Balance is one of the basic principles of good design. It is a significant design element because, without it, a composition will look off. In two-dimensional art, balance is all about the visual weightiness and not the physical weight.
Defining Balance in Art
Balance is defined as a sense of equilibrium created when the visual weight of objects within a composition is distributed evenly. A sense of visual balance is achieved when no single aspect of the design may dominate or appear heavier than another section of the same composition.
Elements that affect the degree of visual balance are:
- Lights and darks — light colors will appear lighter in weight than dark colors.
- Brightness — brilliant colors appear to weigh more than neutral colors
- Warmth and coolness — warm colors, such as yellow, tend to enlarge or expand an area in size, while cool colors like blue tend to contract or shrink an area
- Transparency — Transparent areas seem to weigh less than opaque areas visually
Horizontal, Vertical, and Radial Balance
Balancing the components within a painting is best illustrated by visualizing weighing scales or a playground see-saw. As you can see, balance is established by the observer’s visual judgment rather than through a physical weighing process. In this respect, balancing a 2D composition requires a skillful distribution of its components so that the viewer is satisfied the piece is not about to topple over.
Horizontal balance is achieved when components are balanced left and right of a central axis. They are said to be vertically balanced when they are balanced above and below. Radial balance is defined as when components are dispersed around a central point or burst out from a central line.
Types of Balance
There are two types of balance — symmetrical or asymmetrical.
Symmetrical balance is symmetry or formal balance. Asymmetrical balance is asymmetry or informal balance. Of these two types, symmetrical balance is the most stable visually.
Symmetrical balance is when the weight is equally distributed on both sides of the central axis. Symmetry is the simplest and most prominent type of balance. It creates a secure, safe feeling and a sense of solidity. Symmetrical balance is achieved in two ways. One way is by “pure symmetry.” The other way is by “approximate symmetry.”
In pure symmetry, identical parts are equally distributed on either side of the central axis in mirror-like repetition. An excellent example of pure symmetry is the human face. It is the same on both the right side and the left side of the nose. Pure symmetry has its place in particular artworks; however, because of its identical repetition, pure symmetry for a composition can quickly become too monotonous and uninteresting to look at.
Approximate symmetry, on the other hand, has greater appeal and interest for the viewer. The two sides of a composition are varied and are more interesting to view. Even though they are varied somewhat, they are still similar enough to make their repetitious relationship symmetrically balanced.
Asymmetrical balance is when both sides of the central axis are not identical yet appear to have balance. The way to use asymmetry is by balancing two or more unequal components on either side of the fulcrum by varying their size, value, or distance from the center. Suppose the artist can skillfully feel, judge, or estimate the various elements and visual weight. In that case, this should allow him/her to balance them as a whole, and as a result, achieve a more interesting composition.
The artist will quickly discover that asymmetry allows for more freedom of creativity because there are unlimited arrangements that may be devised by using asymmetrical balance.
Some Examples of the Effective Use of 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 balance is implied by the visual weightiness of the building in the background.
The painting on the right is a little more evident in its vertical balance. 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.
- Why is balance so important in a good composition?
- In what way is asymmetry beneficial to the artist?
Your Next Art Lesson
If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.
Good Design Principle: Balance — You are here
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UPDATED: 07 June 2021