Proportion is a design principle in art that refers to the relationship of two or more elements in a composition and how they compare to one another concerning size, color, quantity, degree, setting, etc.; i.e., ratio.
A relationship is formed when two or more elements are combined in a painting. When the elements are in a correct or desirable relationship, the association is said to be harmonious. This refers to a component’s proper sizing and distribution, which results in 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. This is the ratio of the size of one element in a composition to the size of another related component. In this case, a size comparison 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
Proportion is usually not even noticed until something is out of balance. When the relative sizes of two elements being compared appear incorrect or unbalanced, it is said to be “out of proportion.” For example, we would say a person is out of proportion if their head is larger than their entire body.
There are several ways for achieving good proportion:
- Place like elements together that are similar or have a common feature.
- Create major and minor areas in the design, as equal parts can quickly become monotonous and boring. However, the size differences must not be so significant that the parts appear unrelated and, as a result, out of harmony with one another.
- Arrangement of space should be so that the eye does not perceive a formal mathematical relationship. For example, it is best to avoid dividing the composition into halves, quarters, and thirds because a subtle relationship creates a more dynamic design.
- Create harmony in the artwork. 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. Likewise, 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, a proper proportion is instrumental in emphasizing the ship’s distance 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.
- How is good proportion created?
- 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.
Principles of Good Design: An Introduction
Principles of Good Design: Balance
Principles of Good Design: Contrast
Principles of Good Design: Emphasis
Principles of Good Design: Movement
Principles of Good Design: Proportion — You are here.
Principles of Good Design: Space
Principles of Good Design: Visual Economy
Principles of Good Design: Unity
Want More Art Lessons?
After you’ve finished the lessons on the Principles of Good Design, why not move on to the Basic Art Elements? To begin, go to The Basic Elements of Art — (An Introduction)
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UPDATED: 13 March 2023