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Dash of Inspiration: Composition – Balance of Elements

April 15, 2013

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Composition: Balance of Elements

Let’s continue with a visual review and discussion of the areas listed in GCU’s Submission Guidelines. Today we’ll keep this series going with the second area in the COMPOSITION grouping of the Submission Guidelines which is:

COMPOSITION: Balance of Elements

The Submission Guidelines state this:

A feeling of visual equality. Objects, values, colors, textures, shapes, forms, etc., are used in creating balance in a composition. Balance is a visual interpretation of gravity in the design. Large, dense elements appear to be heavier while smaller elements appear to be lighter. In art, harmony is the combination or adaptation of elements to form a consistent and orderly whole. It can also be described as a combination of parts or details with each other to produce an aesthetically pleasing effect. Harmony describes the combination of the pictorial elements; color, tone, line, form, content, brushwork, etc. needed to harmonize into a consistent and orderly whole. Declines may include, but are not limited to: poor combination of clip art and photographic elements, uncomplementary color or pattern combinations, chaotic designs, random placement of non-essential elements, etc. 

So let’s talk about Balance of Elements.

Poor Combination of Clip Art & Photographic Elements – It is very difficult to make this combination work, because it takes a tremendous amount of blending techniques to actually pull this off visually if at all. It’s best to keep clip art with clip art and photographic elements with photographic elements.

One of the most common things to do is to put a cartoon style clip art Santa hat on a photograph of an animal and this really just looks unprofessional most of the time. I’ve fallen victim to this myself and am reworking a few old cards with a more realistic Santa hat element. I don’t want to choose examples from GCU because I don’t want to offend anyone, but these issues exist and will most likely be found during GCU’s weeding process, so if you’ve combined clip art with a photograph, you should be going back to those cards and see if you can create a more professional balance of elements.

Below in an effort to give you an example, I’ve replaced my ‘realistic Santa hat’ with a clip art hat so you can see the difference. Every element in this design was layered together and yes the gift box is a graphic element, but it’s realistic enough that when I added some depth to the gift box it blended well with the overall image. All other elements are photographic in origin.


Uncomplementary Color or Pattern Combinations – This is a tricky area, especially for people who don’t have a natural ability to work with color. The best advice to those of you who struggle with choosing colors that work together is to ALWAYS pick a color palette you like from any of the places Corrie so generously offers us and stay within that color palette.

Often this comes into play on a greeting card when the artist chooses a colored background and/or colored text. In design, typically there is a defined color palette for any given design with as few as two colors to as many as eight and that is all that is used in the design.  Designers who use photographs often make a common mistake by choosing an uncomplementary color as a border or background and then add further insult to the image by choosing colored text, often of a color not even in the color palette of the image.

Something photographers need to keep in mind when creating greeting cards is that most often a white/off-white or black background against the photograph is the best choice to help the image pop rather than tone the image down or cause a muddy appearance. Remember photographs take on the hues of colors around them.

Working with patterns is really no different. You can combine stripes and polka dots or plaids if your color palette stays true within the patterns. Most likely it would not be a good choice to combine a rose floral pattern with cheetah print for example. Again it takes some training of the eye to be able to combine patterns and pull it off.

Below I created an image to show you the difference between uncomplementary color choices and the same image with an improved balance of color.


Chaotic Designs, Random Placement of non-essential elements –  This absolutely goes back to the very basics of design theory and photographic composition. Those elements that do not add something to the overall design become distractions which can be interpreted as chaos. Repeat that mantra several times until it sticks!

When creating a design, each object needs to have well thought out placement (including your text). An element needs to have balance within the overall design AND maintain balance with every element within the design. Randomly placing doodads, whether that is clip art or decorative elements, or text will usually result in visual chaos. Though I’d love to offer some examples of this, I just can’t seem to create a chaotic design to show you so I’ll ask Mindy if she can add some links in the comments areas to images GCU considers chaotic.

Next week we’ll tackle that dreaded category section in Composition: Unprofessional.  Till next week, I hope I’ve inspired you to go look through your store and see if you can weed out any images that have a poor balance of elements.

For great resources & tips visit the SalonOfArt

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Elements and Principles of Design

Better Designs = More Approvals = More Sales

All About Color Theory

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2013 10:40 pm

    Good explanations and examples Doreen, thank you.

    Here are some examples of chaotic compositions with randomly placed mismatched elements:

    And an example with overall lack of balance:

    • April 17, 2013 2:51 pm

      Thank you Mindy, but there are no links to your examples. Would you try again when you get a moment?


  2. April 17, 2013 6:52 pm

    I had a feeling that was going to happen. Let’s try that again:

    Here are some examples of chaotic compositions with randomly placed mismatched elements:


    And lastly for overall lacking in balance of elements:

  3. April 17, 2013 7:04 pm

    Let’s hope the third time’s a charm. If this one doesn’t work I’m going to have to seek professional help in more ways than one 😉

    Here are some examples of chaotic compositions with randomly placed mismatched elements:

    And lastly for overall lacking in balance of elements:

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