A2 Proportion: Harmony, Balance, Contrast & Weight


Achieve a balanced harmony by controlling proportions. Three factors control balance: size, value (or color or texture), and position. Some might add a fourth: shape, since some shapes are more attention-grabbing than others. All of these factors have a decided affect on the distribution of visual weight within a composition.

The goal in creating an ideal sense of balance in a visual space is to create a state where all visual items are seen at the same instant despite their inherent differences. In that ideal state, nothing dominates over anything else.

Balance may not be everyone’s objective, and certainly not all the time. A desire for emphasis would require that a hierarchy be established. Hierarchy would help the viewer determine where the viewer would go initially and then successively. Towards achieving hierarchy, the same factors we used to achieve balance would be employed: size, value (or color or texture), and position. And let’s not forget the role of shape.

Exercise in Balance: Create a white square with a very thin black frame, digitally or by hand, any size. Next, add three circles in three very different sizes. Next, fill each circle in with a different value: light gray, medium gray, and black. IMPORTANT: the frame or stroke of each circle should not be visible. Finally, arrange your circles within the square or up to or beyond (“bleed”) the edge. Make sure there’s no overlap of circles and that they’re not touching each other. If any portion of a circle goes outside the frame, trim away the excess.

Your goal is to create a sense of balance whereby all three items are seen at the same instant. No single circle dominates over the other two and no two circles dominate over the third. Each circle must be very different from the others in term of size, value and location (but with no overlapping or touching). Any of your circles can “bleed” over the edge, but the excess must be trimmed off.

Test your results: Want to see if you’ve achieved balance? Hold a blank sheet of paper over your composition and stare at it for 30 seconds. Then quickly pull it away. Balance or imbalance will reveal itself immediately. Make the necessary adjustments in terms of size, value (or color or texture), and position. (A good double-check is to turn the composition upside down, then do the paper test.)

The lesson here is two-fold. If you can control balance, you can also begin to control hierarchy. Hierarchy aids in the exploration of any composition. Its helps identify which areas have greater importance over others. It helps in the navigation of those areas will likely be taken in fist, second and so on.

Examples representing balance:

Edgar Degas, Mlle Bécat at the Café des Ambassadeurs, Chicago Institute of Art









Examples representing hierarchy:

Johannes Vermeer, Woman Reading a Letter, 1663, Rijksmuseum









Proportion 2: can affect contrast, balance, weight and more

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