How to Develop a Center of Interest in an Abstract Painting

How to Develop a Center of Interest in an Abstract Painting

Many of the abstract paintings I see don't have a center of interest. These works have an overall pattern where shapes are the same size (if there are shapes) and values are in a similar range with very little value contrast. Because there is no center of interest, there is no where in particular for me to look and no part of the painting more important than another.

I suppose lots of abstract painters have a different approach to painting than me. I believe abstract painting is just like any other kind of painting - just with the subject matter removed. There still need to be interesting shapes, good value contrast, color harmony, varying edges and a center of interest. You wouldn't paint a landscape painting, floral painting or still life painting without a center of interest would you? 

What is a Center of Interest? A center of interest is called by many other names including focal point, focal area, area of dominance, area of interest, etc. These terms all mean the same thing: an area of focus and importance that provides the viewer a place to look, a place for their eyes to rest and provides a focus for the painting. It is a part of the painting that stands out as clearly more important than the other areas of the work.

So, how do you go about making a center of interest in your painting?

There are three main ways to create a center of interest:

  1. Value Contrast. This is placing your lightest, light value against your darkest, dark value to create the highest value contrast in the painting. Remember always in painting light against dark - think Rembrandt.
  2. Color Contrast. Think about complementary colors and how they contrast/complement each other when placed next to each other. Also think about using the highest intensity color at the center of interest. The highest intensity color also produces color contrast.
  3. Hard Edges. Hard edges always come forward and soft, blended edges recede. This is a tool used by landscape painters to create the illusion of space in a painting. The foreground contains the hard edges because it is the closest thing to the viewer, thus more in focus.

You can use any one of the above to create a center of interest or any combination of them. It's fine to use all three as I usually do.

The center of interest, or centers of interest (I believe there can be more than one) help provide a hierarchy within a painting that make clear some parts of the painting are more important than other parts. For me this keeps the painting more interesting, engaging and visually impactful than a boring painting with an all-over pattern of sameness.

  • August 18-20, 2017 David M. Kessler Fine Art Studio, Winston-Salem, NC. To register contact David at or 336-418-3038. (FULL)
  • September 11-14, 2017 Pacific Northwest Art School, Whidbey Island, WA. to register contact Lisa Bernhardt, or 360-678-3396. Details HERE.
  • October 13-15, 2017 New Braunfels Art League, New Braunfels, TX. To register contact Sandy Oberg or 210-861-0751. Details HERE.
  • October 20-22, 2017 Lafayette Art Association, Lafayette, LA. to register contact Susan Hamilton or 337-849-6791. This is an Advanced Workshop focusing on developing a series of paintings.

As always, thanks so much for your support! 


P.S. If you're interested in an easy to use color wheel, I now have available my "Simple Color System" on a standard 12-color, color wheel. You can find out more below:

David M. Kessler's "Simple Color System" Color Wheel. Easy to use and understand. The turning pointer tells you the dominant, non-dominant and accent colors to use.  You can find out more HERE - or click on the image.