Portrait Drawings and Paintings That Do Everything Right
There is a sweet and simple science to positioning your subject matter on your paper or canvas. No matter what type of portraiture that interests you — whether it be portrait drawings or portrait painting — the Golden Ratio, the Eye of God and certain other “sweet spots” are good to know about. And, they have been around for centuries.
They sound like titles for blockbuster movies; and to a certain extent, they are that powerful. Using these to decide how to place the focal points of your painting can help make every work you produce a knockout.
The Golden Ratio
The concept of the golden ratio is, “The whole is to the larger as the larger is to the smaller.” The golden ratio = 1:1.61803399. The golden ratio is also known as the golden mean, the golden section or the divine proportion.
A rectangle is “golden” when its width and length are proportional to the golden ratio. This rectangle is divided into smaller and smaller portions according to the golden mean.
A golden rectangle can be partitioned into a square beside a smaller rectangle of the exact same proportions as the original rectangle, which can be partitioned into a square beside a smaller rectangle of the exact same proportions as the original rectangle, which can be partitioned into a square beside a smaller rectangle of the exact same proportions as the original rectangle … and so on, into inﬁnity. Get it?
Used by the ancient Greeks to design buildings and monuments — and by painters like da Vinci, Seurat and Dalí to compose their paintings — the golden ratio reﬂects a balance of symmetry and asymmetry. Aesthetically pleasing works of art are often defined by the golden mean. In fact, studies show that works of art that agree with the golden mean are far more preferred.
The Eye of God
When you remove a square from one side of a golden rectangle, the remaining rectangle will also be golden, with the same proportions as the original. This process can continue inﬁnitely. Draw diagonals across any pair of these rectangles and they will always intersect at the same point.
Keep removing squares from the same end, and the whirling rectangles can then be inscribed with a logarithmic spiral also known as an equiangular spiral.
The limit point of the spiral will be the same as the intersection point of the diagonals. This point is commonly referred to as the “eye of God.”
Use the golden ratio to divide your paper and ﬁnd the natural focal points (or “sweet spots” as illustrators call them) on your paper. These sweet spots are a natural place to put your center of interest or other supporting points of interest in portrait drawings, landscapes and still lifes. As to the eye of God, repeating the spirals you create on all sides gives you four focal points or sweet spots.
What do you say to these blockbuster secrets? I know, not so secret. But still applicable if you want to create pleasing portrait drawings or paintings that follow in the footsteps of the Old Masters. As always, explore these ideas on your own terms. Nothing is meant to be set in stone except what you want to set there.
For more exploration of the fascinating landscape of the human face, you want the Master Portrait Painting & Drawing Collection. Joy Thomas is the author of one of the resources included, and it is her book that inspired this article; so be sure you give the collection a good look! You’ll likely be as enthused as I am. Enjoy!