Tuesday, 8 April 2014


Black Tusk, acrylic, 24x30

Did you ever wonder why some paintings stop us in our tracks and we just can’t take our eyes off them? If you are attracted to elegant and mesmerizing compositions, this post is for you. Next weekend I will share what I know on this subject with a group of local artists, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to write up a blog post as well.

The subject of composition has always intrigued me. There is no doubt that some shapes have more powerful appeal to the viewers than others. Soon after I started painting, I also started searching for a method to apply a unique composition principle to any possible painting, without having all the paintings look the same. For example, "the rule of thirds" or "triangular design" or "circular design", and similar schemes that you may read about are all great designs, but I needed something that has endless variations. Rather than a few set recipes, I was searching for a method to develop many, many recipes.

In the early 90's I was fortunate to learn about Dynamic Symmetry from my teacher and wonderful artist Michael Britton. His source was a book “The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry” by a 19th century artist Jay Hambidge. This theory has been rooted in an ancient geometrical design method.

The basic idea is surprisingly simple! We can easily compose harmonious scenes by utilizing a stick and a rope, just as generations of artists and craftsmen did from times immemorial!

Here is a basic method to construct a grid based on golden mean rectangles in six steps:

Looks easy, but the question is how to use this in a painting? And why?

The key to this came to me in three phases:

Construct harmonious and elegant grids based on the Dynamic Symmetry:

This is the 1-6 steps in the picture above. Examples of this design from the history or art, architecture and nature are abundant (see example images at http://www.pinterest.com/mirkovpopovicki/golden-mean/). This is just the basic stuff. There are other rectangles that can be used, but for the purpose of this article, I'll stick with this one.

How to apply this to a painting - where to start?

This puzzled me for a while until I decided that it made most sense to start from the main point of interest in the scene I am going to paint. The beginning is a square around that area. I use that square to construct the rest of the grid.

In which direction to start constructing the grid?

This was easy to answer. I move the construction of the grid in the direction where I want the viewers to move their eye from the point of interest.

The rest is always fun! As I develop the painting, I make sure to "lean", "touch", or "direct" shapes with some respect to the Dynamic Symmetry grid, so that the resulting painting inherits some of its harmony. It is important to use this with constraint to avoid overly rigid look. After all, the nature has it's laws, but it's also abundant with chaos.

Here is how it looks like when I overlay an example grid over one of my paintings. There are many shapes and lines in it where the grid leads the painting, but also lot of spontaneous and playful shapes that resist the rules.

For me, this is the most captivating process which keeps me interested in creating new designs. It is said that whatever adds wind to your sails is a good thing!

The composition gets strengthened by adding lines that don't exist in nature. That language has much more impact than a literal painting. The beautiful 'composed' scene, which follows the invented lines, talks to us.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. As always, if you have comments or questions, give me a shout! I also immensely appreciate when art lovers subscribe to my blog - so if you are interested in reading more of my posts, please do so!

Happy painting!