Principles of Good Design: Proportion

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Proportion in art is the relationship of two or more elements in a composition and how they compare to one another with respect to size, color, quantity, degree, setting, etc.; i.e. ratio.

When two or more elements are put together in a painting a relationship is created. This relationship is said to be harmonious when a correct or desirable association exists between the elements. This refers to the correct sizing and distribution of an element which then creates good proportion. Good proportion adds harmony and symmetry or balance among the parts of a design as a whole.

When the principle of proportion is applied to a work of art it is usually in the relationship of size. That is, the size of one element as compared to the size of another related element within the same composition. In this instance, a comparison of size is made between the:

    • Height, width and depth of one element to that of another
    • Size of one area to the size of another area
    • Size of one element to the size of another element
    • Amount of space between two or more elements

bad-proportionProportion is usually not even noticed until something is out of proportion. When the relative size of two elements being compared seems wrong or out of balance it is said to be “out of proportion”. For example if a person has a head larger than their entire body, then we would say that they were out of proportion.

good-proportionThere are several ways for achieving good proportion:

  1. Place like elements together which are similar in character or have a common feature.
  2. Create major and minor areas in the design, as equal parts can quickly become monotonous and boring. However, the differences in size must not be so great as to make the parts appear unrelated and therefore, out of harmony with each other.
  3. Arrangement of space should be in such a way that the eye does not perceive a standard mathematical relationship. Dividing up the composition in halves, quarters and thirds should be avoided. A subtle relationship creates a more dynamic design.
  4. Create harmony in the art work. Harmony is an agreement between the shapes that stresses the similarities of all parts. In other words, the shape of one part should “fit” the shape of the adjoining elements. Shapes should “fit” properly in their positions and spaces.


Examples of the effective use of Proportion


There is a real sense of proportion in the painting left. Without the effective use of the principle of proportion you would not experience the majesty of the mountain in the background.


In this painting right proportion is instrumental in emphasizing the distance of the ship in the background.

Examples of the effective use of Harmony


It is easy to observe harmony in action in nature. Notice how the individual wedges “fit” the orange painting.


In the coat of arms we observe how the different elements “fit” together perfectly inside each other to create harmony.


  1. How is good proportion created?
  2. What does good proportion bring to a painting?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principles: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

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UPDATED: 26 October 2020

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