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BALANCE: The Principles of Design Explained!

A Guide for Teachers

What is Balance in Art?

Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck

When most people think of balance, they usually don’t think of a picture or an artwork. Maybe they think of a scale or a game where you stand on one foot and hope not to fall over. In art, balance is a principle of design that uses the elements of art to create visual stability. Often, you can tell that something isn’t balanced just by looking at it. This might seem confusing at first, but once you understand balance, you’ll be able to use it to make your art feel complete!

Not a fan of reading? No worries! We have a quick and easy video on balance on our YouTube channel.

Why is Balance a Principle of Art and Design?

Does the above picture make you feel awkward or a little uncomfortable while looking at it? That’s because this picture is unbalanced! It’s hard to look at unbalanced art and not feel like something is missing or that it is unfinished. Balance brings the artwork together, so that one side of the work doesn’t look empty while the other side is full. This picture could become balanced if we move the circle to the center, or add another circle on the right side!

There are many different types of balance, and they’re usually referred to as symmetry. Let’s get into it!

Symmetrical Balance

Symmetrical Balance is when two sides of an artwork are perfectly mirrored. This means that if you were to fold it in half – either horizontally or vertically – both sides would perfectly overlap. We see this in a lot of architecture, like the Taj Mahal!

In art though, symmetrical balance is usually avoided because although it creates unity, it usually is missing variety (two principles of design that are very important in making art feel complete). But don’t worry, you can add variety by changing some colours, adding new shapes, and making the sides a little less identical!

Biaxial Balance

Just like Symmetrical Balance, Biaxial Symmetry means that an image is mirrored. The difference is that Biaxial Balance has an image that overlaps when it is folded into four – it is mirrored both horizontally and vertically. This means that while it is divided into four, we see the same image in each corner.

Approximate Symmetry

Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo

Approximate Symmetry is different from perfect Symmetrical Balance. It’s close to perfect, but something about it makes it not perfectly symmetrical. Maybe there’s an extra shape on one side, or the shapes are slightly different but the same mass, or the colours are different. These small differences make imperfect symmetry, known as Approximate Symmetry, and adds variety to an artwork. The balance is similar enough that the artwork feels completed, but not overly perfected.

Radial Symmetry

Radial Symmetry is when your elements move outwards from a point. Think of mandalas or the magic of kaleidoscopes. In this case, the image isn’t just mirrored horizontally and vertically, but it’s also mirrored diagonally. Alongside perfect radial symmetry is approximate radial symmetry. This means that the design comes out from the center, but it is not exactly mirrored. Instead, there are small differences in the colours and shapes within the stained glass that makes this symmetry approximate.

Asymmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical Balance is the opposite of Symmetrical Balance. The picture above is the cover of a popular Nintendo video game, featuring Kirby (who is a recurring theme in our videos). Just like artwork, book and game covers need balance in their design in order to be appealing. The sides are not mirrored in this case, but overall, everything still feels visually balanced. There is a good amount of positive and negative space on both sides, but it is not mirrored at all.

Even though Kirby (the pink round character) takes up the most amount of space, there are still other characters and large text that makes it feel balanced. Even though this picture isn’t mirrored, the elements are evenly distributed. We go into a detailed analysis of how this image achieves balance in this video clip!

How to Create Balance in Your Artwork

Creating Balance Using Rule of Thirds

One way to create balance when using Asymmetrical Balance is to practice the rule of thirds. If you divide your paper into three sections horizontally and three sections vertically, you can see how much space each object in your image takes up. If one object takes up three boxes, while the other takes up only one box, the image might feel a little uneven or unbalanced.

Creating Balance Using Repetition

You can also create balance by repeating elements on each side of a page. Think of this like a butterfly’s wings: the repeated design on a butterfly’s wings makes it look balanced. Now imagine a butterfly with one wing empty of shapes while the other is full, that would feel unbalanced. Repetition is a strong tool that can help your art feel more balanced.

Creating Balance Using Colour and Shapes

You might look at this picture and think, “How can this be balanced when the buildings are only on the right side?” or “There’s only red on one side!” This is when balance can seem tricky. This picture uses dull colours, which makes the red sun stand out and brings weight and emphasis to the left side, while the rectangles balance the weight on the right. Although the sun is smaller than the rectangles, the bright colour against the grey makes up for its size! We can use colours and shapes to make art more balanced, even if it is not symmetrical.

Creating Balance Using Positive and Negative Space

Haystacks at Giverny by Claude Monet

Finally, pay attention to the positive and negative space throughout the entire picture you’re creating. If one corner has positive space while the rest of the page is negative space, that won’t feel balanced. Instead, try dispersing the space across the entire page! Even if your positive and negative space is not symmetrical, it will still feel like there’s an even amount throughout the whole picture.

Balance is something we use all the time. Whether we are rearranging our bedroom or drawing a picture, we’re always trying to find balance! Look around the room and notice a spot that seems balanced. Maybe it’s symmetrical, or approximate, or even asymmetrical. Maybe there’s a spot that doesn’t feel balanced. What could you add or change to make it balanced? Once you do this, you’re one step away from making balanced art!

If you’d like to learn more about the Principles of Design, tune into our YouTube playlist that covers all of the different Elements and Principles of Art!

Teacher Resources

For more classroom resources, visit our teacher pay teachers page for worksheets and lesson plans for your classroom! You can also check out our art resources for teachers page, where we cover all of the elements of art.

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