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Balance is concerned with the distribution of visual interest -- what is where
in a composition.
There are two systems for controlling balance:

a mirror image

Asymmetry without symmetry
In this lesson you will:
Learn about symmetry.
Make a symmetrically balanced composition.

It is necessary to
balance many
things in a
composition: visual
interests (this
lesson), unity and
variety, figure and
ground, realism
and abstraction as
well as many
logistical concerns
(time, space, cost,

Balance is a skill that everyone uses almost all of their waking
hours. It is balance that allows you to stand up and walk around.
You balance your checkbook and hopefully find a balance
between your academic and social life.
Balance in design is similar to these kinds of balance. You have
already had to balance between unity and variety, and in the last
project balance figure and ground. Your physical sense of
balance will play a part in your ability to balance the visual
information in a composition.
Visual interest is what you balance in design. Different colors,
shapes sizes, etc. create different degrees of interest. It is the
distribution of this interest that you need to control. We will
study the abstract (non-figurative) aspects of balance to make it
easier to understand how balance works. Subject matter changes
the situation because different objects can call more (or less)
attention to themselves because of their content and
relationships to other objects in the image.
Balance can also be described as achieving equilibrium. The
problem with this definition is that artists rarely want things to
be equal. It usually means that no part of the composition calls
too much attention to itself at the expense of the rest of the
image. This increases unity, but decreases variety, and hence

it makes for "good" shape relationship. however. meaning with or together. Balance is usually a desirable characteristic of a composition. This type of image has great appeal -..two eyes. SYMMETRICAL BALANCE A vertical axis is required to achieve balance with symmetry. Our axis of symmetry is vertical and this makes a good model for symmetry in visual information. etc. SYMMETRY Symmetry means a mirror image -. Many people automatically gravitate to symmetry. Symmetrical balance guarantees left to right balance. This should be taken into consideration when designing with symmetry. The word symmetry comes from the Greek roots syn. It is easy to over emphasize the center. Most images seem more stable if the bottom seems slightly heavier. when it is desirable to deliberately throw the balance off in order to call more attention to some aspect of an image. But there is more to balance than that.. There are times. The results look formal. two ears. meaning side is the mirror image of the other. You will find that it is the dominant organizational concept. For this lesson we will attempt to achieve balance as a way of learning how to control attention in a piece of art. which is the most important aspect of balance. Look around at consumer products and graphics (printed materials) to see how many use symmetry. organized and orderly. Top to bottom balance is also important. We are symmetrical after all -. Symmetry can occur in any orientation as long as the image is the same on either side of the central axis. There are two systems for achieving balance: symmetry and asymmetry. There is a strong emphasis on the center axis in symmetry since all of the information is reflected from there. Symmetrical balance is formal balance. Symmetrical balance is also called formal balance because a form (formula) is used -. To do this we must have exactly the same weight on both sides of our bodies.a mirror image about a vertical axis.interest. Part of the reason is that we have struggled throughout our lives to perfect our balance in order to stand. etc. and metron. walk. If . ride a bike.

The top and bottom can be the same as the left and right. Fine artists rarely use pure symmetry for this reason. Your sense of balance. This limits symmetry's application to abstract images since objects in the real world are not truly symmetrical. Balance between the center and the outsides of the image must also be considered. especially early Christian religious paintings. Near symmetry is more versatile than pure symmetry.the top seems too heavy the composition can look precarious. or they can be different. This is an interesting variation on symmetry but can make for an awkward balance. It is also occasionally used for formal fine art images. symmetry ceases to exist and balance must depend on other concepts (asymmetry). INVERTED SYMMETRY Inverted symmetry uses symmetry with one half inverted like a playing cards. When the sides become too different. Fortunately our own sense of balance is usually good enough to feel when the balance in a composition is wrong. Try folding a leaf down the center and notice that the opposite sides do not exactly correspond with one another. NEAR SYMMETRY Near symmetry is based on symmetry but the two halves are not exactly the same. TYPES OF SYMMETRY Symmetry means that the sides are exact mirror images of each other. Pay attention to your own sense of balance and you will do well. The most regular and repetitive image occurs when they are the same. It is used in many graphic images since type throws off the symmetry but the balance is still achieved. . like anything else. Biaxial symmetry uses two axes of symmetry -vertical and horizontal. It is more applicable to commercial designs. BIAXIAL SYMMETRY A symmetrical composition can have more than one axis of symmetry. can be improved with practice and experience. These guarantee balance: top and bottom as well as left and right. Slight variations will probably not change the balance but there is more potential for variety and hence more interest.

means without symmetry. When the top/bottom and left/right are the same. or a fourth. however. only one eighth is unique. ASYMMETRY Asymmetry. A biaxial image is only unique in one fourth of its format since that fourth is repeated in all the corners. Make the project as large as possible from a 9 inch by 12 inch piece of colored paper. Up to four colors may be used. Snow flakes and kaleidoscopes have three axes of symmetry. The shapes can overlap or be trimmed to make new shapes. Start with thumbnail sketches. so does the unity. but rather that variety is wanted to generate interest and to give the artist more freedom. As the repetition increases. That is why they are used so often in the applied arts. triangles and/or rectangles. also known as informal balance. It is not that order is not wanted. Radial symmetry is a related concept and can use any number of axes since the image seems to radiate out from the center. There should be no reference to subject matter. The strong sense of order and repetition make symmetrical images more acceptable to many people. One of the four colors can be used as a border. Biaxial symmetry may be used. if the whole design is drawn. Remember that there will be repetition so only half. of the image needs to be drawn. It is for the same reason that symmetry is rarely used in the fine artist. The composition must have a vertical axis of symmetry.More than two axes are possible. It is easier to see the composition. Plan on designing the major shapes and to . At the same time they lack variety because only half is unique. In other words symmetrical images are usually well balanced and formal with good unity. but can lack excitement since they are so repetitive. PROJECT Student example #1 SYMMETRICAL COMPOSITION Make a symmetrically balanced collage using only circles. UNITY AND VARIETY Symmetrical images have a strong sense of unity because at least half of the image is repeated. You will study asymmetry next. like a star.

Try stacking several sets of colored paper. Make some of the shapes quite large to increase variety. proportions and relationships before you are satisfied. to indicate the different colors. DISPLAY This project and the next (asymmetry) will make a set like the . Try taking pieces off. Try to make all of the colors operate as figure in the design. or desirable in this type of project.Student example #2 Student example #3 experiment with the details once the collage is under way. Use your sense of balance to determine if the image is correctly balanced. Move all of the parts of the composition around like you did for the ambiguous figure/ground project. Using colored pencils or felt pens will let you see more clearly what your design will look like. It is interest that you need to work toward getting. Unity and balance are more or less assured. A collage is not done until the last piece is glued in place. trying different combinations. Also try to make all the colors act as ground so that there is not one background. It should not look top or bottom heavy or be too crowded in the center or along the edges. Be careful of white shapes that fade out into the background. When you are satisfied with the composition. Decide what colors you will use. measure. Working this way is called using a collage rough. Use what you learned in the last project to control the figure/ground relationship. Filling in the thumbnail sketches can make it easier to see color and value relationships. mark and carefully glue the image together. The collage rough becomes the finished project when you glue down the pieces. Use different values. varying the order and the amount of each that shows until you find a color scheme that will work. or lines and dots. If they are not missed. either glue pieces from the top of the stack down or from the bottom up. Try to make all of the colors equally visible. but vary the amount of each to get more variety. COLLAGE ROUGH A full sized rough is not usually necessary. Also try adding more pieces if part of the image lacks interest. leave them off. Since there may be many layers of paper involved.

last two projects did. theme. or element that ties them all together. See my Home Decor page for exciting additions to your interior decor. the artist needs to create an illusion of balance. functional. Balance. and the proportions of your furniture are all important to achieve scale within a room. but rather these items are linked by a common color. Brilliant colors visually weigh more than neutral colors in the same areas. items are arranged so that it your grouping is balanced. Mount this project first in a set of two with the next project (like the two figure/ground projects). approximately one palm's width apart. the size of the wall you're covering. For example. Balance refers to the proper balance or weight distribution of a combination of objects. harmonious effect that is pleasing. you must keep in mind the principles of Balance. Achieving unity does not necessarily mean that all items must have the same colors or finishes. When arranging a wall grouping. Visually the scale can be pictured as an apparatus for weighing or a see-saw which has a beam poised on a central pivot or fulcrum. Scale refers to the relationship between all the items in a room. instead of having actual or physical balance. Unity and Scale (BUS). such as sconces around a picture. For images created on a flat surface such as a canvas the same principle of balance applies. Each item should be arranged to create a single. but the objects on either side of the focal piece are not necessarily the same. so the eye can move easily from one object to the other. In visual balance. Objects on the wall must be large enough or small enough to complement the furnishings. including your layout. Unity can be attained by placing items within a grouping fairly close together. Mount this project on the left or top page of the set. Unity is achieved by considering all parts of a grouping. Warm colors. they would fall over. each side should mirror the other. This project is worth 10 points. Label this project SYMMETRY. we must first think of a three dimensional work of art. each area of the painting suggests a certain visual weight. When you draw an imaginary line down the center of a symmetrical grouping. And transparent areas seem to visually weigh less than opaque areas. In using . I would be happy to assist you with achieving the look you want in your home. However. color. Scale should be considered in relationship to the placement of furniture within a room. whereas cool colors like blue tend to contract an area. What is it and how is it achieved on a flat surface? To answer this question. light colors appear lighter in weight than dark colors. In asymmetrical groupings. and relative to the other parts of the room. drawing a line down the center of your focal point will allow you to determine if you have achieved balance. and theme. but is more difficult to achieve. you want to choose either a symmetrical or asymmetrical balance. a certain degree of lightness or heaviness. If the pieces were not physically balanced or anchored. referred to as visual balance. such as yellow tend to expand an area in size. If you want your interior decorating to stimulate the senses. Balancing the components of a painting can best be illustrated by weighing scales or a child's playground see-saw. as the amount of space taken up with accessories on each side of the grouping should be approximately the same. Symmetrical balance refers to arrangements where the majority of the objects within the grouping are placed in even patterns about a focal point. In both types of groupings. Asymmetrical balance is more interesting to the eye. The dimensions of the room.

visual balance refers to a "felt" optical equilibrium between all parts of the painting. There are two forms of visual balance. or spring out from a central line. When components are balanced left and right of a central axis they are balanced horizontally. Symmetrical Balance . When they are balanced above and below they are said to be balanced vertically. balance is not achieved through an actual physical weighing process. To balance a composition is to distribute its parts in such a way that the viewer is satisfied that the piece is not about to pull itself over. And when components are distributed around the center point. and asymmetrical balance. this is referred to as radial balance.this scale or see-saw. These are symmetrical balance. also known as symmetry or formal balance. In this respect. also known as asymmetry or informal balance. but through visual judgment on the part of the observer.

because there are unlimited arrangements that may be devised using asymmetrical balance. On the right radial balance is created by the flowers which spring out of the center of the vase. this should allow him/her to balance them as a whole. pure symmetry for a composition can easily become too monotonous and uninteresting to look at. however. value or distance from the center. It is a "felt" equilibrium or balance between the parts of a composition rather than actual. It is the same on both the right side and the left side of the nose. Symmetrical balance can be achieved in two ways. The two sides of a composition are varied and are more interesting to view. As a result. judge or estimate the various elements and visual weight. Symmetry is the simplest and most obvious type of balance. Pure symmetry has its place in certain art works. The pedals radiate out from a central point. yet appear to leave the same visual weight. Approximate symmetry on the other hand has greater appeal and interest for the viewer. One way is by "pure symmetry. A good example of pure symmetry is the human face. The way to use asymmetry is by balancing two or more unequal components on either side of the fulcrum by varying their size. safe feeling and a sense of solidity. If the artist can feel." In pure symmetry identical parts are equally distributed on either side of the central axis in mirror-like repetition. It creates a secure. Asymmetrical Balance Asymmetrical balance is when both sides of the central axis are not identical. a more interesting composition will occur in the work. Examples of The Effective Use Of Balance Radial Balance This flower resting a tea cup on the left is a good example of radial balance.Symmetrical balance is when the weight is equally distributed on both sides of the central axis. Even though they are varied somewhat. because of its identical repetition. The use of asymmetry in design allows for more freedom of creativity. they are still similar enough to make their repetitious relationship symmetrically balanced." and the other way is by "approximate symmetry. .

States are held together on the same principle. the perfect equilibrium never being found. any violent deviation from which is accompanied by calamity. new forces arise. a strife in which a perfect balance is never attained. . The worlds are kept on their courses by such opposing forces. to be the aim of life to strive after balance. no State seeming able to preserve a balance for long. the balance is upset. XV BALANCE There seems to be a strife between opposing forces at the basis of all things. and the State totters until a new equilibrium has been found.Horizontal Balance Vertical Balance Do you see the vertical balance suggested in the painting on the left? Look at where the foreground ends and you will quickly see how it is balanced by the building in the background. It would seem. and so the vitalising movement is kept up. however. The painting on the right is a little more obvious in it's vertical balance. or life would cease. Notice how the three objects in the top part of the painting balance the apparent heaviness of the one object (the plate of pancakes) in the lower part of the painting.

It will naturally be in pictures that aim at repose that this balance will be most perfect. For straight lines are significant of the deeper and more permanent things of life. more permanent things find expression in the wider. The rococo art of the eighteenth century is an instance of the excessive use of curved forms. flatter tones. no matter how turbulent its motive. and of infinity. Vice may be excess in any direction. as in good tragedy the horror of the situation is never allowed to overbalance the beauty of the treatment. the eye is disturbed and the effect too disquieting. it is vicious and is the favourite style of decoration in vulgar places of entertainment. 220 Between Straight Lines and Curves Let us consider in the first place the balance between straight lines and curves. and in any case it is nobler and finer than the vicious cleverness of rococo art. . the result would be dull and dead. the bias will be on the side of straight lines. if perfect repose is desired. Between Flat and Gradated Tones What has been said about the balance of straight lines and curves applies equally well to tones. if for straight lines you substitute flat tones. and. curves the farthest removed from the straight line) seem to be expressive of uncontrolled energy and the more exuberant joys of life. warm and cold colour oppose each other. but this severity was originally. But if the subject demands excess of movement and life. while an excess of gradations makes for prettiness. one composed entirely of straight lines would be preferable to one with no squareness to relieve the richness of the curves. light and dark. In more exciting subjects less will be necessary. and for curved lines gradated tones. softened by the use of colour. if not for the gross roundnesses of vicious modelling. of course there will be less necessity for the balancing influence of straight lines. And on the other hand. while the rich curves (that is. The excessive use of straight lines and square forms may be seen in some ancient Egyptian architecture. straight lines and curves. But a picture composed entirely of rich. of the powers that govern and restrain. Of the two extremes.And in art we have the same play of opposing factors. if the subject demands an excess of repose and contemplation. But the balance was always kept on the side of the square forms and never on the side of undue roundness. the more severe should be the straight lines that balance them. But if the balance is very much out. no doubt. that err on the side of flatnesses rather than roundnesses. The richer and fuller the curves. and would become very irritating. Even the finest curves are those that approach the straight line rather than the circle. but some amount should exist in every picture. like all excesses in the joys of life. rolling curves is too disquieting a thing to contemplate. 221We have seen how the Greeks balanced the straight lines of their architectural forms with the rich lines of the sculpture which they used so lavishly on their temples. but asceticism has generally been accepted as a nobler vice than voluptuousness. Were the balance between them perfect. The deeper. And it is on this side that the balance would seem to be in the finest art.

Overmuch concern with the gradations of the smaller modelling is a very common reason of pictures and drawings getting out of gear. where the principle of balance of which we are speaking is much felt. like Giotto and the Italian primitives. If you divide the solar spectrum roughly into half. you will have the reds. such as the black gondolas in some of his Venetian pictures. Work that errs on the side of gradations. When the highest lights are low in tone. the better. and no mention is made of half tones. the scale here being between warm and cold colours. between black and white in the scale of tone. The old rule was. The less expenditure of tone values you can express your modelling with." as they say in the studio. should not go far in the direction of dark either. it can be got on the right road again by reducing it to a basis of flat tones.Often when a picture is hopelessly out of gear and "mucked up. Between Warm and Cold Colours. that illustrate the law of balance we are speaking of. But I do not think there is any rule to be observed here: there are too many exceptions. The successful one-tone pictures are generally painted in the middle tones. and thus do not in any way contradict our principle of balance. and greens on the . on the other hand. a great master in matters of tone. We do not mean that the amount of light tones in a picture should be balanced by the amount of dark tones. The balance in the finest work is usually on the side of flat tones rather than on the side of gradated tones. is much poorer stuff 222than work that errs on the side of flatness in tone. and are usually put in excessively dark in proportion as the rest of the picture is excessively light. oranges. Painters like Rembrandt. the darkest darks should be high in tone. and yellows on one side. I believe. or Puvis de Chavannes among the moderns. Pictures that do not go far in the direction of light. And when this balance is kept there is a rightness about it that is instinctively felt. but that there should be some balance between the extremes of light and dark used in the tone scheme of a picture. Turner was fond of these light pictures in his later manner. this rule is capable of many apparent exceptions. Like all so-called laws in art. There is the white picture in which all the tones are high. that a picture should be two-thirds light and one-third dark. his darks never approach black in tone. blues. whose pictures when fresh must have approached very near white in the high lights. like that of Greuze. getting it back to a simpler equation from which the right road to completion can be more readily seen. One is tempted at this point to wander a little into the province of colour. going over it and painting out the gradations. his lights seldom approach anywhere near white. starting from a middle tone. as a general rule. also approach black in the darks. and the purples. Between Light and Dark Tones. But in some of the most successful of these you will generally 223find spots of intensely dark pigment. There is a balance of tone set up also between light and dark. and nearer our own time. Frank Holl forced the whites of his pictures very high and correspondingly the darks were very heavy. but he usually put in some dark spot. and. In this respect note the pictures of Whistler. however popular its appeal.

blue might be too much of a contrast. so often had to put a mass of the coldest blue in their pictures. as it concerns the mental significance of objects rather than rhythmic qualities possessed by lines and masses. for although the boy has a blue dress all the rest of the picture is warm brown and so the balance is kept. With so strong a red. who loved a warm. the former being roughly the warm and the latter the cold colours. Without the little figure the composition would be out of balance. never going very far in the warm or cold directions. much more freedom of action is possible here. and are of great use in restoring balance in a picture. It is the failure to observe this 224balance that makes so many of the red-coated huntsmen and soldiers' portraits in our exhibitions so objectionable. the middle range of colouring (that is to say. golden colouring. &c.. glowing. with the result that the screaming heat is intolerable. The clever manipulation of the opposition between these warm and cold colours is one of the chief means used in giving vitality to colouring. There is another form of balance that must be although it is connected more with the subject matter of art. with nothing but warm colours in the flesh. The right thing to do is to support your red with as many cool and neutral tones as possible and avoid hot shadows. And. But the weight of interest centred upon that lonely little person is enough to right the balance occasioned by the great mass of trees on the left. undoubtedly. are content to keep to middle courses. how cold and grey is the colouring of the landscape. Most painters. hot. to right the balance. but then. But the point to notice here is that the further your colouring goes in the direction of warmth.other. Diagram XXVII is a rough instance of what is meant. The all-absorbing interest of the human figure makes it often when quite minute in scale balance the weight and interest of a great 225mass. But when beauty and refinement of sentiment rather than force are desired." although done in defiance of Reynolds' principle. Figures are largely used by landscape painters in this way. the further it will be necessary to go in the opposite direction. is no contradiction of our rule. the coolest colour should be looked for everywhere else. although the results may not be so powerful. of course. That is how it comes about that painters like Titian. Between Interest and Mass. unless your canvas was large enough to admit of its being introduced at some distance from the red. I refer to the balance there is between interest and mass. Gainsborough's "Blue Boy. Seen in a November landscape. . They are too often painted on a dark. all colours partly neutralised by admixture with their opposites) is much safer. how well a huntsman's coat looks. burnt sienna and black background. With a hot mass of red like a huntsman's coat in your picture.

there must be a balance struck between variety and unity. 226But both ideas must be considered in his work. and all that makes the world such a delightful place. and how far it will be overlaid and hidden behind a rich garment of variety. but that to unity belongs the relating of this variety to the underlying bed-rock principles that support it in nature and in all good art. ILLUSTRATING HOW INTEREST MAY BALANCE MASS Between Variety and Unity. and if the variety is to be allowed none of the restraining influences of unity. it will result in a dead abstraction. It will depend on the nature of the artist and on the nature of his theme how far this underlying unity will dominate the expression in his work. And lastly. of the joyous energy of life.Diagram XXVII. If the unity of his conception is allowed to exclude variety entirely. . A great deal has already been said about this. and it will only be necessary to recapitulate here that to variety is due all the expression or the picturesque. it will develop into a riotous extravagance.