What is Dynamic Symmetry?
What is Dynamic Symmetry? Well, it’s more than just lines. It’s a powerful tool for photographers, painters…serious artists. It’s the unbreakable structure in beautiful art, which has been kept secret from us all. This is why dynamic symmetry is not taught in photography or art schools. We’re given the rule of thirds to guide us, but unfortunately, it’s proven to give us nothing to build on as we advance forward. Artists with a will to create something remarkable will venture deeper and discover that the dynamic symmetry grids are an essential starting point for any visual art.
Dynamic symmetry is new to a lot of you, but it doesn’t have to be difficult to understand and apply. Learn from mind-blowing PDFs and helpful free videos that guide you in your design. With 240 unique dynamic symmetry grids, you’ll finally be able to properly organize your compositions like a master…on-location during a photo shoot, on the computer, or within a painting or sketch.
Launch past your plateau, and onto another exciting path in your artistic journey!
Quick Links A SUMMARY OF THE AMAZING CONTENT
Here’s a helpful summary of everything that is covered throughout this page. Lot’s of great content on dynamic symmetry can be found, so enjoy!
- What Artists are saying about Dynamic Symmetry
- How do They Help Your Art?
- Amazing Camera Modifications
- Dynamic Symmetry Package [What’s Included]
- How to Use them in Fine Art Photography
- Dynamic Symmetry Book and Quick Tips
- How to Use them in Street Photography
- Excellent for your Camera & More [Uses]
- Using the Grids in Lightroom [Grids & Shortcuts]
- Awesome Grids for Cinematographers
- From Camera to Canvas [6 Videos]
- How to Use them in a Drawing
- Quick Light Pad Tracing
- Be Skeptical of Dynamic Symmetry [Dig Deep]
- How the Great Masters Used the Grids
- Top Four Books for Learning More [FREE Downloads]
- Beautiful Phi Grid Free Samples
- Free Articles Included
- How to Easily Print and Apply them [Video]
- Phi Grids Inspired by Ghyka
- All 240 Unique Grids [Specifications]
AMAZING WORDS FROM ARTISTS AROUND THE WORLD!
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Tavis: Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know how useful your information has been. Working on reading through all the member content and loving the freedom of the dynamic grids. I’ve attached a current piece (low-res version) I’m working on with one of the grids over-layed. I made some changes and alignment to the composition based on the grid and I do think it works better now (but as far as my correct use of the grid–that may be a different story). Just wanted to show you what I’ve done with your info and encourage you to keep teaching!
I just wanted to express my enthusiasm and gratitude toward your work as a beginning photographer and fellow bohemian.
Your article and video on dynamic symmetry in composition is the most intriguing piece of information I’ve come across in quite a while. It was simply ingenious, entrancing, and very well put. This has provided me with such a breakthrough of insight in developing composition and noticing the divine ratio within life itself. Thank you so much. You are brilliant.
Best of Wishes,
Really enjoying your blog and all the great info about Dynamic Symmetry. I’m sold and believe this may be the secret to why so many of my photos are “flat,” “uninspired,” etc. even though the subject matter might be very interesting. Most of my photos have been very static (horizontals, verticals) and lack many of the devices that you describe to lead the viewer’s eye around the frame.
No need to thank me. Thanks to you I have even found out about dynamic symmetry. I enjoy your channel and really liked your book, even though it left me hungry for more. I think for what you are offering this is a steal. So, thank YOU. Also I would like to express me sincere appreciation for all the work you’ve been doing.
I wish you all the best for the future, the sun on your face and the wind on your back.
I have been diving into your work religiously in my off time and I can already tell I’ve struck gold. What you have created is exactly what I was looking for which I couldn’t find elsewhere. I remember stumbling upon some gestalt info in the past but it was related to graphic design and I dismissed it because I couldn’t easily relate it to my own art, but you go through and show exactly how it relates to 2d art in a way that is easy to digest and apply, and the dynamic symmetry has been blowing my mind. It’s one of those moments where I can tell my art is going to take a quantum leap forward as long as I do everything I consciously can to master this methodology. I am truly thankful for your work and effort in creating this, my friend.
Thanks again Tavis!
I have been following you on youtube channel for a year now, and even won a photography competition as well after going through Dynamic Symmetry Videos. They are really insightful.
HOW DO THE DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS HELP YOUR ART?
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Dynamic symmetry has been used for centuries to build and design masterpieces of all kinds…including the Parthenon, believe it or not. It all boils down to the geometry, but as visual artists, we don’t have to stress about understanding the math part of things. For instance, the golden ratio (phi ratio) is 1.618, but we don’t need to know how it creates the spiraling seeds of a sunflower or the logarithmic spiral of a Nautilus shell. We can use the dynamic symmetry grids as visual tools to help organize our compositions and promote unity, movement, and rhythm.
I use these helpful grids (armatures) for my photography, but not in the way you might think. When I first created prototypes, in 2013, they helped me break the habit of plotting my subject on a third like the rule of thirds grid. Man was that tough to break! Today, with more experience, I use them every time I use my camera or draw, to help organize and guide my compositions like they did the master painters, Greek and Egyptian artists.
Taking the time and using the grids on my camera LCD helped me capture photos while incorporating coincidences (see Day 48) for more unity, movement, and rhythm by using gamut (see Day 38). So yes, professional photographers use these grids and can attach them to their LCD (or monitor) to help them organize their composition. Beginners can use them to help them start seeing the geometry (diagonals), then work towards more advanced applications. If you hear otherwise, it’s probably from those that may understand the use of dynamic symmetry, but fail to actually apply it in the real world.
There’s a great saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Further below, you’ll see how I’m not just teaching, but I’m actually applying the dynamic symmetry to fine art photography, street photography, and drawing. The grids work!
It’s absolutely absurd to not take advantage of the way the grid helps us organize a composition when placed onto the camera LCD, light pad, phone screen, or in the computer. It’s an amazing tool! The Egyptians wouldn’t disregard the square and compass by their side, just so they could save time and feel smarter by applying the geometry intuitively. Master painters wouldn’t throw out their phi calipers because they thought they were clever and could locate the proportions by gut instinct. A carpenter wouldn’t build a house with no measuring tape, and just eyeball things.
Still not a believer? Let’s look at music.
There’s an amazingly simple tool that beginner and professional musicians will always use. It’s called the “metronome,” and it’s used to keep rhythm. This isn’t to say a musician has to use it whenever they play, but it definitely assists the creation of potentially masterful work. This might sound like an obvious statement, but tools help the beginner and professional achieve their task more efficiently.
When I was mentoring with Myron Barnstone in the studios, I remember him answering a question about applying the grid intuitively. Myron commented in a very humble manner that he had recently tried to apply dynamic symmetry without rulers or grids, and he failed to get it accurate. Keep in mind, Myron is a master painter himself and taught dynamic symmetry for over 30 years, so if he’s admittedly unable to do it without tools, then why would we think we could do it differently?
If you’re a painter, you can use dynamic symmetry to capture reference photos and easily transfer the dynamic symmetry grid onto your canvas (see video playlist).
I’ve also used the dynamic symmetry grids on my computer to analyze 100’s of master paintings and photographs (Annie Leibovitz). These simple, yet sophisticated grids are super convenient tools and provide the foundation you need to create a remarkable piece of art.
There are many other design techniques and tools you need to be familiar with to help create a masterpiece (arabesques, ellipses, radiating lines, and Gestalt principles), but dynamic symmetry is a great starting point.
AMAZING CAMERA MODIFICATIONS
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Film photographers don’t have many options to use the grid, but I have an entertaining story for you. Myron was convinced Henri Cartier-Bresson etched the grid onto his ground glass. That’s how accurate Cartier-Bresson was with his application of dynamic symmetry (see #460). Not that he actually did this to his camera (you never know though), but it’s quite an amusing story, and it’s what made me want to create grids for my LCD in the first place.
This story about etching into the ground glass reminds me of a couple of awesome images some photographers have sent me.
I wanted to share this with you in case you know of anyone that would like to get one for their 4×5 camera. I had Randy Smith at Holgamods.com make me a ground glass with a root phi rectangle laser etched into it. I’ve enclosed a photo of the finished product.
Stephen Shore used dynamic symmetry in his photography (see #480), and I had a suspicion he etched a grid onto the ground glass of his large format camera. Looks like my suspicions were right! I see that it can be achieved with little effort. Not that Stephen Shore used a laser to etch into his ground glass, but he could’ve used something sharp and a straight edge to carve into it. Very cool!
Here’s a funny photo by Stephen Shore, where he locks in several areas to the root phi rectangle. A still life like this could be adjusted to conform to the grid…just as we see here. When multiple areas lock-in and coincide horizontally, vertically, and diagonally with each other, we are safe to assume that dynamic symmetry was being used…even if it appears to be a simple photo of fast food.
Another photographer modified his Nikon F2 camera and resized the grid to fit onto the focusing prism. How cool is that!
“Tavis, I reduced the 3 inch template to 1 inch and it fit on my focusing prism screen on my F2. I now have access to the lines all the time. IT WORKED!
What's Included? DYNAMIC SYMMETRY PACKAGE
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Too long, didn’t read? Don’t feel like reading more about the dynamic symmetry grids, and just want to get everything now? Click on the “Buy Now” button below and you’ll get everything! This way if/when you change your gear, you will always have a grid to fit ALL of your needs.
If you can’t afford the grids, no worries. I’ve got several FREE videos (see video playlist) showing exactly how the basic grid is built. This huge package is just provided as a convenience to those of you who want to save a ton of time and get straight to using them in your art.
Every purchase helps support this site to bring more free videos and articles to artists that are wanting to master composition. It is much appreciated!
Instant Download Includes:
1. All 239 high-resolution individual grids for computer use
More info: (478 Total JPEG: 239 black, 239 white)(used for analyzing photos, art, designing a painting, digital illustration, or creating your own grid variation to fit your composition and design).
2. Updated 2019 diagonal gauge and an Advanced diagonal gauge for analyzing prints (2 total)
3. All 14 high-resolution PHI grids inspired by Ghyka
More info: (JPEG, both white and black)
4. All 239 Light Pad grids
5. All camera grids for photo (37 grids) and video (26 grids)
More info: (Seven sizes-2.95″ (Sony A6500 mirrorless), 3″ (Canon, Nikon), 3” Sony A7RII, 3” Panasonic G85, 3.2″(Canon, Nikon), 3.3” (Canon, Nikon) and Micro Four-Thirds (Olympus) (with single print sheets and an adjustable Photoshop file)
6. All phone grids for photo (50 grids) and video (20 grids)
More info: (8 new phones; iPhone XS-5.8”, iPhone XS MAX-6.5”, iPhone XR-6.1”, iPhone X-5.8”, iPhone 8plus-5.5”, iPhone 8-4.7”, Google Pixel 3XL-6.3”, Google Pixel 3-5.5”)(8 more archived phones are included, but not updated with new 2019 grids: sizes 4”, 4.7”, 5.2”, 5.3”, 5.4”, 5.5”, 5.7”, 5.9”) (with single print sheets and an adjustable Photoshop file)
7. All iPad grids for photo (36 grids) and video (24 grids)
More info: (Two sizes:11″ and 12.9″)(2 more archived iPads are included, but not updated with new 2019 grids: screen diagonals 9.7”, 10.5”) (with single print sheets and an adjustable Photoshop file)
8. All 239 Adobe Lightroom Grids
More info: (Format: PNG, 956 Total: 239 black vertical, 239 black horizontal, 239 white vertical, 239 white horizontal)
9. PDF on Dynamic Symmetry
10. PDF on Overlapping Root Rectangles
11. PDF on Compound Rectangles
12. PDF on Themes of Root Rectangles
13. PDF on Blade Runner 2049 – Analyzed Cinema Part 1
14. PDF on Blade Runner 2049 – Analyzed Cinema Part 2
15. PDF on Blade Runner 2049 – Analyzed Cinema Part 3
16. Instructions for using the grids in Adobe Lightroom
17. Instructions for using blending modes with grids in Adobe Photoshop
Download links include:
Everything listed above for US and A4 sizes
US Download Size: 2.03GB (zipped)
A4 Download Size: 2.04GB (zipped)
240 unique grids and gauges, with over 1600 sorted files in the entire package!
After purchasing the package, you will be directed to the download page and you’ll also receive an email with the link. On a MOBILE DEVICE? No worries! With the link in the email, you can get the goodies when you’re back at your main computer.
Dynamic Symmetry Package WALKTHROUGH VIDEO
Wanting to see exactly what’s in the dynamic symmetry package and how to use the grids? Please check out the article link below with a video that will start from the download process and show you each folder and file. You’ll learn how to use them in various software programs, light tables, and see how it’s all tied together to create a grid ecosystem for your art.
DYNAMIC SYMMETRY IN FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
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Here’s a break down of a fine art photography set that was created with the 1.5 dynamic symmetry grid attached to my LCD. A bunch of us got together for a going away photo shoot for a local model here in Hawaii (May 4th, 2018).
While the girls were getting their makeup applied by the artist, the guys were comparing camera gear. My photography friend saw the 1.5 grid taped onto my LCD and he said, “you’re still using that?” I looked at him kind of shocked, because I knew he was using the root phi grid quite a bit, and understood the importance of dynamic symmetry. We went back and forth for a minute, but I got the impression that he could imagine the lines without the grid on his camera. This is where I agreed with him…kinda. Sure, we can easily find the major diagonals and even a reciprocal diagonal (as done for film photography), but we still can’t dispose of it.
I explained to him that dynamic symmetry was a tool for measurement, just like the metronome is to a musician, and it couldn’t be discarded…ever. Especially for complex compositions, where we need more guidance from the grid. Dynamic symmetry grids don’t have to be used every single time, but they are certainly indispensable.
Some artists who are relatively new to dynamic symmetry might stop using the grids due to the fact that they can’t lock everything into it. When this happens, they might feel like it’s impairing them, but they just need a little more info on how to use them. We can align things exactly, parallel lines, repeat diagonals, or ignore the lines completely. Sometimes we can’t capture diagonals, which is fine, it doesn’t mean we need to stop using the grid completely. We’ll see an example of this in a minute, where I couldn’t lock in very many things, but I still used it to guide the composition.
Here’s the first image, which was taken in two shots. Being heavily inspired by Paolo Roversi after I wrote an article on his aesthetic (see #494), I decided to have some motion blur. Obviously, it was Photoshopped quite a bit (mostly colors and effects), but it was not cropped at all…not even a pixel.
You can see from the RAW contact sheet, that the second one had a bit too much motion blur. I used a remote flash that was placed on the ground and pointed it towards the two distant models. Since we were in a parking garage, it simulated car lights being shined onto them.
Tip: When creating motion blur, use a flash to freeze a sharp image, then the shutter will stay open to create the blur.
I first lined up the smaller model on the right, then lined up the model next to her (Mandy). Both girls were posed to ensure they were creating diagonals. After that, I walked behind the model closest to the camera and had her lean on the wall to create the sinister diagonal with her right arm, completing the composition. I couldn’t lock her into the grid exactly without her arm overlapping onto the distant model’s feet, so I had to parallel her arm to the grid.
You can see in the detail on the right, that the middle model (Mandy) isn’t locking in exactly to the baroque diagonal, but this is what Harold Speed calls dither (see #387). We don’t have to have our diagonals mathematically correct like a geometric equation. Meaning, these girls are very close to being locked-in, and because they parallel the grid lines, they still reflect the geometry of the 1.5 rectangle.
Very cool right? Let’s see another one from the same shoot, but which utilized the grid less.
This photo is one that may stump those that are new to the application of dynamic symmetry. There’s no major diagonal, so now what do we do?
With minimal diagonals to work with, I had to have the model create diagonals with her arms, and parallel them to the grid. Her arms also create nice 90 degree angles, which create a sense of strength in the composition. Her amazing dress even parallels the grid, and the mirror above (reflecting the other two girls), locks into the left vertical.
I had the grid on my LCD, but couldn’t really use it like I wanted (because the diagonals were minimal). No big deal, all I did was switch my attention from the grid, back to the scene on the LCD, then back to the grid…aligning what I could. I wasn’t trapped by using the grid, I was in full control…switching back and forth when needed.
It’s ok for beginners to feel like they have to lock things in exactly to the grid, but the big take away from all of this is that it’s a tool we can use fully, or partially, whenever we choose.
New Release! DYNAMIC SYMMETRY BOOK
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There is now a book that bridges the gap for VISUAL ARTISTS! Check out the new book, “Dynamic Symmetry: The Foundation of Masterful Art.” There are also several lessons about dynamic symmetry, the golden section, the Great Pyramid of Giza, ratios, and more!
The book wouldn’t be possible without YOU, so thank you so much for all of the continued support. It’s much appreciated!
HOW TO USE THE DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS IN STREET PHOTOGRAPHY
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The dynamic symmetry grids can easily be used in street photography, whether you shoot film or digital. If you are shooting digital, then you can attach the grid to your LCD as mentioned in the fine art photo section above. When shooting film, as in the image below, you will have to understand the basic armature of the 1.5 grid. The visual aid won’t be on your LCD because you don’t have one…it will be in your mind.
See how I approach film street photography with the grid in mind while walking around Waikiki (in video playlist).
*These street photography images were not cropped to conform to the grid. They were not happenstance either…the intentions while shooting, were to capture the geometry.
That might sound complicated if you are new to dynamic symmetry, but it’s quite simple. Henri Cartier-Bresson (see #460) did this all the time to capture his geometry (see #472). To put it simply, try to incorporate more diagonals.
The 1.5 basic armature consists of only two major diagonals, and four reciprocal diagonals. We add the horizontals and verticals through the eyes (intersection points) of the diagonals (all covered in the included PDF’s). This is essentially the same process for building the armature of any root or phi rectangle.
Side Note: This 1.5 grid (equal to a square and a half) is the same size as a 35mm cameras and most digital sensors, that’s why we use it for street photography. If you have a Micro Four-Thirds (M43) camera, there are various different grids for that size as well.
There is a chapter in “Photography Composition & Design” that explains Dynamic Symmetry in-depth (see the screenshots below). It’s written for street photographers that are wanting to push their skills to the master level.
If you’re shooting film, you can analyze the photo with the 1.5 grid in Photoshop or Lightroom (see below). This will show you how well you did, and also build your muscle memory for next time you’re out with your camera. Digital photographers, shooting with the grid on their LCD, should analyze their photography as well.
There are many different variations of the 1.5 grid. For example, the photo below utilizes the 1.5 rectangle with three root 4 grids inside of it (both black and white grids are included). This is more complex, but it’s all about area divisions and diagonals. We shouldn’t over complicate things. Composition is all about the organization of elements, and the various dynamic symmetry grids help us with that (also covered in the PC&D book).
Follow the lines and see how things lock into the diagonals and verticals of the grid. Some things lock in exactly. I was organizing the elements for the 1.5 grid (in my head), but when analyzing in the computer, I found that it adheres to a more complex grid. Very cool!
DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS ARE EXCELLENT FOR YOUR CAMERA
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The dynamic symmetry grids are perfectly sized to fit your camera LCD, phone, Light Pad, and iPad. This way you have grids no matter what camera you are using. You’ll get 24 of the most useful grids in each option (details further below).
Do we really need a dynamic symmetry grid for iPad’s? Yes, I’ll give you an example. I own a Canon 6D with WIFI capabilities. This means I can use my iPad for the LCD instead of the smaller one on the camera. I can place the printed grid onto the iPad and have a larger area to help me compose the image. Perfect!
Sheets are ready to print and available in PSD (Photoshop File) to adjust as necessary. Why would you need to adjust them? Well, as you work with them on location or in the studio, you’ll start to favor certain rectangles…depending on your subjects. This way you can adjust the file to have several of the same rectangles on one sheet to save on printing costs.
USING THE GRIDS IN LIGHTROOM
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All 240 grids can be used in Lightroom with ease! Created for the artistic photographers out there that want more than just the basics.
To use the grids, just go to View, Loupe Overlay, Choose Layout Image, then select the grid you want to use (MAC=Command+Option+Shift+O, PC=Control+ALT+Shift+O). The dynamic symmetry grids are formatted to show the lines over your image, and it works perfectly. You can even select “Recent Layout Images.”
To toggle the grids on and off use a shortcut! (MAC=Command+Option+O, PC=Control+ALT+O)
To move the Grid around or resize, hold Command (MAC) or Control (PC).
The grids for Lightroom are created in vertical, horizontal, white, and black.
This means you get a total of 960 grids just for Lightroom!
Now you have tons of amazing design options for your masterful photography.
DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS FOR CINEMATOGRAPHERS
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Finally, grids for cinematographers! The video grids included in the package (see list above) utilize some of the standard cinema ratios (16:9, 21:9), all while incorporating the power of dynamic symmetry. And guess what? You can even use them for your drone and aerial composition!
When the phi calipers are used to analyze a screenshot of Blade Runner 2049, we can see how it fits the proportions from top to bottom, and left to right.
In the PDF articles within the package, I show you how the root 6 grid was configured by using the proportions of the golden ratio. See the small rectangle in the middle? It has the beautiful proportions of the phi ratio.
DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS: FROM CAMERA TO CANVAS VIDEO
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In the video playlist, I show you how the dynamic symmetry grids can be used to move seamlessly from camera to canvas. I also show how to create the basic armature of the root phi rectangle (equivalent to an 11×14).
As mentioned in the golden ratio article, the dynamic symmetry grids are constructed very easily with a square. The example below shows how we can swing the diagonal down from the square to get the root two rectangle. After that, we swing the diagonal from the root two down to get the root three…and so on. Piece of cake!
We don’t have to construct like this if we already have grids to work with. It’s just showing you how to get the final root rectangle shape when starting with a square.
*Just click on the image below and another window will present the playlist of amazing videos! Maximize your love for dynamic symmetry!
Videos Listed As:
“Dynamic Symmetry: How to Use it in Photography and Painting”
“Dynamic Symmetry: How to Draw the Grids with Simple Math”
“Dynamic Symmetry for Photography and Using the Grid”
“How to Create a Photoshop Action for Dynamic Symmetry Grids”
“Mastering Composition to Get More Keepers”
“Dynamic Symmetry: How to Keep it Simple in the Beginning”
HOW DO YOU USE THE DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS IN DRAWINGS?
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Now, switching it up a bit from photography, we can apply the dynamic symmetry grids to our drawings as well. Here’s a preliminary drawing (11×14) I created, “Vegetables warming a pop-tart,” by first designing it in Photoshop with the computer grids.
After it was designed, I printed out the template onto 11×17 paper and traced the design onto nice paper. I think at the time I didn’t have a light pad, so I used the sliding glass door on the back porch…works great! Once the outline of the design was on nice paper, I completed it with Conte Pencil.
My drawing skills can always be improved (which is why I created a drawing game), but the important thing is that I was incorporating dynamic symmetry and following in the great tradition of master painters.
DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS FOR LIGHT PAD TRACING
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If you like to draw with a light pad, using these specific sized grids will get you masterful results. They are sized to the “Huion Light Pad LB4” and you can usually find it in Amazon (sized close to 11x14in).
I bought this and recommend it because it is huge, battery operated, bright, dimmable, and wireless. It fits inside my backpack and lasts several hours. I also use it as an overhead light in my mobile studio above my desk.
The Light Pad dynamic symmetry grids include all 240 grids and they are sized to fit the light pad mentioned above. This means you can print them onto 11×17 or A3 sized paper, and cut them on the provided line. They can then slide underneath your drawing paper to allow you to use the grid when drawing.
Here’s a drawing I completed by using the light pad, the grid “Phi Overlapping MAD 24, Increment: 1,” and some inspiration from Pablo Picasso. I placed the grid over the drawing to show you how things line up. Note the major diagonals and the areas locking into the grid.
Even though this drawing, “Shower Room of a Goddess,” may not be the perfect subject matter for your tastes (nor is the rendering perfect), it certainly attempts to employ the masterful composition, design, and Gestalt psychology techniques of the masters.
Using a light pad isn’t cheating…the masters used similar methods like the Camera Obscura all the time. Designing your composition with dynamic symmetry in mind is only part of an artists battle. The rendering of light and volume is something completely on it’s own level….something I hope to get better at in the near future.
BE SKEPTICAL OF DYNAMIC SYMMETRY
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It’s ok to be skeptical of dynamic symmetry at first. I know I was. Come to think of it, I was also skeptical of the rule of thirds, which led me down a path to creating all of the content on this site. If skeptical explorers never ventured out to prove the world wasn’t flat, where would we be? Being skeptical is not really a bad thing if you’re willing to dig deeper and discover the truth.
After all, dynamic symmetry was kept secret for so long, that we have minimal evidence remaining from the master painters. Sure, the pyramids still remain, but it’s easy for a lot of people to dismiss any theories that dynamic symmetry (a.k.a. geometry) was used to build them. But, why is that so hard to believe?
It’s also easy to be skeptical when you hear that master painters used dynamic symmetry, because Leonardo Da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, William-Adolphe Bouguereau…they’re all gone and would never reveal their trade secrets to us. They certainly didn’t write it down for others to learn from. All that is left is their paintings. Euan Uglow left phi marks on his drawings, but why would we believe that? Especially if we don’t know how phi calipers are used.
Even photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Gregory Crewdson, and Stephen Shore are not likely to share with us their secrets…but the evidence of dynamic symmetry is there. Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the most famous photographers that is actually recorded on video, saying he used dynamic symmetry (he calls it “geometry“). Not only does it come straight from his mouth, but his photos also reflect his application of geometry. Yet, people are still skeptical because they don’t know that dynamic symmetry is geometry. The grids are visual representations of geometric ratios.
Let’s imagine all of the books written on dynamic symmetry (seen below) never existed; all gone, leaving nothing for us to reference. In addition to that, let’s point out the fact that we don’t have a video recording of Pablo Picasso (master painter) saying that he used dynamic symmetry. Darn, no proof…but wait! Can’t we still analyze their work with dynamic symmetry, and reveal the organization of their composition? Even if we’re skeptical, can’t we use dynamic symmetry in this way to discover more about the artist and where they placed objects within the frame? Absolutely.
Take a look at the other masterful pieces of art below to see how the masters used dynamic symmetry grids. Determine for yourself if the masters really used the grids, or if all of this was invented to sell false hope to artists. You be the judge but dig deep in order to reveal the truth.
MORE MASTERS USING DYNAMIC SYMMETRY
Salvador Dali uses the phi grid to compose this next painting. You will see a small square in the lower section of the grid. Draw a line up from this and you’ll see how it creates a square. Four lines can be seen to designate the location of the square.
Pablo Picasso uses two phi rectangles that are stacked onto each other.
Several sculptors created this statue of Laocoon by designing it in a root phi rectangle.
Vincent Van Gogh uses a root phi to organize his painting of a colorful chair.
Annie Leibovitz uses the root 4 rectangle to organize this group of celebrity woman (see Day 2). We can also see how three 1.5 rectangles fit perfectly inside the root 4 and can be used to design the photo.
The cinematographer of Game of Thrones, Alik Sakharov, uses the root 3 rectangle to help compose this scene. The root 3 rectangle (ratio=1.732) has a ratio that is very close to the 16:9 frame ratio (ratio= 1.777), so it can be used by cinematographers to compose their scenes. The root 5 rectangle (ratio=2.236) can also be used because it has a ratio that is very close to the 21:9 frame ratio (ratio=2.333).
TOP FOUR BOOKS RELATED TO DYNAMIC SYMMETRY
The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry
1. Jay Hambidge teaches us the geometry of rectangles which can be applied to our compositions in the book “The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry.” This won’t show you how to construct a masterful composition, but it is a great reference for when you are using dynamic symmetry within your art. You can refer to it for the mathematical side of things dealing with root rectangle construction, area divisions, reciprocals, and compound root rectangles.
Public Domain PDF Download HERE.
The Painter’s Secret Geometry
2. This next book is by Charles Bouleau, called “The Painter’s Secret Geometry,” will provide an in-depth look at dynamic symmetry and how it was used in master paintings. He give’s great examples, but won’t really show you how to create your own masterpiece using the techniques he’s revealing.
Unfortunately there isn’t a Free PDF download, but it was just republished and you can find it on Amazon for a great price.
Dynamic Symmetry a Primer
3. The book, “Dynamic Symmetry a Primer,” by Christine Herter, follows in the footsteps of Jay Hambidge. Additionally, it has some really nice variations of dynamic symmetry armatures creating unique grids. She really shows how to utilize the square within a root rectangle to create a unique design. She also demonstrates how to create a unique design from the armature created within the rectangle. This specific construction of the dynamic symmetry grids wasn’t covered very much in Hambidge’s book, so it’s a great one to add to the collection.
This is another one of those rare books, but you can also find the printed version on Amazon. Any free PDF’s floating around out there violate copyright, so be aware, and give the artist proper support.
The Art of Composition
4. Another one for the dynamic symmetry book shelf is “The Art of Composition,” by Michel Jacob. He covers many of the same things that Hambidge covers, but less geometry and ratios, and more illustrations and grid overlays. He actually goes out of his way to not mention anything mathematical, which a lot of us artists can appreciate. Some other interesting dynamic symmetry tips he covers, is building different root rectangles inside of the square. Also, overlapping root rectangles within the square.
Some draw backs are the overly simplified illustrations. Granted, this book is pretty old, so they are better than nothing. It would be great to see them applied to master paintings.
One of the major portions of the book that I completely disagreed with is when he begins to teach that there is a “principle point of interest.” This principle point of interest (page 37) of the dynamic symmetry grid seems to change with each demonstration. This can cause some confusion with the reader. It has the dangerous potential of misleading the reader, and could have them creating generic images that resemble the rule of thirds. We don’t want to be lead down a dead end road.
We always must consider the whole composition, and not base the location of our subject on a dictated point. If we did, then we would easily disregard other important techniques for visual clarity like figure-ground relationship.
Additionally, some illustrations don’t reflect the lines he is overlaying onto them. On page 66 he shows a religious figure being locked into the verticals of two overlapping root twos. More important than this placement are the diagonals being created by the figure.
This is why master paintings would’ve been exceptional to show, because the figure would represent multiple design techniques, instead of concentrating on the placement. What I mean by this is the figure would look much better with an arabesque and some more negative space at the top (breathing room).
He also demonstrates the logarithmic spiral within an overlay, but it’s not perceived within the design (page 72). Visual perception is a huge part of design, that’s why it’s important to learn Gestalt pychology principles. If it’s supposedly designed in a certain way, but not perceived in this way by the viewer, then it’s missed it’s mark.
All around, it’s a great book for beginners to advance, and helps understand dynamic symmetry a lot better. There are some pitfalls to be aware of…especially if you are just learning about design, but I’ve covered most of them within this short review.
Public Domain PDF Download HERE.
SIDE NOTE: One other really cool coincidence I’d like to mention about Michel Jacobs book, is that on page 117 he shows how to draw the grid in perspective. This instantly reminded me of a great artist by the name of Scott Robertson (more further below).
This is an excerpt from Michel Jacobs book, which explains how he recommends transparent guides to painters. Holding the grid a few inches from their eyes allows them to see if their geometry is placed well. This isn’t what gave me the idea for camera grids (it was a story by Myron Barnstone explained above), but it’s certainly interesting to see that dynamic symmetry grids are still not readily accessible for the artist to take advantage of…over 90 years later.
Another interesting thing, is that Michel Jacobs believes artists are allowed to take shortcuts and use the tools to help them with their art. There’s nothing wrong with shortcuts if it helps you create more efficiently.
He’s not teaching artists to find the diagonals intuitively either. Not to say a grid always has to be used for everything the artist creates, but it’s not something they can throw away once reaching a certain level. Dynamic symmetry is important to the artist, just as the measuring tape is to the carpenter.
How to Draw
5. Here’s a bonus book I thought was worth mentioning, and it’s “How to Draw,” by Scott Robertson. If you enjoy drawing the dynamic symmetry grids, then you’ll probably like the line constructions he demonstrates. You can also take these line constructions and build really complex structures.
Robertson’s book, in turn, also reminds me of the bottle constructions we were assigned at The Barnstone Studios. Below, you can see some of my bottle constructions…very much like the basic designs in Robertson’s book.
Myron Barnstone DVD Series
6. This leads us to the final bonus, which isn’t a book, but quite amazing. It’s Myron Barnstone’s DVD series. He was my mentor, and within his videos he teaches dynamic symmetry with great authority. Myron covers the construction of the root rectangles, the armature, the phi rectangle, and the root two rectangle. He also digs deep into master paintings and demonstrates how dynamic symmetry was incorporated to create unity, movement, and rhythm. Check out his amazing videos if you ever get a chance!
Here’s a photo of Myron when I traveled to Maryland to conduct his interview, February 2015. Great memories!
FREE PHI DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRID SAMPLES!
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FREE SAMPLES: test out the best dynamic symmetry grids out on your computer, camera, ipad, and phone ? See how beautiful and convenient they are! Adjust them in Photoshop, or print onto transparency film.
Both US and European Sizes are available.
US Grid Sizes - Sample (5275 downloads)
European Grid Sizes - Sample (5503 downloads)
*The Master Pass members can enjoy 30 essential dynamic symmetry grids that have been updated (2019) and are available for free download on the Resources page.
FREE ARTICLES TO UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS
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To help you understand the dynamic symmetry grids, I’m going to include seven FREE PDF articles with every package. Most of these are elaborated on throughout the Dynamic Symmetry book.
1. The first free article is “The Simplicity & Beaty of Dynamic Symmetry” (see Day 14), which covers how the root rectangles are constructed from the square, the ratios, and the root rectangle grids.
2. You’ll also get a PDF of “Composition with Overlapping Root Rectangles” (see #419), which will help you understand how to properly overlap root rectangles. You might have noticed from the list of grids that there are some new terms. To simplify the terminology, “Overlapping 1,” means it’s a bigger rectangle than “Overlapping 3.” The number “1” refers to the increment (see PDF to understand).
When it reads “MAD 45”, this just means “Major Area Divisions” and the number refers to how many smaller rectangles are within the two overlapping mother rectangles. So, if the dynamic symmetry grid reads “Root 5: Overlapping MAD 45, Increment 1” it means there are two overlapping root 5 rectangles on the first increment, with 45 smaller root 5 rectangles within them. You can see this in the simplified example above.
3. Another great article that is included is “Composition with Compound Root Rectangle” (see Day 155), which shows how master painters like Picasso, Titian, and Bouguereau used compound root rectangles to design their masterpieces.
4. You’ll get the article “Dynamic Symmetry: Themes of Root Rectangles” (see #438)which will show you in-depth how to construct the different themes of root rectangles. It’s a great discovery that is not covered anywhere else!
5. Finally, you’ll get all three PDF’s that cover the cinematography of the movie Blade Runner 2049 (see #448, #449, #450). This will show cinematographers how to analyze cinematic screenshots, configure the dynamic symmetry grid, and be aware of certain areas to avoid.
HOW TO PRINT AND APPLY THE DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS VIDEO
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To use the grids on your LCD screen is a piece of cake. I’ve got a video playlist that will show you how I use them. There’s also an updated video there that shows how to draw the dynamic symmetry grid onto a canvas.
PRINT: You’ll have to get them printed onto transparency film. You can also use window cling decals, but I know if they will last as long. The transparency film works great and it’s durable. I usually go to FedEx Office to get them printed, but other office supply stores will work too. Just give them a thumb drive or email them the sheets you need to be printed…everything is sized to print onto an 8.5 x 11 or A4 sheet (do not resize for printing, it will mess up the dimensions for your LCD).
CUT: Grab some scissors or have the office supply store cut them…they charge for it though. You can cut on the black border, but I usually leave approximately 1/16″ of clear transparency film on the outside of the black border.
TAPE: Use removable double-sided tape to adhere to your LCD, it works great and I recommend it for a cleaner aesthetic. I keep the tape on the grid and it can be used later. With my phone, I take the grid off when not using it and adhere it to the back of my case. This way I always have one with me!
Size of Dynamic Symmetry Grid Sheets: 8.5 x 11 or A4
Line colors: Black for printing
Formats: JPEG, PNG (Lightroom), and PSD (Photoshop format for adjusting)
Sizes: see what’s included above
“SIMPLICITY AND REPOSE ARE THE QUALITIES THAT MEASURE THE TRUE VALUE OF ANY WORK OF ART.” ~ FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT
PHI DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS INSPIRED BY GHYKA
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If you’ve been learning about phi and dynamic symmetry, then you’ve probably heard of Matila Ghyka, the author of “The Geometry of Art and Life.” It’s a great book even though it’s loaded with mathematical equations that I’ll never understand.
While I was reading the book for reference, I saw the various phi rectangles that Ghyka displayed in the book. I thought it would be fun to recreate these and make them available to artists that are interested in using the phi rectangle in their work.
These phi grids are awesome, and there’s 14 of them! Twelve of them can be seen in the example above. These are meant for the computer because they are mostly serviceable to painters, graphic designers, and illustrators. They can be used for photography, but it would be best to have them on the computer to design your photograph…opposed to an LCD.
ALL 240 DYNAMIC SYMMETRY GRIDS SPECS: FOR COMPUTER USE
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All of the dynamic symmetry grids are listed below and there are tons to use on your computer for analyzing or designing a photograph or painting. There are 240 total! All high resolution grids have ratios embedded on them so you’ll never forget. Plus, there are a ton of different layouts that have never been seen before (like overlapping, themes, and compound rectangles).
Square (ratio 1) – Basic, MAD
5/4 (ratio 1.25) – Basic, MAD, MAD 6, Stacked, 2 Reciprocals, 2 Reciprocals MAD, Overlapping 1, Overlapping 1 MAD 6, Square,
Root Phi (ratio 1.272) – Basic, MAD, Overlapping 1 MAD 6, Overlapping 1 MAD 24, Root Phi-MAD-overlapping 1x, Root Phi-MAD-overlapping 2x, Root Phi-MAD-overlapping 3x, Root Phi-MAD-overlapping 4x, Root Phi-stacked, Root Phi-MAD-stacked, Root Phi-overlapping 1x, Root Phi-overlapping 2x, Root Phi-overlapping 3x, Root Phi-overlapping 4x, Root Phi-theme of 4x, Root Phi-theme of 8x
4/3 (ratio 1.333) (Micro 4/3)– Basic, MAD, 1.5 Side by Side, 3 Root 4’s, MAD 30 (almost phi), MAD 130 (almost root 3)
Root 2 (ratio 1.414)– Basic, MAD, MAD 12, MAD 15, MAD 60, MAD 204 (almost square), 2 Side by Side, Overlapping 1, Overlapping 1 MAD 6, Overlapping 1 MAD 24, Root 2-theme of 3, Root 2-theme of 4, Overlapping 1x, Overlapping 2x, Overlapping 1x MAD, Overlapping 2x MAD
1.5– Basic, MAD, 3 Root 4’s, 1.5-grid of rebated squares, 1.5-MAD stacked, 1.5-stacked, 1.5-theme of 4x, 1.5-theme of 8x
Phi (ratio 1.618) (aka Golden Section, Golden Mean, Golden Rectangle, Divine Proportion, etc) – Basic, MAD, Whirling Squares, Overlapping 1, Overlapping 1 MAD 6, Overlapping 1 MAD 24, Phi-MAD stacked, Phi-Overlapping MAD-Increment 1x, Phi-Overlapping MAD-Increment 2x, Phi-Overlapping-Increment 1x, Phi-Overlapping-Increment 2x, Phi-stacked, Phi-theme of_4x, Phi-theme of 8x
Phi Inspired by Ghyka– 14 different phi grids inspired by Ghyka’s book “The Geometry of Art and Life”
Root 3 (ratio 1.732)– Basic, MAD, 3 Side by Side, Overlapping 1, Overlapping 1 MAD 15, Overlapping 2, Overlapping 2 MAD 12, Root 3-MAD stacked, Root 3-stacked, Root 3-theme of 3, Root 3-theme of 4, Root 3-theme of 6, Root 3-theme of 12
Root 4 (ratio 2) – Basic, MAD, 4 Side by Side, Three 1.5’s, Overlapping 1, Overlapping 1 MAD 28, Overlapping 2, Overlapping 2 MAD 24, Overlapping 3, Overlapping 3 MAD 20, Root 4-theme of 4, Root 4-theme of 8, Root 4-theme of 20
Root 5 (ratio 2.236) – Basic, MAD, 5 Side by Side, 2 Overlapping Phi, Overlapping 1, Overlapping 1 MAD 45, Overlapping 2, Overlapping 2 MAD 40, Overlapping 3, Overlapping 3 MAD 35, Overlapping 4, Overlapping 4 MAD 30, Root 5-two overlapping phi, Root 5-MAD, Root 5-5 side by side, Root 5-MAD stacked, Root 5-stacked, Root 5-theme of 5, Root 5-theme of 6, Root 5-theme of 10, Root 5-theme of 30
Root 6 (ratio 2.449) – Root 6, Root 6-Theme of 3x, Root 6-rebated square and phi center, Root 6-MAD, Root 6-MAD-rebated square and phi center, Root 6-6 side by side, Root 6-3x-rebated square and phi center, Root 3-Theme of 3x, Root 6-overlapping 1-MAD 66, Root 6-overlapping 1, Root 6-overlapping-2-MAD 60, Root 6-overlapping 2, Root 6-overlapping 3, Root 6-overlapping-3-MAD 54, Root 6-overlapping 4, Root 6-overlapping-4-MAD 48, Root 6-overlapping 5, Root 6-overlapping-5-MAD 42, Root 6-stacked
Root 7 (ratio 2.645) – Basic, MAD, Theme of 7, Theme of 8, Stacked, Stacked MAD, Side-by-Side, Overlapping 1-6, Overlapping MAD 1-6, Four reciprocals side-by-side
Root 8 (ratio 2.828) – Basic, MAD, Theme of 8, Theme of 9, Stacked, Stacked MAD, Side-by-Side, Overlapping 1-7, Overlapping MAD 1-7,
Root 9 (ratio 3) -Basic, MAD, Theme of 3x, Theme of 9, Theme of 10, Side-by-Side, Stacked, Stacked MAD, 4 Reciprocals MAD, 3 stacked, 3 Squares, Overlapping 1-8, Overlapping MAD 1-8
Diagonal Gauges– one small, one for analyzing, including 14 diagonals for the 4/3, 5/4, 1.5, root phi, phi, roots 1-9
Size of Grids: Averaging 10 inches wide (3000px), Height varies
Line colors: Both white and black
Formats: JPEG (with white or black background)