How can I make my paintings retain the viewer’s attention?
Answer Tony replies
There are many things that control a viewer’s focus, but it pretty much all boils down to contrast. Whether it’s dark shapes near light shapes, soft edges worked through hard edges, or a stroke of colour at high saturation next to some grey, the areas where contrast is highest will hold more importance.
In portraiture, the general goal is to make the face the primary focal point. Faces draw a lot of attention already, but the entire composition usually directs you as well. When you put the brightest light behind a woman with dark hair, or have a man in a white suit stand in front of a shadowed wall, the drastic shift in value will command attention.
Here, I’ve taken into account the fact that the model’s hair is dark and flagged her head with the brightness of the window. Having the light source behind her also works well because the rim light will help define shapes in a composition that’s fairly dark overall. Value contrast is the most drastic, so identify your dark and light areas early and pay attention to them throughout.
A good way to check on yourself is with a Threshold adjustment layer. Click the little circle at the bottom of the Layers menu, then select Threshold. You’ll now have a layer you can turn on an off that enables you to check if your value pattern is reading.
When you put similar values near each other they blend together, and juxtaposing elements gives added weight. Use both ideas to control where you want the viewer’s eyes to linger in your art.