Symmetrical Balance

On an unconscious level, humans strive to create order out of chaos. In the visual sense, we seek balance when viewing design. When a design is not balanced it creates an uneasy, disquieting feeling in the viewer.

Humans tend to see bilaterally (from side to side). In Western cultures, although we are often unconscious of it, we view art, text, etc. from left to right. This reflects our being taught to read from left to right.

So what is balance? Balance is when you use different artistic elements of arts (lines, shapes, color, etc.) and arranged them to create a feeling of visual weight (equilibrium) in an artwork.

Note that artistic elements are the different design elements such as color, focal point, negative space, etc.

Important facts about balance

Unconsciously, the viewer imagines a vertical axis running through the center of the picture plane. The visual weight of the artistic elements on either side of the vertical axis establishes balance.

We unconsciously view the picture plane as having a top, bottom, left  and right side. We, in the U.S. learn to read left to right, so view art from left to right.

In symmetrical balance, the artistic elements used on the picture plane are basically the same elements on either side of the vertical axis.

The two commonly used types of balance are symmetry and asymmetry balance. In this blog, we will examine symmetrical balance, then investigate asymmetrical balance in a separate blog.

Symmetrical Balance consists of formal (or bilateral) symmetry and informal (or approximate) symmetry.  Symmetrical balance is often found in architecture. Feelings associated with symmetrical balance are, permanent, stable, classic, elegant, calm and dignified. The disadvantage of symmetrical balance if overdone it can become boring.

Formal symmetry (or bilateral balance)

The artistic elements are identically balanced on either side of the implied axis. One side perfectly reflects the other side. Think bull’s eye!

Two examples of formal symmetrical balance.

Informal symmetry (or approximate symmetry)

Informal symmetry is similar to formal symmetry, using the same artistic elements reflected on either side of the implied axis, but it’s not a perfectly mirrored image from side to side. This means that they are roughly in the same place but slightly off.

In the photo above the artistic elements are identical on the vertical axis, it’s just that one side is pushed up a little higher than the other side. In the photo below, there are some slight differences. The head shows the profile on the left, with the back of the turban to its right. The side of the cloth warping the model is higher on the right side, s compared to the left. I suggest that if you limit differences between each side of the vertical axis. Three noticeable differences are a good rule of thumb.

For each rule, there is a reason to break it! Although balance is often the goal of the artist, there may be instances due to a particular theme or topic in which you might have a design that is intentionally not balanced. In this instance, it will invoke an uneasy feeling in the viewer.

Credits: Some of the information in this presentation comes from the book, Design Basics, Seventh Edition by David Lauer

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