless thought-about the visible path and the way I might transfer the viewer by and across the portray. The journey would possibly look one thing like this: Your eyes first land on the dappled gentle and bursts of inexperienced within the backside gentle left nook. You then transfer with the sunshine throughout the trail after which up the slope. You dance round right here, then observe the sunshine again throughout the trail, across the greens, and up the tree. From the tree, you observe the sunshine greens and yellows inwards towards the middle… and so forth. That’s that journey my eyes appear to take.

Dan Scott, Mount Tamborine, 2022 700W, Drawing
Dan Scott, Mount Tamborine, 2022

It Ought to Really feel Unintrusive

The viewer doesn’t wish to really feel compelled or pushed on a visible journey by your portray. They wish to really feel prefer it was their option to go that means, even when it wasn’t. This implies you must craft the visible path with a contact of finesse. Err on the aspect of subtlety and all the time ensure that the visible path matches with the remainder of the portray.

See my portray, Fiery Sundown, under. Look how I used the contours of the water to softly pull your consideration in direction of the sundown. I didn’t have to do a lot because the sundown already instructions a lot consideration. A faint zig-zag movement alongside the contours is greater than sufficient.

Dan Scott, Fiery Sunset, 2022
Dan Scott, Fiery Sundown, 2022

Right here’s one other instance, A Forest Stream by Peder Mønsted. At first look, it doesn’t seem that Mønsted tried to push you in any specific course or path. However look intently and also you’ll discover the strategic patches of sunshine illuminating the bottom and creating a visible path so that you can journey.

Peder Mørk Mønsted, A Forest Stream
Peder Mørk Mønsted, A Forest Stream

It’s greatest to make use of and manipulate what’s already there quite than making an attempt to tack on a visible path to the topic. This can create a visible path that’s extra pure and natural.

Ask your self: How can I prepare the objects or body the topic in a means that invitations the viewer in, round, and thru to the focus? Can I exploit the grass on the backside of a panorama to tug the viewer in? Is there a fallen tree that would join one space to the following? Can I crop or alter the composition in a means that makes for a stronger visible path?

Right here’s one other portray by Mønsted. Discover how the trail and its shadows are strategically positioned so that you’re led in and thru the portray and in direction of the focus (the horse and other people).

Peder Mørk Mønsted, Sleigh Ride on a Sunny Winter Day
Peder Mørk Mønsted, Sleigh Trip on a Sunny Winter Day

Strategies for Creating Move Alongside the Visible Path

Listed below are some strategies you need to use to create and reiterate and transfer the viewer alongside the visible path in your paintings:

Seen and Directional Brushwork

Use your brushwork to push the viewer within the course you need. You get further factors if that brushwork additionally performs into the character of the topic. For instance, in my portray, Maleny, White, Purple, and Blue Flowers, my brushwork on the backside helps push the viewer’s eyes up and into the portray. The brief, upward strokes additionally play into the concept of grass and flowers.

Dan Scott, Maleny, White, Purple, and Blue Flowers, 2022, Grass


You might be extra overt along with your main of the viewer’s eyes through the use of distinct traces. These might be outlines or contour traces, or traces that haven’t any different objective than so as to add a little bit of flare and to steer the viewer round. Van Gogh did this in a lot of his work. It’s additionally an efficient approach for drawing, notably with pen and ink.

Vincent van Gogh, The Church at Auvers, 1890
Vincent van Gogh, The Church at Auvers, 1890

Sample and Repetition

This can be a extra advanced approach. Use sample and repetition to steer the viewer alongside the trail and to create a sense of expectation. Consider it as a visible beat to the drum. It might be so simple as repeating the identical shapes in a line. Or going gentle form, darkish form, gentle form, darkish form, and so forth. Claude Monet did this together with his Poplars collection.

Claude Monet, Poplars
Claude Monet, Poplars Collection

In Paul Sérusier’s Bushes Alongside the Creek, see the way it goes from gentle grass to darkish tree to gentle grass and so forth. This sample attracts your eyes alongside and creates stream.

Paul Sérusier, Trees Along the Creek, 1905
Paul Sérusier, Bushes Alongside the Creek, 1905


You might use some type of gradation to steer the view from one space to the following. It is perhaps a gradation in coloration, the place one coloration melts into the following. Or it is perhaps a gradual softening of your brushwork and edges. You’ll see this in most panorama work, the place the colours would possibly get cooler and fewer saturated because the objects recede into the space. Edward Compton’s intricate landscapes are an incredible instance, with the colours regularly getting cooler and weaker as all the things recedes into the space.

Edward Theodor Compton, Ödenwinklkees with the Johannisberg, 1902
Edward Theodor Compton, Ödenwinklkees with the Johannisberg, 1902

In my portray, Elora and White Roses, I used coloration gradation to attract your eyes by the grass. Discover how the colours are richer and darker round Elora and the way they regularly get lighter and weaker because the grass tapers off within the distance.

Dan Scott, Elora and White Roses, 2023
Dan Scott, Elora and White Roses, 2023

Strategies for Interrupting That Move

You may interrupt the stream of the visible path by doing something sudden or abrupt. It’s all about distinction. This is perhaps within the type of a burst of coloration, darkish accents, highlights, a stable form, or an uncommon sample. Something that interrupts the sense of stream and acts like an exclamation level. Beneath are a couple of completely different examples. I’ll go away it as much as you to identify the areas of stream and the areas that interrupt the stream.

Claude Monet, Meadow With Poplars, 1875
Claude Monet, Meadow With Poplars, 1875
John Singer Sargent, Capri Girl on a Rooftop, 1878
John Singer Sargent, Capri Lady on a Rooftop, 1878
Rosa Bonheur, Ploughing in the Nivernais
Rosa Bonheur, Ploughing within the Nivernais
Peder Severin Krøyer, Loggia in Ravello, 1890
Peder Severin Krøyer, Loggia in Ravello, 1890
Henri Moret, Rivière de Merrien, Finistère, 1910
Henri Moret, Rivière de Merrien, Finistère, 1910

Eye Monitoring

Expertise exists that lets you monitor the motion of the eyes by a display screen. We are able to use this expertise to trace the visible journeys folks take by an paintings. And when you get sufficient knowledge, you’ll be able to see what the trail most traveled is. James Gurney has a couple of attention-grabbing posts on this. Hyperlinks under:

James Gurney: Introduction to Eye Tracking Software

James Gurney: Eye Tracking and Composition Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

An Train For You

One of the simplest ways to study these things is to place it into follow. So, earlier than you begin your subsequent paintings, take a second to think about the visible path and journey you wish to take the viewer on.

Wish to Be taught Extra?

You is perhaps fascinated with my Portray Academy course. I’ll stroll you thru the time-tested fundamentals of portray. It’s excellent for absolute newbie to intermediate painters.

Thanks for Studying!

I admire you taking the time to learn this publish and I hope you discovered it useful. Be happy to share it with pals. Let me know your ideas within the feedback.

Pleased portray!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy