Digital Simplification and the Golden Ratio

| April 10, 2010
April painting challenge helper

April painting challenge helper

One of the hardest things for me as a new painter is simplifying a scene for the canvas. It seems that landscapes in particular present so much information that it is very difficult to figure out what to leave in and out of a painting. One of the Kevin Macpherson books I read recommended using an image editing program to blur the image to eliminate the detail. I tried that and although it was easier to see the colors I needed, I ended up with a blurry image that was still hard for my newbie art brain to visualize in paint. So, being a technogeek, I started researching sophisticated Photoshop plugins to help me along my journey.

I found a good plugin for $49, called Topaz Simplify, which I used to digitally simplify the April Challenge image above. It allows me to try out as many comps as I want before committing to the canvas. I figure that if I like the final digital version, all I need to do is work the paint and value relationships to capture the essence of my vision on canvas. Like Richard Schmid says, just put the right color in the right place and it will all work out. Maybe that is not word for word but it is the essence of what I heard in Richard’s video. The painting is still hard work but I feel that it gives me a good chance of creating a decent painting with my limited amount of experience. Remember that I am starting of with a multi exposure HDR image that captures more colors and values in the reference photograph. Topaz Simplify takes it further by allowing the user to simplify an image to their level and liking without killing the vibrance of the original image.

Please feel free to use the image above to help you paint for the challenge. I have highlighted a few of the key value and color relationships to help you visualize how they might be mixed for the painting. I am not trying to create a paint by number here, just a helper image for newer artists to use as a way to get to a desirable destination in their painting. Notice how subtle some of the differences in the values are. For instance, the highlights on the tree are not nearly as bright as you would think.

Golden Ratio Primer

OK, one last concept before I hit the hay. I have been studying the impact of the golden ratio on compositions. I read an article recently about Utah-based oil painter Bruce Cheever and how he is really hot on using golden ratios for his painting compositions. I checked a few of his paintings and sure enough, he is hot on it. The basic concept is that many things we see as beautiful can be related back to proportions inspired by the golden ratio. Notre Dame Cathedral and The Mona Lisa in Paris are two good examples that use the golden ratios in their designs. We have all heard about the rule of thirds but the golden ratio takes it one step further by applying a mathematical formula to find ideal ways to proportion and divide a canvas as well as place focal points.

To provide a simple example, I have calculated the golden ratios to help find a focal point for my painting. As you can see, I have placed the focal point, which is the sunlit portion of the main rocks, at the intersection points dictated by the golden ratio. To get the division line for the bottom, I took the total width (360mm) and divided it by 1.618. I took the resulting number (222.49mm) and placed a division line at that point along the width of the image. You can measure the from the left or right depending on where you want you focal point to be. I chose to measure the 222.49mm from the right side of the image. If you follow that line up into the image, you can see that I deliberately placed the sunlit portion of the rocks on this line.

For the vertical division line, I took the total height (240mm) and divided it by 1.618. The resulting number (148.33) was then measured from the top to place the line. That line is where I put the base of the sunlit rocks in the image. The resulting sections can be further subdivided by using the same technique to place additional areas of interest in the painting if you like.

Really confused now? Don’t be. I encourage you to research the golden ratio yourself. It is quite fascinating and I believe a legitimate way to think about setting up paintings. This whole exercise has taught me to analyze why I like the way something looks so I can use that information to advance my fine art skills.

Category: Fine Art and Painting

Comments (4)

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  1. AutumnLeaves says:

    Color me confused…or just not awake enough yet…but I do love what you’ve done with this photo, Lee. Helps to really see those beautiful colors in the rocks!

  2. Lee says:

    Hi Sherry. I was confused at first too. I just kept chipping away until I got it. Maybe I will post some more information on the topic soon!

  3. Julie Hill says:

    Great posting Lee…I usually do the rule of thirds…but excited to try the “1.618” now…thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Lee says:

    Thanks for the comment Julie. Glad you found this interesting. It is fun to study the many facets of fine art!