Composing space

The following, is adapted from pages of a book written by my grandfather, Adrian Ryan – ‘Still Life Painting Techniques’ – a book that I return to time and again for practical and theoretical advice based on age old traditions, and for Adrian’s insights into the nature of visual perception.

‘Artists have always, either instinctively or by design based their compositions upon geometrical divisions of their canvases or upon geometrical designs within these divisions.’

a. A simple division of each side into three equal parts giving nine equal squares or rectangles and four intersections at places on the canvas that are compelling to the eye.


b. The rabatment of a rectangle
By marking the length of the shorter side on the longer side of a rectangle and then repeating this process from the opposite direction, the space is divided into two overlapping squares. Then, by drawing the diagonals of the squares and the rectangles, a network is established as a guide to the design.



c. The golden section or mean

This well known mathematical ratio of 1 to 1.618, as witnessed in nature’s design, divides a line in such a way that the smaller is to the larger as the larger to the whole.

When the square section is removed, the remainder becomes another golden rectangle and so on into infinity.


‘These devices can be used as a help towards composing the canvas, but not  as a strict rule to be followed at all costs. Instinct is still the best master.’


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