Techniques and Tips

Harmonic Armatures Applied to Still Life Paintings

Harmonic Armatures Applied to Still Life Paintings


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The Greek mathematician Pythagoras (ca 570–ca 490 BC) discovered a relationship between numbers (specifically, proportions) and sensory perceptions that are pleasing to our ears and our eyes. In a word, we respond positively to intervals of one third, one quarter, one half, two thirds and three quarters. The harmonic armature is one of several compositional devices based on mathematic or geometric principles, such as the golden mean and root rectangles.

Above you see a harmonic armature applied to my painting Counterweight. First I drew the lines connecting opposite corners of my surface. Next I measured and marked the midpoint of each side of my surface. I then added diagonal lines connecting midpoints to each other and midpoints to corners. Notice that key components of my composition are on or near the line intersections, all of which mark quarters or thirds of either the horizontal or vertical dimension. Keeping the placement of the key points of this armature in mind can help you as you set up a still life.

I used the concept of the harmonic armature to set up my still life Favorites (below).

Below you can see Favorites with the harmonic armature lines superimposed.

To learn more about mathematic compositional devices, see these resources:

  • Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides (Watson-Guptill, 2008)
  • “The Fibonacci Sequence” by Cole Carothers


Arleta Pech
(www.arletapech.com) of Denver, Colorado, teaches painting through workshops and by means of her DVDs. Her article on using color to lead the eye, “Color Trails,” appeared in the June 2011 issue of Magazine.
Click here to order a digital version of the June 2011 issue of Magazine.
Click here to order Arleta Pech’s book Radiant Oils.


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Click here to watch a free video preview of “Capturing the Seasons in Oils with Tim Deibler.”


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Watch the video: Food for Thought: Pieter Claesz. and Dutch Still Life (July 2022).


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