How to avoid the deadzone in your composition.

I spent my career as an art teacher in the public school system. For years I had piles of student work that I sorted, graded and selected for display. I taught children from kindergarten through high school.

During that time I saw and corrected the same mistakes in compositions.  One of  frequent mistakes was starting to draw in the center of the page and filling in the space from the midpoint out.  I called this little trap "the deadzone”.

A typical children's drawing. Perfectly symmetrical.
A typical children's drawing. Perfectly symmetrical.

A deadzone is placing the center of interest or a point of emphasis in the center of the composition when you are using asymmetrical balance.

To avoid or resolve this problem you need start with an understanding of emphasis and balance.  

Emphasis is defined as an area or object within the artwork that draws attention and becomes a focal point. Subordination is defined as minimizing or toning down other compositional elements in order to bring attention to the focal point.

Symmetrical balance can be described as having equal visual  "weight"  along a central axis. It may also be referred to as formal balance.  In asymmetrical balance used by fine artists, the two sides are not identical,  but the elements are arranged so that there is a visual of balance.

A work of  art by Jenny Beyers. Perfectly balanced from a center point.
A work of art by Jenny Beyers. Perfectly balanced from a center point.

Artists who work with functional forms like houses, jewelry, or  functional quilts use “formal balance” because they have to consider function.

Does it make sense to have an entry to a dwelling in the center of a building? Does a quilt have to fit on a rectangular mattress of a certain size? Of it does and that's why these artists and craftsman consider how how object will be used before they consider how an object looks.

Fine artists like painters or art quilters; do not have to consider functional restrictions. What matters when making a purely creative  nonfunctional; item is the composition. Fine artists often use asymmetrical balance because it keeps the viewers interest longer, allows the artist to lead the viewer to point of emphasis.

Van Gogh
Van Gogh

How to Avoid the Deadzone

Use your camera phone, or a ruler and roughly divide your composition in thirds in both horizontal and vertical directions. The division will look like a tic-tac-toe board.

Find the focal point. It's the place or object you want the viewer to see first.  Ask yourself: Is that focal point in the middle? Hopefully not because that middle is the dreaded dead zone.

Below is one of my quilts called "Namaste".   The focal point is clear.  The hands touch the forehead with a burst of light radiating from that space.  Initially the point where the figures hands met in front of her face was lower. You could see the full circle of light.

After taking a picture, I cropped the top of the quilt several inches to raise the focal point.  In the completed work the focal point is located in the upper third of the composition and off the center line avoiding the "dead zone".


I hope this hint has helped you make more informed design decisions.

until next time........

You can see my work…….
New England Quilt Museum
Lowell, Massachusetts  •  July 11, 2018 -  September 23, 2018
Sacred Threads

Flint Festival of Quilts, Flint MI – September 2017
HeART Gallery, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Toledo, OH – October 18-30, 2017
Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville GA – November 1 – December 15, 2017


Interpretations: Conversations
Visions Art Museum
San Diego, CA
October 21 2017 – January 7 2018
Under The Western Sun
Handi Quilter
October 4 to December 1
"Art Quilts"
California Heritage Museum
Santa Monica CA

December 8 2017 - March 18 2018
Carnegie Arts Center
Turlock CA
April 4 2018 - May 7 2018