A harmonious sense of visual balance is a way of making a floral design accessible to the eye – easy for the eye to enter into the composition and easy to ingest what's on display. Symmetry and asymmetry both have their place and are both worth exploring to deepen your understanding of the design principles. As flower creatives, we are frequently drawn towards working asymmetrically as it provides more opportunity to experiment with the distribution of the visual elements in creative ways, often with exciting contrast. However, success is not always easy. Even with good intentions to create an asymmetrically balanced composition, our ingrained familiarities with symmetrical balance often creep back in subconsciously and impact our results.
Here are my tips and thoughts on ways to explore and succeed with asymmetry in your designing.
1. Value Empty Space
Negative space has great value in achieving asymmetrical balance. Empty spaces and voids, despite their lack of physical forms and mass, can contribute effectively to the feeling of asymmetry.
2. Size Counts
Variety really is the spice of life (or design) especially when it comes to size. Consider the sizes of your material choices and look for some bold contrasts. A variety of sizes will also encourage you to more carefully contemplate each placement and how it affects the balance of the entire composition.
3. Provide an Anchor
Anchor a design with a strong focal area. Give the eye a distinct place to start in the design - a place with presence and impact to give the eye a reason to stay within the design when it encounters strong contrasts, tension, loose edges, dynamic lines or captured spaces.
4. Distribute Unevenly
Evenly distributing materials within a composition is a way to bring an immediate sense of visual balance, but it will also exude a more symmetrical feeling. Distribute elements unevenly, organising some close together and others further apart. This will give a more interesting balance – the distribution of the physical forms along with the areas of negative space.
5. Start Off Centre
Start the composition with the mechanics to one side, to establish asymmetry early in the design process. This can apply to the props, the supporting frameworks, decorative structures and even the position of the container. By starting away from the centre, the eye's desire for overall balance will help you make placements that are more decisively asymmetrical.
6. Stick to One Side
If the design involves working into a container, start to one side of the opening or mouth to establish and encourage interesting balance from the start.
7. Use Direction and Flow
Consider the energy or direction of the materials. The directional energy or flow of a material, which is more of a focus under the principle of rhythm, can really help with the feeling of visual balance, especially in strongly asymmetrical design. Look to incorporate materials with a strong line direction, or those with forms or lines that are inclined to lead the eye a particular way (think Anthuriums, or feature leaves like Alocasia) and organise them to help the eye move in ways that benefit the feeling of harmonious asymmetry.
8. Use an Imaginary Axis
Visualise the position of an axis superimporsed on your design – an imaginary line that divides the composition into two sides, positioned at the point where each side 'feels' as equally heavy as the other, even though they will be different sizes in an asymmetrical design. Now, imagine shifting this axis, moving it, usually towards the smaller side, so that the contrast in size and volume between the two sides becomes greater. Then look for solutions as to how you can re-balance the sides – usually adding or subtracting materials (or negative space - see Tip #1).
Let's not forget how symmetry and asymmetry can work simultaneously in creating a feeling of balance ...
9. Make Asymmetrical Placements in Symmetrical Outlines
Outlines are important to the impression of visual balance. Designs with a clear symmetrical silhouette often make it easier to capture and hold the eye, much more so that compositions with irregular or uneven outlines. When working within an overall symmetrical form, use your skills with asymmetry and distribute the material unevenly to produce more interesting visual pathways, focal areas and rhythm within the even silhouette.
A balanced design can offer an immediate sense of comfort, but remember, balanced does not need to equal boring. By investigating and applying these tips (and others), you can achieve exciting, captivating floral arrangements that have strong impact and beauty.