The Rule Of Thirds


What is the rule of thirds? Using Rule of Thirds in your artwork.



Have you ever struggled to compose your artwork? You can use a system of composing called the “rule of thirds” to make your drawing and painting arrangements pleasing to the eye.

What Is The Rule Of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is a simple set of guidelines used for composing artwork.  The rule of thirds is helpful for visual artists working in a two dimensional medium such as photography, drawing or painting.  Sorry sculptors, but the rule of thirds won’t be of too much help here!

Have you had a great idea for a drawing but when you sit down to draw you find it difficult to arrive at a pleasing composition?  The rule of thirds can help you here by guiding the elements of your composition into some interesting locations.


Art Teachers:  The rule of thirds is a great method for weaning your art students off of centered compositions.  When learning to draw most art students want to center everything!  The rule of thirds provides an easy way to arrive at pleasing compositions without centering the main area of focus.


How To Use The Rule Of Thirds

I will be using a drawing for my example but the rule of thirds applies to any two-dimensional artwork.

STEP 1:  Decide what the dimension of your drawing will be and draw a rectangular shape.

STEP 2:  Divide the rectangular you drew in STEP 1 into 3 even sections.  This requires you to draw 2 equidistant vertical lines.  This should give you three boxes from left to right.  See illustration below.


How Can I Use The Rule of Thirds in My Artwork?



STEP 3:  Divide the original rectangle vertically into 3 even sections.  This requires you to draw 2 equidistant horizontal lines.  Now your rectangle should have 9 boxes that are all of equal size.

What is the Rule of Thirds?



STEP 4:  Now you are ready to compose your drawing.  To adhere to the rule of thirds you should be placing your main subject matter at an intersection.  This will be an ideal place to create a focal point or draw an object you would like to emphasize.  There are 4 possible locations where your guiding lines intersect.


How to Use the Rule of Thirds in Your Artwork




In the drawing below you can see how I am using the rule of thirds to position the lighthouse in this little seascape.  It is certainly no accident that the lighthouse ended up there.

Lighthouse Painting: Example of Rule of Thirds





Lighthouse Painting: Example of Rule of Thirds (with grid)


Technological Aides

Many modern photographic devices have the rule of thirds built into the device.  This includes digital cameras, smartphone cameras, and image editing software such as PhotoShop.  These devices usually have the option to pull up the grid required to compose your subject matter using the rule of thirds.  This can make be an added convenience if you are basing your drawings off of photographs.  Please note that if you crop the photograph later on, the grid lines used in the rule of thirds would have to be readjusted.  Then again, if you are cropping a photograph right on your smartphone or by using PhotoShop you will have access to the rule of thirds gridlines all over again!

Beyond The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds has long been used by photographers to assist in finding interesting compositions.  For some reason the rule of thirds is not as often talked about by artists working with drawings and paintings.  If you make drawings or paintings there is no reason you cannot use the rule of thirds to help you compose your next work of art.

The rule of thirds is by no means the only way to create well composed artworks.  By limiting your focal point within your artwork to only 4 locations how could it?  Remember that the rule of thirds grid creates 4 intersections designated for the placement of your main subject matter.

Even while using the rule of thirds don’t feel that your composition has to adhere exactly to the guidelines specified.  Rules are meant to broken right?  Let the rule of thirds guide you but not rule you.  As an artist you are in control!


Misconceptions & The Golden Ratio

Poking around on the web I have noticed that the rule of thirds is sometimes associated with the golden ratio.  This information is false and misleading.  The rule of thirds has absolutely nothing to do with the golden ratio.  Not that the two compositional conventions cannot be used together.  They can, but they are two separate concepts entirely.   The rule of thirds can be used to compose any rectangular artwork, even a square.  The golden ratio, however uses a very specific rectangle for its outer boundary.  This is referred to as a “golden rectangle” and must adhere to specific proportions when considering the height to width ratio.


I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below!




  1. Salutations, I am helping some kids learn about painting and was hoping to use your post to give them a little more info about the rule of thirds if that is alright with you. Thanks

    1. John Morfis says:

      Sure thing Aurelia and thanks for asking. As long as you are not selling my images or using them is some kind of “for profit” training course you can use any of the images here to instruct the kiddos! Best of luck 🙂

  2. Thanks a bunch it’s a 4H community club and the kids said they want to learn about painting so I’m putting together a lesson with some helpful handouts so they can do even more painting at home as well I am very much so an amateur artist so getting some more experienced input helps a lot.

    1. John Morfis says:

      Sounds wonderful Aurelia. I wish you the best of luck.

  3. I’m just bout to start painting, of which I have never done, but I was considering using the fibonacci code when drawing a tree, is this ok
    Kind regards Greg

    1. John Morfis says:

      Sure give it a try.

  4. I’m taking a water color painting class and I also paint on the pottery I make. This rule of thirds is going to be very helpful for my next assignment……landscape with a building in it. Thanks!

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