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Updated on January 16, 2016

© frangipanni 2013. All rights reserved.

Have you ever wondered how people get their artwork to look just right, perfectly balanced and appealing? Does more often than not your picture resemble a pigs sty rather? The solution may lay in the structure and composition of your artwork? Read on for some tips on how to set up a well structured, balanced picture without overdoing it.

When painting a scene don’t paint everything in that scene. Decide what has attracted you to it (center of interest) and describe it in no more than 3 words. It's helpful to write this down. Concentrate on covering these words in your picture and doing them well. The rest of the scene need not be painted or sketched in such detail or maybe omitted altogether.


Use your fingers or a frame to isolate aspects of a scene.

  1. Create a small sketch (about 5cm x 5cm) and place all your main elements in it.
  2. Color your thumbnail sketch and decide where the light, dark and mid-tones will be (notan).
  3. Sketch it lightly onto your watercolor paper.
  4. Decide which colors you will use – Use a limited palette by choosing 1x yellow, 1x red, 1x blue and perhaps one or two earth colors.
  5. Mask out any areas you want to keep white or that you want to protect to work on later.


  1. Keep paint and water on the RH side if you are right-handed (and coffee on the left).
  2. Use loose washes first, then add thicker paint, then paint in dry detail.
  3. Stay with your biggest brush for as long as you can to keep the painting loose and prevent it from becoming to structured and hard looking.

  • Moving figures/objects - person, car, boat, bird etc face so there is more space in front of them than behind so they look to be moving into the picture and not out of it.
    Create an entry point into landscapes - road, path, creek, river etc
  • Block exit points to keep they eye on the painting. Use bridges, trees, people, shadows.

  • Angle trees, clouds etc into the painting and towards the focal point.
  • Bring roads, rivers etc in at an angle. The human eye will naturally follow diagonals.
  • Place yellow to highlight the focal point if you need. Yellow attracts the eye over all other colors.
  • Cross horizontals with verticals or diagonals, and verticals with horizontals or diagonals – eg break the horizon line with hills or trees etc.
  • Use a variety of found edges (clear , sharp edges) and lost edges (soft edges).
  • Use a variety of strokes and brushes.
  • Avoid parallel lines unless on a building or other man-constructed element (eg a picket fence). There are not too many parallels in nature.
  • Work from top to bottom so you’re not leaning back into the painting and the paint:
  • Sky and clouds – bring sky right down behind any trees. Use the sky color to make greens, greys, purples.
  • Background – use more blues, greys and purples. Less detail and lighter colors.
  • Mid ground – bring the first wash right to the front. Concentrate on shapes rather than detail.
  • Foreground – use more warm colors (reds and yellows) and include more detail.
  • Focal point. You can paint this first but if you paint the background first it gives you an idea how bold you need to make the focal point.
  • Towards the end, make any corrections that are needed (e.g thicker color, lighter color, added element etc)

Now instead of the hoarder's house look alike for your picture you can create beautifully balanced showcases. Remember often the rule 'less is more' applies. Create, Admire and Enjoy!

Some great online art supply directories are: (I am in no way affiliated with or receive any type of payment from these companies)

Some other great hubs to read on watercolor are

Baby Steps to Beginning Watercolor Painting

Frank Clarke Watercolor Brushes

Check out my other hubs on painting and art.

Art - Watercolor painting - creating texture effects

Paint with watercolor, budding artist tips. Art answers to a few random questions.

How to paint and draw - perspective.

Paint in watercolor - REGAINING and RETAINING WHITES. How to paint edges with watercolor - Art beginners tips and techniques.

Art -Presentation, Framing and Finishing to a gallery accepted standard.


How to paint and draw using a Two-point perspective.

Paint watercolor tips. Art how to

Art How to paint En Plein Air (painting outdoors)

Watercolour paper and tips on painting moving water.

Art how to on Watercolor painting - Technique - washes.

Paint How to mix colors

Painting and drawing General mistakes, problems and how to fix them.

D I Y Framing - an easy how to on framing to save you $$$.

If you enjoyed my hub please check out my other hubs, comment, share and email the link to friends and checkout the items printed in blue for my recommendations and links.


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I can use all the art tutoring I can get. Useful hub.

    • Frangipanni profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Hi kidscrafts. Thanks for the kind comments. Have a great day.

    • kidscrafts profile image


      5 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I like your suggestion "1.Keep paint and water on the RH side if you are right-handed (and coffee on the left)." I am a tea drinker and when I had to start to wear glasses to paint, I almost rinsed my brush in my tea :-)

      The other day, I was reading your description and I am not suprised that you are working as a teacher and doing math. I think that because you are an artist through everything you have done, you teach math. in a different way that kids can get. I think art opens your mind in a different way and so you see things and subjects differently as well. I used to be a teacher as well and I love to create 3D projects with (and for) kids and you can teach so many things through art!

      Anyway... it's a fantastic hub like usually!


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