Roads and pathwayss are often used as compositional devices by artists (click here for a Google images search result to see some samples).  After all, artist’s use principles of design to lead the eye within a painting, in order to maintain interest.  A road is an easy way to lead the eye, because we’re trained to follow them.  Generally, when I compose a painting, I think first about an eye pathway and leverage (or invent) directional elements that create interest.  Lines that appear in nature like the shape of a tree, or the curve of a roof may be used to direct the eye, as well as roads.
To demonstrate, take a look at this sketch made to prepare for a painting of the French village Simiane.  The arrows I drew to the right of the sketch indicate the kind of eye pathway I think the design will create for the viewer.

The painting below uses both literal and figurative roads to lead the eye.  I believe the viewer will start in the lower right, where the road begins and invites them into the painting.  Where the road ends, the viewer will likely head up, and follow the path of light hitting the distant hills, then head right to follow the mountain tops, then down again to the foreground hill. This is my theory.  I remember years ago while at CNET we commissioned a study that actually showed where the eye first landed on a web page, and its subsequent movement on the screen.  Our test subjects wrote a set of special eyeglasses that tracked the eye’s movements. Obviously, very useful information to websites that make their money on advertising.  Hmmm…but you know, I guess I’m still in the same business.  Is a painting an advertisement?  I guess it is. It’s a product selling a sense of place and distraction from the everyday (like a movie).

Enjoy this 8×10 distraction 🙂


Road to San Luis Obispo – Oil on Linen – 8×10″


4 thoughts on “Use of Roads in Compositional Design

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