If you haven’t noticed, I like to start the year with a blog dedicated to returning to the basics. Last year, I wrote a series of posts about the elements of design and then linked it to a series on learning to use Illustrator through digital art.
This year I’d like to start a series of posts on balance! Do you ever feel like balance in art is one of those subjects that you can go over again and again… and still not completely understand it? As with many principles of art, balance can be hard to internalize.
Sometimes it's easier to just go with what feels right. This is not necessarily the wrong place to start…much of art interpretation can be feeling-based. But after you get your first initial look at an artwork, it is important to understand why it feels balanced or unbalanced. You want to know the why so that when you create your own artwork, you can create balanced compositions that are visually pleasing.
So how do you do this? Where do you start? Well, you’ll want to start with a good balance definition in art. According to Getty.edu: Balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space. If the design was a scale, these elements should be balanced to make a design feel stable.
In other words… If the artwork was split down the center and there was a visual scale, one side should not feel visually “heavier” than the other.
You see, humans have a natural desire to seek balance and stability. A balanced artwork, where the elements (Color, Value, Space, Line, Shape, Texture, and Form) are distributed evenly throughout the design, makes us feel at ease and is usually visually pleasing.
So, what happens when an artwork is unbalanced? It creates uneasiness and tension because some elements dominate the artwork and make it difficult to view the whole picture. The graphic below illustrates the feelings that the viewer may be experiencing. It doesn’t make sense because the larger figure is at the top of the teeter-totter while the smaller one is at the bottom. Balance…just doesn’t work like that.
Now that we understand why balance is important, it’s time to dive into the different types of balance in art: Symmetrical, Radial, and Asymmetrical. This post will focus on symmetrical art, and we’ll dive into the other two in future posts.
Symmetrical balance in art is by far the easiest type of balance to both recognize and create. The main requirement for symmetrical balance is that the artwork is essentially the same on both sides. Notice I didn’t say precisely the same. The two sides may be exactly the same, or they may have some trivial differences. It may have the same amount of forms, the same colors, or the same shapes on either side of the central line.
In the example above by Vlad Gerasimov, you can see the same elements repeated from one side of the artwork to the other. While all the figures may not take up the same amount of space, you have the repetition of color and shape from one side to the other. You can also see that the background colors and shades are the same.
Maia Chávez Corzo’s artwork above is another example of a symmetrical artwork that may not be exactly the same but is essentially the same. Placing the woman (which is symmetrical by nature) in the middle of the page is the first noticeable form. After studying the woman, you may next notice the repeated flowers, greenery, and limes - all of which mirror each other from one side to the other.
Symmetrical art works well for religious art and architecture. Religious artwork dating well before the gothic period displays symmetry. This is because symmetry creates a feeling of stability, formality, and seriousness. Giotto’s Ascension from the Arena Chapel in 1305-06 (above) shows symmetry not only in the central painting of Christ but also in the patterns that surround the painting.
Understanding balance is crucial if you go into any kind of creative field as a career. But even if you’re not, you may be surprised how important balance can be in everyday life. You can’t walk down the road if you don’t know how to balance your body. If you stay up all night, you can’t expect to function well all day. Balance is present everywhere! Learn how to recognize it in art as well!
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