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Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in Bootcamp, Stars and Stamps | 10 comments

Anyway You Slice It (Composition & The Rule of Thirds)

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Welcome to the March Bootcamp everyone! This month we’re going to expand a bit on last month’s topic of creating a strong focal point. Once you have chosen a deliberate focal point you need to decide where to place it in the overall design (or composition)  of your card. Composition is defined as arrangement into specific proportion or relation. In terms of card making it simply means arranging things so that all of the visual elements of the design relate to each other in a pleasing fashion. Creating good compositions in your card making does not have to be guesswork and today we’ll look at a simple concept called the Rule of Thirds and how it can help you create better designs.

The Rule of Thirds

What is the Rule of Thirds? The Rule of Thirds is probably one of the most well known ‘rules’ of design. It’s an incredibly easy composition technique which places your points of interest on invisible intersecting points and lines which divide the image into thirds — both vertically and horizontally. so that you have 9 parts. As follows:

rule of thirds diagrams

With this grid in mind the ‘Rule of Thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the design space (the spots where the line intersect) that you should consider placing your focal point. Using this grid to help you decide where to position vertical or horizontal elements of your designs can also be useful. It may seem quite amazing that a rule so seemingly mathematical can be applied to something as subjective as design. But it works, and surprisingly well.

Studies have shown that the people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally so using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing rather than working against it. Does this mean that you need to worry about perfectly aligning everything with the thirds? Not necessarily — it’s just a rough guideline and you don’t usually have to be exact to achieve your goals.

Let’s look at some cards that have the Rule of Thirds grid underlying their designs. I’ve superimposed a grid on the first image to help you envision the concept. As you look at each of the other images imagine the grid superimposed over it and you will see that the important elements of the design are positioned in an intersecting point and/or along a grid line.

sandy with grid 1 Sandy ROT


As you can see this card created by Sandy has its focal point positioned at an intersecting grid point and the red, vertical stripe is along a grid line too.

Look at each of these cards now, envision the ‘grid’ and see how the Rule of Thirds can be seen in the underlying composition. Keep in mind that the grid typically does not need to be exact and can be used as a rough guideline to achieve your goals.


lisa haines

 In this card by Lisa the flower is close to the intersecting point and  the sentiment banner follows a grid line. Not coincidentally I am sure, the Eiffel Tower portion of this Hero Arts stamp image also falls along a grid line.



The bright red Poppies draw your eye right to the top left intersecting point in this card by Dixie,
and both the sentiment banner and die cut holes fall along the grid lines.



By now I suspect you are seeing the pattern in this bold, fun card by Kathryn.


Lee Mae

While there are no strong vertical or horizontal elements in this card by Lee Mae the bird focal point is place at an intersecting point.



This card by Yolanda is another great example of ideal placement for her tag focal point.



Julie uses OWH Sketch #123 in this card. There are quite a few OWH Sketches that demonstrate use of the Rule of Thirds in their composition, including sketch #19, 31, 47, 54 and 63.



Can you see the use of the Rule of Thirds in this card  by JoAnn?



And what about this card by Yolanda?


Some parting thoughts…

There are times, of course, when rules are meant to be broken and the Rule of Thirds is no exception. For example, if you wanted to create a symmetrical design you’d most likely be placing your focal point in the center of your card, but if you are looking for a way to easily create stronger, more interesting compositions applying the Rule of Thirds is an easy way to do it.

Also as we explore these different Bootcamp topics keep in mind that these concepts and principles are really ‘tools’ that you can use to create better card designs. You’ll always want to create a strong focal point in your design, and  while you will most often use at least several of these concepts together to achieve that goal, you’re not likely to use every single one of them all at once. The key is to learn and understand them so that you can have your ‘bag of design tools’ to rely on and mix and match them much like you do supplies and techniques to create a beautiful, well designed card.



Take what you’ve learned today about using the Rule of Thirds in composition and apply it to a card design and then share your work here. Everyone who participates in this Design Bootcamp by linking up a card created for this class will receive a Class Summary in PDF format via email. 



  1. Great examples. The grid superimposed on the design helps to understand the intersecting points.

  2. Thanks Paula for another great design lesson. I “naturally” lean to the rule of thirds, but never knew why I liked it better than random ways. Thanks for sharing your talents.

  3. Thanks Paula! This lesson really explains a lot about how to get my card compositions into that “sweet spot” that just feels better than others when I’m winging it without a sketch or modifying a sketch. I also really appreciate the grid overlay – it made the concept come across so much better for me.

  4. What a wonderful surprise to see my card featured as one of the examples. I owe a lot of credit to my LSS and to the Online Card Classroom, where I have taken many wonderful card classes. I happen to LOVE Hero Arts and this card in particular features that wonderful Hero background stamp, as well as some fabulous techniques I have learned from Jennifer McGuire and Kristina Werner, while taking many of their classes.

    The card I am submitting as my homework today is from a brand new class “Pattern Play” that is currently being offered in their online classroom and today is day one! Everyone is welcome to come on over and join the fun! I know other OWH members are already in the class and I love seeing their cards i the class Gallery. Come of over to this link if you would like to enroll! I highly recommend these classes and have been so pleased with them ALL!! —

    Thanks to Paula for this fabulous honor ! I’m very touched that one of my cards was shared! Woohoo! I also want to say how MUCH I love all the other cards that were shared today! This group is full on wonderful card-makers and I’m so happy to learn from you all! THANKS!!

  5. Oh, what fun to see one of my cards shared! Thanks Paula! I learned the rule of thirds in a college photography class years ago, but I tend to forget to think about those type of composition details while actually taking photos or making cards. It’s good to see that sometimes training unconsciously sticks. lol

  6. Paula, you do such a good job explaining the rule of thirds. Thank you!

  7. Paula,

    Thank you very much for another great lesson. Your explanation and the card samples makes the rule of thirds easy to understand.

  8. Thanks for the lesson and examples, Paula! I drew a clear grid that I can use in the future, too!

  9. Thanks Paula! Wonderful lesson; perfect explanation!

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