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A Little Square

An essay by Cynthia B. Coleman

My love affair with art began at age three when I opened an art book. I took lessons at nine and now dabble in almost all mediums. Watercolor and acrylics are favorites. In my mid-thirties I was staff photographer at a seminary in Richmond, VA. The standard camera I used was a 35 mm with a rectangular format, a format seen in most paintings. This 35 mm film had its origins in motion picture film as its rectangular proportions create a perfect format for composition, particularly in using the golden ratio. The golden ratio is a mathematical formula that creates balance and pattern in artistic compositions. And is even found in nature as a golden spiral. But I like a square. One day at seminary I discovered an old Mamiya medium format twin lens reflex camera. This camera uses a larger 56 x 56 mm film, a little larger than two inches square. This larger negative produces a larger square print. I found that composing a great photograph via the square format challenging. How could I find that rectangular golden ratio in a square? This challenge took a while to master, and I took it seriously as I used the Mamiya almost exclusively.

I’ve recently given myself this challenge with square compositions in my art. I wondered if I could take small four-to-six-inch square canvases and create dynamic paintings with a pleasing composition. I’ve had success in using my own photos, by cropping simple singular images into the square format and using strong lighting to make the subject matter pop. With my understanding of composition, I can find the golden ratio in that restricted format. To keep my art fresh and to constantly challenge myself, I use only three primary pigments per painting, and from these I make all my colors, even greens, browns, and blacks. Greens are difficult, so I once painted green paintings for six months. Still hate greens, but I love a good square. New challenges keep my art fresh and energetic. I don’t paint professionally; I paint for the love of art and to continually challenge myself. The benefits of giving myself various artistic challenges are growth in technical abilities; art is kept interesting and contemporary and provides more rewards than I would have ever imagined, such as meeting new people. I suggest you set yourself a good challenge.


Cynthia is a local photographer, writer, and graphic artist who moved to the lake just over a year ago.


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