Harmonic Symmetry and Armature

Harmonic Symmetry and Armature

My painting compositions are often based on the principles of harmonic symmetry. So, I often use a harmonic symmetry armature to check and refine my compositions, and as a guide for drawing my composition onto canvas.

I like the flexibility of the harmonic armature. It can be easily drawn on rectangles of any proportion without weakening its usefulness and power.

What is a Harmonic Armature?

The intersections of the harmonic armature form a pattern of intersecting lines that divide the composition into one third, one quarter, and one half. The intersecting lines also create a pattern of structural diagonal lines. All these lines can be used to guide the placement of elements within your composition to give it greater power and interest.

Harmonic Armature as a Drawing Guide

In addition to using the harmonic armature as a composition tool, it’s my favorite drawing guide to transfer my composition to canvas. A major benefit for me is it keeps my mind on the compositional structure as I draw.

Before you draw the armature, you need to be sure the canvas and the composition have the same proportions. I do this by selecting the canvas size in advance, then in Photoshop I size the composition image to match the dimensions of the canvas.

If you don’t have Photoshop or want to do the math, calculate the aspect ratio by measuring the height and width of your composition, and divide the longest side by the short side. For example: If your composition’s long side is 10” and the short side is 8” your formula is 10 ÷ 8=1.25. The aspect ratio is 1:1.125 (referred to as 1.125). Two standard-sized canvases with an aspect ratio of 1.25 are 16×20, 24×30.

The armature is simple to draw. All you need is primed canvas or panel, a pencil, and ruler. Maybe an eraser, just in case.

Draw armature lines in this order:

  1. Draw diagonal lines connecting all four corners. The lines will cross in the center of your canvas.
  2. Measure the distances from canvas edge to the center of your canvas.
  3. Use those measurements to mark the center of the top, bottom, and side edges.
  4. Draw vertical and horizontal lines connecting those center marks dividing your canvas into quarters.
  5. Finally, draw lines connecting all the corners and center marks.
  6. OPTIONAL: Draw vertical and horizontal lines that connect some of the intersections of the diagonals.

When the armature is complete, I’m ready to draw.

Once the drawing’s done, I erase most of  the armature lines to make the drawing more clear. I apply a light coat of workable fix to hold the drawing in place. I’m now ready to begin painting.

This clip from my video Tangerine On Old Books – Part 1 show the process in action.

Free Harmonic Armature Download

I encourage you to download the free Harmonic Armature Set that you can use with your own projects. The set includes three harmonic armatures; white, gray and black. In this set you will also find the images I use in my instructional video, Harmonic Armature with Photoshop.


These books have a treasured place in my studio.

Alla Prima II Everything I Know about Painting and More by Richard Schmid
Alla Prima, this book offers to the artist and art lover alike the wisdom and technical savvy which comes from a classical education and a lifetime of painting and teaching. Writing as an acknowledged master, Richard gracefully leads his reader through the subtleties of painting theory and technique with refreshing directness and unmatched technical authority. With an emphasis on painting from life, he writes with warm humor about the joys and trials of being an artist. He brings to life the romance of Bravura painting and examines the mysteries of color in fascinating detail.

Lessons in Classical Painting: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier by Juliette Aristides
Lessons in Classical Painting presents aspiring artists with the fundamental skills and tools needed to master painting in the atelier style. With more than 25 years of experience in ateliers and as an art instructor, Aristides pairs personal examples and insights with theory, assignments and demonstrations for readers, discussions of technical issues, and inspirational quotes.

The Art of Still Life by Todd M. Casey
The Art of Still Life offers a comprehensive, contemporary approach to the subject that instructs artists on the foundation basics and advanced techniques they need for successful drawing and painting. In addition to Casey’s stunning paintings, the work of over fifty past and present masters is included, so that the book is both a hardworking how-to manual and a visual treasure trove of some of the finest still life art throughout history and today.

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