Striking a Balance

A Balancing Act: In Still Life With Granny Smith and Grapes (oil, 7×11), I created asymmetrical balance by placing the visually “heavier” apple closer to the middle of an image and “leveraging” its weight with a smaller grapes that move from the center toward the right of the picture plane.

Balance refers to the visual equilibrium in a painting. The idea is simple: To create a pleasing design, the objects on one half of your painting surface must somehow be balanced with objects on the other half. You can achieve balance in its simplest and most traditional form by placing objects of equal weight at equal distances from the center of your painting surface, as in example A. But if you place a heavy object at one end and a lighter one at the other end, you create an imbalance?unless you compensate by placing the heavier object closer to the center of the painting surface and the lighter object farther away. I achieved this in Still Life With Granny Smith and Grapes (above) by placing the apple in the center, then using a number of grapes that start in the middle, then move toward the right of the painting.

Of course, there?s more to achieving visual balance than simply arranging objects according to size and weight relative to the center of an image. For example, lighter colors generally carry less weight than darker ones, so a pale yellow circle doesn?t have as much weight as a black circle of the same size (C). What?s more, visual balance doesn?t always involve two distinct objects. Sometimes, you must balance an object with the negative space surrounding it, as in illustration D. At other times, you must find a balance between a large number of objects of varying size, as in example B. In the end, balance is part skill and part intuition. Like any skill, it can be improved through observation, practice and experimentation. But like any intuitive process, the “right” answer for a given situation is always somewhat subjective.

Barbara Blossom Ashmun is the author of Garden Retreats: Creating an Outdoor Sanctuary . She gardens and writes in Portland, Oregon. Her Web site is

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