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Composition and Rule of Thirds by Robaato Composition and Rule of Thirds by Robaato

Ok, so since I was explaining this to an aspiring artist, I figure I post this up since I already have the screenshots and it's a subject that's rarely touched up on. This may look complicating at first, but you'll see what's going on as you go along. :)

This is something I had to learn for myself, and though these pieces are good for demonstrating this rule, at the time I've done them, I had my eye trained enough to do it without measuring. Going over this, I can see how much I've learned on it, and I'm quite happy that I got this down to the extent where I don't have to grid and such when composing my images. Fortunately, it just shows you can too, for those who struggle with composition.

On to the "Tutorial":

What is the Rule of Thirds? Well, to be short, it's breaking up your image into thirds. Just that simple. There are two parts of the "Grid": the lines and the boxes.

-The lines are used as "lanes" (this is what i call them, so don't go correcting me on this. I describe things in this way to make them easier to understand.), so use them to help your objects, or subjects, in your picture to "stay in their lane".

The lines when combined vertically and horizontally, form "Crosshairs" or "Reticles". They provide the main focal points for your image. To determine whether your main focal point is solid or not, I deem that term as "having a clear shot", as if you're sniping and are about to pull the trigger.

-The boxes, when grouped together into thirds, helps you with your overall balance in the image. Balance is determined both symmetrically and asymmetrically. I'll explain that as I get into these examples.

Unless you're going with a full-on symmetrical image, you must have a balance with asymmetry in your composition. You can use the Rule of Thirds to help you balance it. I'll explain this with three types of pictures, multiple subjects, two subjects, and one subject (which is the hardest to make interesting).

IMAGE ONE: Rat Rage Main Cast and Crew
Multiple characters may seem taxing to pull off well, but they're also the most fun to play around with when thinking in terms of composition. My markup may look complicating, but I'm going to break it down for you. Let's think totally in the rule of thirds here, paying attention to the grid's boxes.

If we look at Jinx (in upper right corner), we see that he takes up a box. There has to be a balance. So if we were to "mirror" our position diagonally to the bottom left, we can see it's OPEN in comparison to Jinx's scale. Let's now look at the lines in the grid.

Since Rai and Nini are the main characters of the piece here, they should obviously get more image real estate. They're the only characters drawn full-body. Let's pay attention to the southeast "reticle". We have a "clear shot" here, so our main characters have a main focal point, right on the money. With as many characters as this on one piece, there shouldn't be any other focal point in comparison.

Now there are also extra "key elements" on almost each line. Look at each of Rai's feet. They both hit a vertical line on the bottom third of the image. Squeek's face hits a line. Sam's grin is on a line. Roxelle's extended arm is on a line. Rai's upper body stays in the right vertical line, or "lane", as well as Nini's body staying in the bottom horizontal line, or "lane".

Hope you're getting this so far.


I've designated a route for the eye to lead along. We subconsciously look at the biggest thing and the smallest last. So the flow begins with Rai and Nini and ends with Roxelle. And as you can see based on the percentages, their should be a varying of contrast in size and scale to help lead the eye better. It would be nearly impossible if everyone's the same size to lead the eye. P.Dawg's head plants the image in the center, kinda like the middle of a flower.

IMAGE TWO: Rocketsneer Rumble
So I slightly missed the closest Rocketsneer in the reticle, haha. But I was close enough! But what matters really here is the main two, Rai and Nini. As you can see, I have a "clear shot" on Rai and a "clear shot" on Nini. And since they're the main characters on this piece, it works out.

Center box, the "planting of the image", Rai's hand holding Nini's arm. Now let's mirror our positions to check the symmetry and asymmetry.

Top two corner boxes are EMPTY, bottom two corner boxes are FULL. Left Middle box, a missile there, opposite side, no missile.

Breaking down your image into subjects help too. say if we were to just focus on the BG. The city's "L shape" takes up exactly THREE BOXES. The rest is land. There goes our third of the BG.

IMAGE THREE: Mechanic on Break
Ahh, the single character image. The easiest thing to draw but the hardest thing to make visually appealing when thinking compositionally.

Let's begin. Focusing on the gal; Center Vertical Boxes, we have the gal. There goes a THIRD. The other two thirds (the left vertical boxes and right vertical boxes), EMPTY (in comparison with the gal.) Now focusing on the Car. Top two horizontal rows of boxes, the car. There goes TWO THIRDS. The bottom horizontal row of boxes? EMPTY.

Let's do our "mirroring" now.

Focusing on the gal, upper right corner box = Ice Cream, We All Scream For It, yeah? Mirroring our position diagonally = EMPTY (not minding the logo). Upper left corner box = at least a hand. Mirroring our position diagonally - EMPTY. Mirroring both corners parallel from the top to the bottom = EMPTY.

For single character images, it's rather hard to focus on our "reticles", (unless it's an elongated pose that hugs the image's boundaries in an L-Shape, those are generally easy to find a focal point) so we mainly concern ourselves with the lines. So two lines here will lock in our composition. Top horizontal line = Chest (or breasts if you're feeling guttery tonight) and bottom horizontal line = knees.

Now for the vertical lines, there's a slight asymmetrical value here. We see with how her weight is distributed, the left side of her body "stays in the lane" of what? YUP, the left vertical line. Asymmetrically speaking, on the right vertical line, it's EMPTY.

WHEEEEWWWWWWW. So yeah, that's a lot. But I hope it's probably the easiest basic explanation on the Rules of Thirds and Composition you can find.

Hope I helped some! ^___^

Add a Comment:
joiski Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! I'll think about it next time I draw something poster-y :)
UmbrellaFighter Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Student General Artist
You gave me something serious to think of. Thanks!!! :D
kingwarnerart Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2014
This is an awesome breakdown. As stated before, I have read and heard composition tutorials many times, this is straightforward and clean. Much appreciative of your time.
Pleadin18 Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2014  Hobbyist
Composition is so frustrating for me to the point where it makes me cry. ; _; So thank you so much for this.
Naa-chan92 Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2013
this is such a good tutorial, thx!
Madmangamer364 Featured By Owner May 25, 2013
This was actually a pretty fun lesson concerning composition. It felt like a blur at first, but once you put the see the explanation and pair it with the images, it becomes fairly easy to understand.

I've glanced at this tutorial before, but I never really took the time to try to figure out its importance. For some reason, I felt it would be a good idea to take a closer look now, and I'm glad I did. I think this could be a pretty handy reference moving forward. Thanks for your efforts in explaining this.

P.S.: Your tuts in general are pretty fun stuff. Wouldn't mind seeing more when you're not too busy. =P
dragoonx77 Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the tutorial Rob. Makes scene to me now.
ayersart Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
Very informative.
Tuxonimo Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2013   Digital Artist
Thanks men, interesting tutorial
Grenadio Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for making this tutorial! Your explanation is very clear and helps a ton, especially for beginners. I love your work~
ND0308 Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Damn...... I wouldn't have though of this
Going over this a lot Helps understand the Rules of Thirds ( I'm slow learner)
I never tried these methods before and in all my shots most of my pics are 3rd Image with weak backgrounds.
Image 1 and 2 is just Mind Blowing.
I'm mostly amazed how you drawn Image 3 with Rules of Thirds, Wow i wish I could do that. I'm probably to simple to do a master piece like Image 2.
Awesome Material and Explanation man this is Definitely useful and for Future Images.
ChrisKensou Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2012  Student General Artist
Ahhh how sometimes I forget to use the rule of thirds when i draw. :) Glad i saw this. Awesome work and good way to remind us and show how to use it :) awesome stuff
Robaato Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
No problemo, dood. Glad I can help! :)
ChrisKensou Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2012  Student General Artist
Gotta keep that art alive right :D
Gman565690 Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2012  Hobbyist Interface Designer
Nevan12 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
niiiiceeeeee , i can't belive i read the whole thing O.o

good explanation skills man!
Robaato Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Hahaha, I speak/write in layman terms cuz it's the best way to learn, imo! :XD:
Nevan12 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist

rigth you are! :dummy:
Debido-San Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This tutorial is godlike. Thanks Rob!
infinitekai Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012  Hobbyist Artist
Wow U just stepped my arsenal up....thanks!
CrimsonXK Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Composition is something I need to improve on. This is a great tutorial! +fav
DAVIDGMILEY Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012
P-RO Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012   General Artist
That was quite a good read, good sir. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!
ZipDraw Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
OMG thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
Blindscape Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
helped a lot.. thanks and Merry Christmas :)
mechavegeta Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011
Thanx for the breakdown, ill try to study it sometime. its much appreciated. I feel as though I have an immense learning disability. But its nothing a little grinding an determination cant fix thanx again!
Dawnsknight Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
good explanations, both visually and written.
Thanks Rob!
karena19 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
which IDIOT gave this a SAD emote????.......BAKA BAKA BAAAAKA!!!!![link] [link]
Libberachi Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011   Digital Artist
Thank you! I like how simple, easily understood and relatable this was.
blindeyeinsight Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011
Well put! I got to learn this stuff in school, impressive to hear you discovered this on your own.
ittylink Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011
spelling stuff inkorrectly is Lv.99[IIIIIIIIIBOSSIIIIIIIIII], love the third pic btw
JayEcho Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Im so glad a small question of mine lead to a tutorial of the best yet most soft spoken information in composition.
It's crazy now that i look at some pieces of art and notice this more often.
DCLzexon Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Student Digital Artist
lol, im glad alot of this stuff i already had a base idea of, drew struzan posters were my fave as a kid so i did learn some good basics of composition from those alone
SockWizard Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Student Digital Artist
Very interesting. I'll be sure to remember the rule of thirds, but I'm too busy learning everything else to focus on it right now...
CyprusBeetle Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is very helpful!
Dualmask Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
I find that I sometimes do this unconsciously, but most of the time I don't realize until afterward that my compositions are way off, and it's the rule of thirds that I realize I didn't think about. It's one of those really important things that's not given enough attention, buried under way too much anatomy, perspective and coloring instruction. Not that the aforementioned aren't important, but there's a lot more to art, as you've shown here.
GMrDrew Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Professional Filmographer
Cool man. Even in school i only walked away with only the 2nd example given, where the focal point land on either corner(s) of the center box... but that thing about 'real estate' sounds like something obvi but i never REALLY thought to break it down like that - which is cool, now i can... and 3 sounds a bit of an advanced [regaurding chest (or boobies lol) and knees] 3rd's concept. Which is cool because ive never seen it in that light. Honestly i dont quite get it but maybe ill have to wait till i the next time im drawing and keep it in mind - learn by livin right?
Thx Brotha!
FableImpact Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Explained like a pro composition ninja - you made that very easy to understand - awesomesauce!
Tentakustar Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011   Digital Artist
Thank you so much for sharing this!

Composition is relatively very effective when making a picture with perfect understanding.^^
I need to practice more with it^^; and your tutorial actually made it a lot more easier to understand!:D

thank you for that too! ahaha!
white-licorne Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011
thanks for that n_n
Lightning-Powered Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Professional General Artist
I already knew how to do this and I didn't even know this had a name! till now! thanks again Rob, this is probably going to help a LOT of people.
justjakk Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011
Thanks bro. This will help me a lot. I have been thinking of group images in a totally chaotic way. This makes it more clear to me.

When I wake up tomorrow, I will sketch some stuff and see what I can come up with, using this method.

Thank you so much for the pointers.
MuzikBocks Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Extremely awesome!
I've been trying to find a way to give my single subject images more of an impact but I kept running into having too much frame space. It was annoying the hell out of me. Sadly this method means I have a lot of work to do in regards to perspective but we all need motivators right?
Great explanation. Thanks a bunch!
Jspen Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Hobbyist
i don't wanna be "that guy" but this looks unnecessarily difficult and pointless. Maybe I just don't understand its purpose or how needed it is
KidDokta Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
This is a pretty basic rule that all comic artists, photographers, graphic designers and fine artists learn during their time at art school (or those who are self-taught in composition). A dynamic, interesting composition needs balance between negative (empty space) and positive shapes (usually the subjects in your picture).

Some artists have a natural eye for good composition, but its always good to understand the math and science behind why something is good, rather than just "feeling it out".

Wait, did I just say MATH!? In art!? Yep: [link]

The rule of thirds is a basic version of the golden ratio, something that Renaissance painters like Leonardo Da Vinci used to create their paintings.
Jspen Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011  Hobbyist
I think I understand and I think this would be helpful...for someone else. I think it would be better if I just feel around.
Robaato Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Yup. Maybe one day, you'll understand it's purpose. :)
omarito Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Professional General Artist
this is awesome, I actually never though on something like that... I always try to make the compositions as balanced as possible, but this method is AWESOME!
Robaato Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Glad to give you another route on taking it, bud. :)
omarito Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2011  Professional General Artist
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