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December 18, 2011
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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
You gave me something serious to think of. Thanks!!! :D
KINGII 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 Digital Artist
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  Student General 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~
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