This is my thoughts behind how you should look at any modelling project for the purpose of a display piece. This actually applies to both large and small displays.
Depending upon the size of the piece you will require one or more focal points, in the event of a single miniature or large monster (without rider) this will likely be the piece’s face, however it’s down to you to decide that. A dragon’s focus may be a gout of fire being breathed from it’s mouth, a Shaggoth’s focus may be it’s axe, a magic user could be an outstretched hand. There is certainly no hard and fast rule and you may pick a different focal point to somebody else. The idea of a focal point is that anybody who looks at it, should have their eye drawn to the focal point in the first instance. Once their eye has taken that in (providing it’s inspired the viewer), their eye will naturally start absorbing things around it. For particularly large pieces, or a piece that has a lot going on (such as a bar brawl) you should pick a primary focus and then some secondary. In large enough pieces, you can have more than one primary focus, so a 1ft x 1ft bar brawl may have the barman shooting a blunderbuss at a trouble maker and also two patrons beating each other senseless.
It is important that whatever your focal point, that this has enough detail for the viewer not to be able to take it all in with a single glance. Hold their interest for marginally longer than it takes to see everything, because the viewer has had to engage their brain they will be more inclined to look at the rest of the piece.
Natural Focal Points
There are certain points that naturally lend themselves to becoming the primary focal point, miniatures may have “pokey out bits”, such as guns, platforms for miniatures to stand on or an area that has higher detail (such as the face).
It is also important when thinking of focal points to think about the environment the piece is going to be in – a Golden Demon cabinet will require different approach to a shelf in your dining room or indeed as part of an army. These all can be grouped together however by thinking about the direction in which the piece will be viewed. In a Golden Demon (or indeed any painting competition), the piece will be closely inspected from all angles. It will naturally be viewed from the front and back – the back being as important if not moreso than the front as this is where the judges will initially see the piece. When being viewed on a shelf you are only bothered about it being seen from the front, and likewise an army will be viewed mostly from the top. A piece may naturally have a focal point visible from all angles, but at times you may have to create a secondary focal point from a different angle.
How to Draw the Focus
So you’ve picked your focal point – how do you make people look at it? Well the answer is quite simple and relies on the quality of your paint job. The focal point should be painted to your highest standard without question – it will be scrutinised close up. You need to make your focal point more prominent than the rest of the piece. You can do this by:
painting everything else to a lesser detail level;
by using slightly drabber colours on the rest of the piece;
by painting the area around the focal point slightly darker than it should be;
by making the focal point brighter than the rest of the piece;
by adding something unique of interest;
These are not by any means the only or best ways of doing this, but should give you an idea of how to approach creating a focal point.
Non Focal Points
When painting the rest of the piece you need to do your best that you don’t paint in such a way that you’ll draw the focus away from any focal points. This can be done by not pushing the highlights quite as far or using slightly drabber colours or just being sensible and not trying to cover every inch of the piece with high detail.
There isn’t a hard and fast way of “perfect” for everyone. By picking a focal point or two you can actually have a really good bash at producing something that is pleasing to the eye and will encourage somebody to spend time looking over all parts of it. Don’t over detail your piece as that is actually worse than not having enough detail.