How to use The Golden Section to improve your colored pencil art

The Golden Section can be used to ensure that the composition of your colored pencil drawing is aesthetically pleasing.

There is a lot of mathematics behind The Golden Section or Golden Ratio, but at its core, it simply divides a number into another number. This golden ratio is 1:1.618 (also known as The Phi ratio), and often represents the proportions found in nature.

You will also hear of this ratio as the Fibonacci sequence,

How to Calculate the Golden Ratio Manually

It's simple to calculate the Fibonacci sequence:

  • Start with 0 and add 1 to it 0 + 1 = 1
  • Add 1 to it: 1 + 1 = 2
  • Take that answer and add 1 to it, giving you 3: i.e. 1 + 2 = 3
  • Now we change the process slightly.
  • Add the result to the previous number to get the next number in the sequence, i.e. 2 + 3 = 5, then 3 + 5 = 8, 5 + 8 = 13, and so on.

We can take the resulting numbers and create a diagram of adjoining squares where their measurements match the sequence as shown below.

Then you can draw a diagonal line from one corner of your resulting rectangle to the opposite one. Next, ignore the largest square in your diagram and draw another diagonal line crossing the first across the remaining shapes. Where these diagonals meet is the Golden Section. Or in other words, the ideal position for your drawing's focal point.

A graphical representation of the Fibonacci sequence
The Golden Section or Spiral

The Fibonacci Sequence in Nature

The Fibonacci sequence is found throughout nature. Just look at the following three natural forms that all use it.

Photo of a sunflower seed headSunflower seed head
Photo of the Fibonacci sequence apparent in a pine conePine cone
A nautilus shell showing the Golden SpiralNautilus shell

However, the photos above have not been composed with the golden section in mind. 

Composing With The Golden Section

In the viewfinder of some cameras you can bring up guidelines, such as the Rule Of Thirds, a simplified version of the Golden Section or Spiral, to help you place your main element optimally.

In photo editing apps, such as Lightroom, you can chose to crop according to a variety of ratios, one of which is the Golden Spiral. I have taken screenshots of two of my photos within that program showing how I composed with this in mind. 

I aimed to get the centre of the rose, below, in the ideal position with the curve echoing the bottom edge of the flower. I failed to get the bud in exactly the right place, but it is close enough to look pleasing. 

Golden Section Guidelines on a rose photo

The butterfly in the next photo shows that the guidelines can be rotated to fit your composition. 

A blue butterfly photo showing the Golden Ratio

The golden section, or ideal position, is approximately 5/8 of the way across the picture. Artists throughout history have placed the focal point of the picture at this position, but it is not set in stone. It is a guide only.

Look at an Internet search engine for Golden Ratio and you will soon get bogged down in calculations and symbols. From an artist's point of view it is unnecessary to get in this deep, unless you want to of course.

Keep in mind that both artists and photographers are encouraged to put the horizon line roughly one third from the top or bottom of our compositions. This obeys the rule of thirds rather than the golden section but the end result is similar. 

Like any rule, there are plenty of exceptions. 

Three Benefits to Using the Golden Section in Art

Combining a science-based theory with art may seem strange, but artists of all skill levels can easily use the Golden Section. It's a great way to ensure attractive and balanced compositions.

Let's take a look at three ways you can use it to improve your art:

1. The Golden Section in Composition

The position of the Golden Ratio in a composition is often referred to as its "vital position." This represents the focal points that catch the viewer's attention first.

2. The Golden Section in Balancing Your Art

The position of The Golden Ratio in your work of art can also be used to balance out competing elements or to create unity in your piece.

3. The Golden Section in Building Your Style

The proportions achieved when using The Golden Section are often echoed throughout an artist's other work. As a result, it can help you build a strong style as you continue to create art.

Four example paintings by noted artists

Please note these are all copyright - so don't go copying them!

Amalfi Coast - a watercolour by Tom Hill

Amalfi Coast watercolor

This is a lovely composition, and you will note that the major elements of the picture are all away from the centre point of the picture where the road comes down to the beach.  The light coloured building which has the lightest light of the end wall adjoining the darkest dark of the shadow, is on one of the golden section points.  Draw a line vertically down a three eighths section from the left and most of the major features fall within it.

The Wave, Oil Painting by Clyde Aspervig

The crashing wave shows enormous power and the line of the wave foot is not central but approximately on the five eighths line.

The dark area to the left where the wave has still to break makes a meeting with the foam at the golden section point.

The Wave painting in oil, by Clyde Aspervig

Back Place in Rain, Melbourne - Watercolour by Greg Allen

Greg Allen watercolor

An amazing artwork with a lovely feel to it.

Just look at the lady in the blue coat and orange brolly. She is on the five eighths line from the left and the umbrella is close to that magic golden section point.

Once again there is little detail at the centre.

Evening Walk, Enborne - Watercolour by Jeane Duffey

A very atmospheric painting.

Look where the figure stands - OK not far off central but on the important line three eighths from the bottom of the picture.

There a lot of nice compositional touches here, but like all the images shown, you can look around and see how the artist avoids the dead centre ground and piles on the detail around the edges of the small block in the centre formed around the golden section points.

Jeane Duffey Watercolor scene

Have you tried using the Golden Section?

Don’t get too worried about this area of composition.  The rules are not set in stone, and the picture police will not come calling if you put your main feature in the centre.  Sometimes it can’t be avoided.

And like all rules, there are plenty of cases where the rule is proved by the breach of it.

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