The Golden Section - why should we use it in our landscape painting designs

Good Design in Landscape Painting
The Golden Section

If you have ever studied achitecture/art history or been fortunate enough to study with someone like Michael Workman, a contemporary landscape painter, you were probably taught about the Golden Section. The Golden Section is also referred to by the names Golden Ratio, Golden Mean, The Devine Proportion and pi or phi.


Since I had talked about what makes for good composition/design in a subsequent blog, I thought adding in this interesting tid-bit for those of you who have never worked in this format would be of interest.  Yes, it is a format that you can use to create some of the most pleasing designs for your landscape paintings or any painting for that matter. While the proportion known as the Golden Mean has always existed in mathematics and in the physical universe, it is unknown exactly when it was first discovered and applied by mankind. It is reasonable to assume that it has perhaps been discovered and rediscovered throughout history, which explains why it goes under several names. It appears that the Egyptians may have used both pi and phi in the design of the Great Pyramids. The Greeks are thought by some to have based the design of the Parthenon on this proportion, but this is subject to some conjecture.


It has been my experience, that this type of composition in landscape painting is very pleasing to the eye so I believe there is something in the belief that it is a good compositional technique.  One problem you will run into is that stretcher bars or pre-made canvases, boards etc. sold in the USA will not have these proportions.  Usually it is the typical 8x10, 9x12, 10x12, 11x14 etc.  I did notice recently that our local art store, Artisans does carry some panels built using the Golden Ratio. And, of course, they are more expensive!


When I read about the Golden Ratio, I am daunted by the "mathmatics of it" and how it is explained.  For my purposes, I use the proportions, 1: 1.618.  This is close enough.  So what does that mean?  I take any give size...whatever size I am wanting to paint on such as 9" on one side.  I then multiply that by 1.618 (14.562). That stands for the second measurement.  So the resulting panel that I create is a 9" x 14.562.  I often cheat to some degree since I don't like those kind of numbers I will build the second size to 14.5.  This ratio works beautifully for landscape paintings.


The Renaissance artists used the Golden Mean extensively in their paintings and sculptures to achieve balance and beauty. Leonardo Da Vinci, for instance, used it to define all the fundamental proportions of his painting of “The Last Supper,” from the dimensions of the table at which Christ and the disciples sat to the proportions of the walls and windows in the background.


The photo below explains a way you can create a pleasing composition using the Golden Proportions.  Note that the center of interest is in that area defined by the small curve. I have been told that if you use a grid system such as you see in red below, and you land your center of interest on any of those horizontal and verticle disecting points, you will have a very pleasing composition. 




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