Creating a dynamic visual pathway in a painting

What is a dynamic visual pathway?

When I paint a picture I aim to make a composition that will engage the viewer as long as possible in exploring the various elements of the painting. I do this by creating  a pathway that leads around the painting, providing areas of interest for the eye to stop for a moment before leading on again to a different area. I need to introduce design elements that will stop the eye from moving out of the painting edges too soon – of course the viewer will want to move on eventually but by using lines, shapes, careful positioning of elements , colour and texture they can be encouraged to explore the painting a little longer.

The reference photo

This is a pretty good composition already – the shed is a a touch too central and to the edge but the client really wanted the view sweeping down to the lake from the cabin porch so I left it there and emphasized other areas of the scene to draw attention away from the shed. The bottom left corner seems to pull the eye out of the painting so I plan to make the flowers a little taller and a bit bolder. At the moment the garden bed is a bit like a river running down hill!



Original photo
The reference photo – the view from a cabin by the lake.


The flower bed fix.

You can see how the riot of colourful flowers just lifts the whole composition. I took a few liberties with the reference photo to add greater interest but it’s still very recognisable as the original flower bed. I made the orange flowers much taller, fuller and brighter and now the garden bed doesn’t seem to flow out of the corner. The orange flower bush acts as a full stop and the eye is drawn back into the painting. I also flattened out the grassy slope at the edge of the lake a little which helps to keep the eye from running out of the picture at this point.


There are layers and curves that lead the eye into the painting.

First we follow the contours of the garden bed from the bottom left up to the shed, now down through the lawn terraces towards the lake . When our eye reaches the trees we start following the lake edge around until we come to rest on the trees behind the shed and again back around the far edge of the lake until we come to the tall trees again. The trees lead our eyes up into the sky where we skim across the hilltops until we reach the tall trees behind the shed again. Now our view is pulled up to the clouds across the sky following the cloud shapes and when we come to the trees again they pull our eyes back down to the grassy area and across to the orange flowers where we start all over again.


The visual pathway
The visual pathway


Next time you’re looking at a painting notice how your eye is drawn into and around the picture. Soon you will find yourself noticing the design elements an artist has used to help you enjoy the different areas in the composition, a place to linger , a jolt of colour to excite, a quiet area to let your eye rest a moment. If you find yourself lingering in front of a painting chances are the artist has created a strong visual pathway.

5 thoughts on “Creating a dynamic visual pathway in a painting

  1. As an appreciator rather than a creator I now feel far more equipped to understand HOW I am looking. And why some pictures continue to appeal to me whereas some get a fleeting glance and never call me back. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find it useful to hear others talk about art- it often helps me look at a painting or sculpture in a new way. Glad you found this interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Could be. But sometimes it’s just what speaks to you – a painting can be technically wonderful but leave me cold or have some mistakes but really appeal. Funny how we all like different things!


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