Geometric Compositions


Some artists choose to construct a framework as a guide to organize their compositions. Geometry provides stable and predictable rhythms that help an artist to place shapes, values, and other elements.

Geometric Figures

Primitive geometric shapes like triangles, circles, and squares can be used to set placement of elements in a composition. In the illustration, the composition on the right has been constructed using a simple triangular figure. The artist, Nicolas Poussin, organized the human figures into a group that mimicked the triangular shape. The result was a stable, asymmetrical composition.

Golden Mean

The Golden Mean is a mathematical ratio that can be effectively applied to geometric figures. The numerical relationship of 1 : 1.618... results in a appealing visual relationship. The ratio, sometimes referred to as phi, has been in use since the time of the ancient Greek culture. It is purported to have been used in the design of the Parthenon and by artists to form compositional structures in paintings and drawings.

Applying the Mean

The Golden Mean can be applied to a design by using the measurement relationships of 1 : 1.618.

  • Begin with a format that has the same size associations as the Mean, like 10" by 16.2" horizontal.
  • Then divide the rectangle using a square (in this case a 10" square) setting it to one side of the rectangle.
  • The remaining area should be approximately a 1 : 1.618 ratio and can be divided the same way (6.2" square).
  • This process can be repeated an infinite number of times, although you may want to stop after about seven or eight repetitions.
  • The rhythm should spiral inward and can be articulated with a spiraling line, the center can be identified by using two diagonals, one in each of the first two rectangular spaces.