One of the best ways to add depth and interest into a painting is the use of composition. Over the past half a year I've really tried to get to grips with composition. There are a few golden rules that, if followed, can really add impact to the painting. I'm going to outline some of the main rules of composition and why they are an extremely valuable weapon in an artists armory.
1. The rule of thirds.
One of the most common techniques used in composition is the rule of thirds. It can be used to help balance a painting. The technique involves dividing your canvas into 9 equal segments by using 2 vertical and horizontal lines. You should either place the main elements of your painting inside the boxes or where the lines intersect. This rule of composition is often called the 'Golden rule'. The canvas can be any size/aspect ratio, but the 9 segments should be equal. A good way to do this is in Photoshop is to go to 'show' then 'grid'. The grid measurements can be set up in the settings. I always try to use the rule of thirds to some degree in my paintings.
note: the dark sections are in the far left third, the medium tones in the middle, and the brightest on the far right.
I'm not familiar with using triangles in my paintings, but using triangular shapes can make your painting much more balanced. An example of this would be to paint bright areas of light around areas of interest, in a triangular shape. It could also be used in places of colour, contrast, perspective and focal point.
In order to lead the eye around the painting you can use contrast. Probably one of the most simple rules to follow. The way to use contrast is to paint areas of focus, such as characters, with more contrast, and leave areas where you don't want the eye to focus duller.
4. Camera tilt.
A good way to add instant interest to a painting would be to tilt the camera slightly so everything has a slight angle. This works especially well if its a very dynamic painting such as a car chase or a dog fight in the air.
A good way to create a sense of depth and scale in a painting is to place repetitive elements, such as tress or people, next to other elements in your paintings. Placing these items further back in perspective by making them smaller can add a lot of depth too, leading the eye back into the painting and stopping it looking flat and boring.
7. The Fibonacci Spiral.
One of the most widely known and widely used rules of composition in the Fibonacci spiral. Its a technique that's been in use since the Renaissance by artists and architects. In essence it's based on the 'golden ratio'; a principal based on the mathematical formula A+B is to A as A is to B, and is defined by the number Phi (1.618033988). It can be seen a lot in nature, especially in the leaf arrangements in plants, to the patterns on the florets of a flower.
Note: Here is the Fibonacci Spiral. In essence, the eye will follow the spiral around until it gets to the smallest part. The use this in paining you should put the main focal point in the smallest part, and other elements around the spiral to get the viewer to follow the painting round.
8. Complex vs Simple.
Another way to create focus in a painting is to switch between complexity and simplicity. In a portrait, for example, the focus is on the person. The surrounding area is usually very simple. This draws the eye to the subject rather than the surrounding area. If you painted a person in a very busy street with lots of people, the viewer may not be able to focus on the main focus as much. Apparently, people are drawn to faces in a painting. I'm not sure why, but it may be because its a very familiar form. This can be used in a painting in order to lead the viewers eye.
So there you have it. An overview of some of the main rules of composition that can be followed in order to create a more exciting piece to look at. Composition can add depth and create a sense of dynamism, which in turn will make the painting more appealing to the viewer. I've used most of these rules in my paintings and try to understand how they make an image better. If you think there's something missing in your image then try to use one or more of these in your work, and I bet it'll surprise you how much of a difference it can make.