Golden Ratio In Art

How To Use The Golden Ratio in Art Composition & Design

Want to learn the secret to balance in your art? Would you like access to a tool that geniuses from the Renaissance age implemented in their work?

There’s a formula that can help you with that. It’s been used for centuries but is still unknown to many modern artists.

Thankfully, there are some fairly easy ways you can begin incorporating this golden ratio in art to create visually stunning work.

What is the Golden Ratio?

So, what is the golden ratio and how is it relevant to your art?

It’s an irrational number (like pi) that has some unusual properties. The ratio is 1 to 1.618 (or 1.618033988749895…) and this number is, unlike pi, a quadratic equation solution.

Wait, come back! I know math can be an intimidating (or if you’re me, downright scary) subject for many of us artists, but I promise I’m getting to the good stuff soon. This ratio is also called The Divine Proportion, phi, The Divine Section, The Fibonacci Ratio, The Golden Mean, or denoted by a phi symbol (Φ).

The sequence of seemingly random numbers is fascinating because it appears frequently throughout nature, for starters.

Golden Ratio In Nature

You will find it in shells, plants, and bone structures. Taking it a step further, you’ll find it in the reproduction patterns of rabbits. The Fibonacci sequence truly is a fascinating rabbit hole (excuse the pun) to venture down. 

This ratio has been used, both intentionally and unintentionally, by designers and artists for ages. There is something intrinsically fascinating about this pattern, which manages to balance asymmetry and symmetry in a visually pleasing fashion.

The golden mean ratio can often be found depicted as a square and rectangle forming a big rectangle. This may not seem that interesting, until you realize that this sequence can be repeated perfectly and infinitely within the section.

But that’s just the beginning.

What Are The Benefits Of Using It?

Truthfully, scientists haven’t pinned down the exact reason why the human eye is so drawn to images with the golden ratio. But it’s been proven that we like it.

Research suggests that even tiny changes that make an image closer to this ratio greatly impact the brain of the one looking at it. 

The golden ratio is a powerful number present in and woven into our world. Seeing this ratio feels undeniably, intuitively right to our brains. Some believe its familiarity is what creates its beauty, as it can be found even in the human body.

But it goes even deeper than that.

A Duke University professor, Adrian Bejan, believes that he’s figured out why we find images honoring the golden ratio so visually pleasing.

And according to him, our eyes are capable of interpreting pictures with the ratio quicker than any other type of image. Animals (including human beings) have our vision oriented horizontally. 

A wild animal scans the horizon for danger, allowing him to both move faster and see better. We have evolved to do the same, and according to Bejan, shapes that are true to the golden ratio facilitate easier scanning and the transmission of images to the brain through vision.

You’re probably wondering:

How does this relate to the golden mean and how we create art?

The idea is that we will feel pleasure when our eyes find something on the horizon helpful to survival, such as shelter, a mate, or food. So seeing the golden ratio with its main subjects of interest oriented this way brings us pleasure through its beauty.

Creating Divine Compositions In Your Art

How can you begin using this magical ratio in your artwork to create compelling pieces? If the idea of using math sounds like a stifling idea to you, you may find it helpful to consider it a general guideline. 

A general rule or theme to create from can lend you more freedom in your pieces as the guesswork of placement and proportions will be minimized.

Think of this as a useful tool instead of a strict rule. In fact, you might even use it already without knowing it! Basically, the golden ratio can be used to choose the placement and size of your art’s content, whether it’s a website you’re designing or a digital character piece.

How exactly is this done?

You can choose the general size of the piece’s layout using the golden rectangle, place focal points where the golden spiral would go, or use a combination of all techniques.

We will give you some specific examples (in photography, web design, and more) to gain inspiration from in a bit. But for now, let’s start with the basics; creating a golden rectangle that can be used as a simple base for your work.

How To Make The Golden Ratio

Here’s the deal:

If you want to use the golden ratio art, your first choice will be which shape to focus on. The most familiar shape associated with the golden ratio is the rectangle. And the most visually appealing rectangles are golden rectangles.

How to Construct a Golden Rectangle

To use the golden rectangle for your art, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Make a 1x1 square. This will be the smallest square on your canvas. 
  2. Create another equal size square to the right of the original square.
  3. Create a 2x2 square under your original two 1x1 squares. 
  4. Now create a 3x3 square to the left of the first three squares. 
  5. Lastly, create a 5x5 square that goes above this group of squares. 

You just successfully made a golden rectangle using the golden ratio. Learning more about how this works can offer you extra inspiration, if you’re the rare artistic type who likes to think about numbers.

If you prefer simplicity, we’ll give you some tools that will make it easier later in the article.

Using the Golden Ratio with Circles

Now:

For most artistic purposes, the golden rectangle will be easiest and most useful, but that’s far from all you can use the golden ratio for.

It’s also possible to use circles in a similar way. You can make a golden ratio using circles instead of squares. If you want to be precise about it, it may be easiest to start with the squares and then fill in the circles.

It’s even possible to make a golden triangle spiral, which we will get to in a moment.

Using Golden Triangles

If you’re working with a composition using diagonal lines, you can use golden triangles to create more visually appealing art. This involves a series of triangles with the same shape. You can place your subjects of interest inside these triangles to create a balanced piece of art.

For example, create a mountain scape where the size of each mountain roughly corresponds with the sizes of the triangles here:

Golden Triangle With "Eyes"

Alternatively, you can create a golden spiral shape using triangles.

For this you’d use an isosceles triangle (a shape with one distinctive side and two equal sides, creating a golden proportion). You could then put these triangles together to create the spiral shape.

More on this later.

How To Create The Phi Grid

You can use a grid based on the golden ratio to ensure your illustrations, logos, or images are visually sound. A grid is a good way to find minor adjustments in subject placement that you need to make or to find a good guide for where to crop. 

It’s just a generally helpful strategy for a more organized finished product. The Altrise Golden Section Grid Software is one option for implementing the phi grid in your work.

Where Can You Find The Golden Ratio?

The golden ratio is present throughout the world in design, the human body, nature, photography, art, and more. It seems to be nature’s favorite equation.

Actually, when you start looking for it, you might have a hard time un-seeing it. Here are some examples:

Art

The golden ratio has been used for centuries and is no stranger to High Renaissance art. For instance, it appears over two dozen times in the famous Sistine Chapel alone. We will cover some specific examples from this later.

Sistine Chapel

Architecture

The Fibonacci sequence has been used for ages in architecture. The golden ratio appears in the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

The Parthenon in Greece is another famous example of the ratio and features a rectangle true to golden proportion.

Golden Ratio In Architecture

Design

The golden mean can also be found in various designs and logos, including the iCloud logo. There is also rumor that the Apple symbol was designed with the ratio.

Golden Ratio In Icloud Logo

Faces

Faces are considered more attractive if they are in proportion and somewhat symmetrical, like the golden ratio. A study done in 2009 found the ideal ratios for attractiveness.

Photography

Visual creators, such as photographers, often incorporate the golden mean into their projects. One common way to do this is positioning the focal point of a photograph where the golden spiral’s curl would be.

Nature

You won’t have to look far to find the golden ratio in nature. The Fibonacci spiral can often be found in the heads of flowers, the formation of petals, and shells.

Pine cones are another good example of this phenomenon, along with this absolutely crazy-looking broccoli.

The beauty of this broccoli is undeniable. And your art can be just as beautiful if you learn how to use the golden mean correctly!

But first, let’s start with a guideline you might be a little more familiar with using.

The Rule Of Thirds vs Golden Ratio In Art

The way you crop and frame images has a large impact on how the viewer feels about your art, even if they aren’t aware of it.

This section will cover two different ways to structure images to make them more visually appealing and engaging.

The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a simple, common composition rule that photographers have been using for ages. This guideline involves envisioning two sets of parallel lines running perpendicular to each other.

The end result is nine equal-sized boxes across the canvas or layout and four intersecting points. These points are “sweet spots” where it’s best to place subjects of focus, illustrated by the green spots below.

The bottom line is:

Our brains like efficiency, so when the eye can easily focus on the composition subject without having to search, it’s satisfying. The rule of thirds offers a good solution for this.

Pros

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    Gives your image equal weighting and visual harmony.
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    It’s easy to implement due to its symmetry.
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    You have a lot of choice with “sweet spots” to place subjects.

Cons

  • May come across as too divided, depending on your subject matter.
  • The forced symmetry can feel too perfect and not organic enough.

The Golden Ratio

Applying the golden ratio to art means placing the main subjects along intersecting lines, as you’d do when using the rule of thirds.

The “phi grid” is similar to the rule-of-thirds layout but the parallel lines are closer to the center. This results in nine boxes that are not uniform in size.

Pros

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    The top section of the grid is perfect for landscape pieces.
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    The grid divides space on the canvas mathematically.
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    Works well for images where weight should be toward the frame’s outer edges.

Cons

  • The phi grid can be harder to create than the rule-of-thirds grid.
  • It may leave awkward blank spaces in your work, if you aren’t careful.

The golden ratio is harder to implement than the rule-of-thirds grid, so why bother?

Well, the phi grid allows you to work with the sweeping arc of the Fibonacci spiral.

When you place your subjects of focus along this curved line, you are drawing your viewers’ eyes to the spiral coil. It’s like a subliminal sign showing them where to look.

How to Use the Golden Ratio in Art

We all recognize when a piece of art has “it.” You can’t stop staring at the image, it seems perfectly balanced and just feels right. This is what the golden ratio can do.

And using the Golden Ratio in your art is simpler than you might think. There are a couple of quick tricks you can use to insert it into your layouts, or you can plan a little more to fully embrace the concept and have quick access to better composition and all-around balanced and beautiful art.

This can be used as a general idea to keep in mind (for instance, visualizing the golden spiral to see if your main point of focus aligns with it) or something more precise.

What follows are some techniques for art that is balanced based on the golden ratio. Use these on your drawing tablet, for traditional painting, or even for designing your website.

Using Points of Interest

Any rectangle or square (especially ones that use the golden ratio) have areas inside that are visually appealing. This is where you could place a tree in a landscape painting, or someone’s face in a portrait-style piece.

You can find these points by:

  • Drawing a line from the top corner to the opposite bottom corner on both sides, making an “X” shape in the middle.
  • From the middle of the “X” to each corner, mark the midway point. The red dots below indicate where the midway points would be. These are the “eyes” of the golden rectangle.
Eyes Of The Golden Rectangle

Place any items near or within these focal points to draw attention to the subjects of your art pieces.

Applying The Ratio To Photography

The golden ratio can be used as a sizing guide in photo editing. The simplest way to use the ratio in your design is to crop your images down to form a golden rectangle.

This won’t be suitable for every photo you take, but it’s a helpful guideline.

You can find a variety of tools that will help with this online and in our tools section later in the article.If you crop your image to create a golden rectangle, you can take it a step further by guiding the shot to reflect the golden spiral, too.

And with these simple steps, you’ve just doubled down on your art-composition-balancing!

When deciding where to crop, you can visualize the photo with golden proportions with the main subject of the picture in the place that the golden spiral center would be.

This is a simple, natural way to add interest to your work and can apply not just to photo editing, but general graphic design.

Golden Triangle Spiral

The triangles may be a bit harder to use than the phi grid or golden rectangle as creating a perfect triangle may require a little more math.

If you are working with a piece that has a lot of diagonal lines and want to know how to balance subject matter in it, this is a great guide.

Using the Golden Spiral in Art

For those wondering how to use the golden ratio in their composition, the spiral shape is another option for a more balanced piece.

Making use of this trick can mean the difference between a forgettable piece of art and a visually stunning masterpiece that pauses people in their tracks.

In your paintings and drawings (digital or traditional), there should always be something drawing the viewer’s eye to the composition’s center. This can be several subjects or a line.

The golden mean used as a spiral can be visualized as squares and rectangles. This would be a golden rectangle divided by the ratio leading to a series of progressively smaller squares and rectangles.

This framework can help you decide where to place subjects inside the frame. The most important focal points should go in the smaller rectangles.

Adobe Lightroom has a variety of crop overlays you can use including one named the “Golden Spiral.”

Implementing The Golden Ratio In Web Design

You can also implement the Fibonacci sequence to make your digital designs more appealing.

If you are designing the layout of a webpage, for instance, you would arrange the sidebar and content so that it’s true to the 1:1.61 ratio. This can be rounded down or up by a point or so and will still work well.

The rectangle spiral can also be a useful guide for where to place text and how large to make it, leading to eye-catching designs and calling attention to the place it matters most.

The Golden Ratio In Logo Design

The Fibonacci sequence can also be used to create more engaging, visually appealing logos for your business.

Viewers will be drawn to the golden ratio of the design and find it much more memorable and appealing, even if they aren’t sure why.

Famous Artists And Artwork Featuring The Golden Ratio

The artistic masters of history were onto to this magical ratio, which could explain (at least partially) their brilliance.

Let’s look at some famous examples to illustrate this:

Leonardo Da Vinci

“The Last Supper” by Da Vinci clearly illustrates multiple uses of the Divine Proportion. Painted at the end of the 15th century, various architectural and design features display clear golden ratios.

The figures in the painting all appear right below the line that marks the ratio. And if you look closely, it even seems as though the disciples in the image were placed around Jesus in divine proportions.

From the way he centered Jesus in the painting, to the height of the figures on his left against the distance between table and ceiling, it’s clear that Da Vinci drew much inspiration from the Fibonacci sequence.

Right around the same time he created that masterpiece, Da Vinci was responsible for illustrations in a book titled “The Divine Proportion” (De Divina Proportione). The book discusses artistic and mathematical proportion and how the golden ratio is applied to architecture and art aesthetics.

Michelangelo

You may be familiar with Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” painting on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.

At first glance, it may not seem obvious that he used mathematics in this masterpiece. If you look a little closer at the segment featuring God and Adam, though, you’ll see that God’s finger is touching Adam’s finger right where a divide exists in the golden ratio.

So, it turns out that the harmony and beauty that Michelangelo was so famous for wasn’t only based on his knowledge of human anatomy.

He may have also known that structures in anatomy feature the golden ratio and used this knowledge to enhance his paintings.

Raphael

One of the most famous pieces by Raphael is “The School of Athens” in the Vatican, considered by many to be his masterpiece.

This is a perfect example of the golden ratio in Renaissance art. Painted in the early 1500s, the image was part of his commission to decorate the Stanze di Raffaello.

The golden ratios can be found throughout this composition. See if you can spot them.

Golden Ratio In Raphael Art

Other examples of the golden proportion in art are “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” by Dali and The Mona Lisa.

Modern Examples Of Art With The Golden Ratio

It wasn’t just the classic Italian masters who made use of the divine proportion. Here are a few modern artists implementing the Fibonacci sequence in their work today.

Stephen Silver

Stephen Silver is an art teacher and character designer with work featured on Nickelodeon Animation, Sony Feature Animation, and Disney Television.

Among others, he created “Danny Phantom” and “Kim Possible” and also owns an art school in California. He has talked openly about using the golden ratio in his composition and design.

Silver describes the divine proportion as flawless and brilliant because it offers “small, medium, and large” parts of objects and characters.

He states, “That’s what we really build design on, because we’re so used to seeing it in the human face and everywhere we look in trees and animals.”

Ralph McQuarrie

Sci-fi is a beloved genre for digital artists everywhere. Both literally and figuratively, if it wasn’t for Ralph McQuarrie, Star Wars would not exist as we know it. And what kind of world would that be?!

George Lucas got in touch with McQuarrie for help visualizing the characters, vehicles, and planets he envisioned for his story.

Darth Vader might be the most well-known villain in the history of film, but what if there’s something specific that we find so intriguing about his costumes and helmet? Can you spot any golden proportions in this photo?

Mark Mayers

Freelance designer and illustrator Mark Mayers has almost two decades of experience with art. He writes tutorials, has won awards for his artwork, and has openly discussed using the Fibonacci sequence in his game design! 

There is definitely something innately pleasing in the way he created the visuals for one specific game.

DESOLUS is a first-person puzzle game about a surreal world in between dimensions. Mark Mayers started creating this game in 2014. Can you spot his use of the golden mean in this teaser?

These are just a few artists who apply the Fibonacci sequence to their work. If you start looking, you’ll probably find many golden ratio examples in art to draw inspiration from.

Tools for Easier Implementation of the Golden Ratio

If you are still shuddering at the thought of trying to use math in your art, you can take the guesswork out of the equation by using tools specifically created for the task.

Phi Matrix

Phi Matrix Calculator

If digital art is your main game, this software can be used to enhance your work or check that it’s true to the golden ratio. It’s a transparent grid for Mac and Windows that can be applied to whatever other creation software you’re using.

PhiMatrix includes spirals, diagonals, and grids, while the 1.618 Pro version comes with more patterns. The program allows you to choose a template, resize it as you see fit, or use it as a base to create a piece from.

You can try it for two weeks on Windows or on Mac for free before deciding whether to continue with it.

Golden Mean Calipers

Golden Mean Calipers

If you prefer to draw or paint the traditional way, Golden Mean Calipers can help you check composition, create balance, and construct perfect layouts. 

This unique tool can be used to create mathematically sound golden proportions to fill in later, or just to check the proportions of an existing design.

These are especially useful if you’re creating art related to body dimensions and anatomy. The caliper arms close and open to measure various distances, while keeping the distances at 1:1618.

The dimensions are 1.5 to 12.8 inches for a range of options and the calipers come in a durable holder.

The Golden Ratio Calculator

Golden Ratio Calculator

This is a quick and simple tool for finding the golden ratio in a specific number.

If you need to calculate layout measurements regularly in your developing or design work, the Golden Ratio Calculator can be helpful. The numbers are rounded 2 decimal places, so it’s pretty accurate. 

The app works with Android 4.1 and up and has no ads (because who wants their creative process disrupted by those?). It works quickly and is pretty easy to use.

This can also be used when you’re selecting your canvas size in whatever drawing software you’re using to ensure the rectangle is of golden proportions.

How Will You Use the Golden Ratio?

Whether you’re a web designer, traditional painter, or have a knack for photo editing, the Fibonacci spiral is your friend. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, but I like the idea of using a combination of golden-ratio-related tricks in my art.

Has this article given you some ideas for how to start implementing the golden mean in your work? If so, comment with your ideas. Also feel free to leave any other questions or thoughts you have on the topic and thanks for reading!

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