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3 Steps For Using The Golden Ratio To Create Masterful Paintings

golden section
A Stroll in Xizhou, by Barry John Raybould

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What is the Golden Ratio?

Golden Section

The golden ratio (also known as the golden section, and golden mean) is the ratio 1:0.62. Use it to divide lines and rectangles in an aesthetically pleasing way. In the above square A is 0.62 of the rectangle. Square B is 0.62 of square A. Square C is 0.62 of square B, and so on. It is also called the divine proportion, and golden number. It is a mathematical ratio that’s commonly found in nature, and can be used to create visually-pleasing compositions in your artwork.

Details: The Golden Ratio In Art

The golden ratio is a method that you can use to divide lines and rectangles in an aesthetically pleasing way. Architects use a very accurate golden ratio number, 0.62, when designing buildings. As an easier rule of thumb for your art, you can use a ratio of 3 to 5. Although not the exact 0.62 golden ratio, this is close enough for artists. This golden ratio has been used throughout history by artists to place points and lines of interest in their work.

In “A Stroll in Xizhou” the houses on the street in the sunlight were casting interesting shadows across the road. I needed to divide the shadow areas and the sunlit areas into two different sizes to make them interesting. I ended up stopping the lit part of the street exactly 5 parts out of 8 in the horizontal direction – the golden ratio.

You may wonder if I measured this while I was painting? In actual fact I did not even think about the golden ratio while I was in the middle of the painting. I only discovered after I had finished that I had used the golden ratio everywhere! When I was painting the picture it just “felt right”. While you are starting out, you can measure this point to place key lines and points of interest, but later on it will become more intuitive and you will not have to think about it – much like all the other aspects of painting.

In this diagram you can see the horizontal shadow line was also placed at the golden ratio and so was the large figure to the left.

Golden Ratio

3 Steps To Apply The Golden Ratio In Your Paintings

  1. Divide the edge of your canvas into eight sections by halving it several times to create 8 divisions.
Apply The Golden Ratio
  1. Draw a line down the canvas at the third section from the left (or right).
Using The Golden Ratio To Create Masterful Paintings
  1. Draw a line across the canvas at the third section from the bottom  (or top).
Golden Ratio To Create Paintings
  1. Place the focal point or focal area of your painting where the lines meet.

You can draw the lines at other 3:5 sections of your paintings to create different compositions.

Examples Of The Golden Ratio

Here are some old master paintings where you can clearly see they have used the golden ratio. The 3:5 golden ratio gives you a very pleasing division of your canvas. Use it to place your focal point, or focal area, as Sargent, Zaitsev, and Vermeer did here.

Learn more about using the golden ratio in your paintings.

To learn more about how to use the golden ratio, focal area, and for other composition and techniques, see the lessons in Workshop E of the Virtual Art Academy Apprentice Program.

Read more about space division in your paintings, and interlocking shapes in order to make your compositions more interesting and engaging for your viewers.

See also Wikipedia: Golden Ratio

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, and want to learn more about my Visual Music & Poetry® model, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

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