Principles of Design – Part IV: Proportion

Design Principles header image

Welcome back to my series on design principles as they relate to scrapbooking!

How are we feeling about things so far? We’ve covered Balance, Rhythm, and Emphasis over the last three Saturdays. I know there is a lot of information there that may seem overwhelming. Hopefully I’ve managed to break it down into manageable chunks and my examples have helped it make sense to you! Have you noticed any difference in how you approach your scrapbook pages? Are you looking at where your embellishments are placed to make sure they are emphasizing what you want emphasized?

Any trouble with the visual triangle? As long as you keep in mind that these are all merely guidelines to help you and not hard and fast rules that you must follow, you’ll be fine. Deep breaths!! There are no Scrapbook Police waiting to pounce if you place that butterfly a quarter inch too far to the left!

This week I have kind of a trickier Principle to discuss. It is closely related to what I will talk about next week so if you are confused after reading today’s post, I’m sure it will all be made clear next Saturday. Sorry to be so cryptic!

Principle #4 – Proportion

Proportion is defined as the relationship of two or more elements in a design and how they compare to one another. Good proportion is harmonious when you get the right relationship between elements with respect to size or quantity. It’s closely related to Scale (next week’s topic) which refers to the size of a thing in relation or comparison to other things. When you think of a vignette on a mantelpiece, you may have three sizes of candle holders. Each of these is scaled according to each other – small, medium or large. If you think of the size of the fireplace and mantelpiece in the room and how well it seems balanced (or not) you are thinking of its proportions.

Confused? Let’s break it down some more and make it scrapbook specific!

When we talk about architecture, we tend to use the human body as a scale. Kitchen counters are 36″ high which is approximately average waist height. Dining chair seats are typically 18″ high, which allows your legs to bend at their natural angle and prevent your feet from dangling. Artwork is best viewed when it is hung so that the centre of if is about 60″ from the floor – the natural eye-line for the average person. Things like that. Trust me, I had to memorize all these little measurements when I was taking my Interior Design courses!

Playing with that scale can give us some pretty funky results. Ever been inside a cathedral? Feel small and insignificant? You are meant to! The builders used soaring columns and long narrow sanctuary spaces to make sure you knew how insignificant you were compared to God! The larger than life proportions of those columns, stained glass windows, and soaring ceilings are impressive. And were designed specifically that way. For the scrapbook page that can translate into a bold patterned paper, or a large photo, or a larger than normal title. Any of those things will automatically cue the viewer to think “this thing is important’.

But large patterns can overwhelm small objects and this is where our principle of proportion comes into play.

In order for your scrapbook page to maintain the visual balance we talked about in our first lesson, you need to make sure that your page proportions are balanced. What does that look like? Ever heard of the Golden Ratio (see image below)? It’s something the Greeks came up and people like Leonardo Da Vinci used a lot in their art work and designs. It’s all a sort of complicated geometry problem but suffice it to say that the ratio that works best for visual balance is two parts to three.

Here’s another helpful graphic.

That bold pattern I mentioned earlier? Keep it to one third of the page and allow the eye to rest with smaller or calmer patterns on the other two thirds of the page.

Here’s another term for you – ever heard of the Rule of Thirds? It’s a great rule for resolving all sorts of placement issues on your scrapbook layouts, as well as giving you an easy way to visualize this two-thirds/one-third proportion.

Design Principles post on Proportion - Rule of Thirds

Think of your 12×12″ layout as having an invisible tic-tac-toe board on it (see the image above). Where the lines intersect – demonstrated here with the red dots – are the points of maximum impact. I didn’t talk about this in our emphasis lesson last week, but these are ideal spots to place your photos. And bonus points if you can place the eyes of the subject of the photo at those spots! But since we are talking about proportion today, see how the lines naturally divide the page into thirds? It would be easy – with this guide – to get the proportion of bold pattern to calm pattern just right.

Let’s see some examples from my archives to see how I used this … or not, as the case may be!

1. Photos on the One Third Line

Advice by Alison Day Designs

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious to you that I’ve placed my photos and most of my embellishments on that top one third line in this layout. It’s also a good example of balancing the darker, visually heavier, photo strip with a larger expanse of lighter coloured papers. Here the proportion of light to dark is just right – and some would say, in the correct ratio. But I have an example to share in a bit where I turn this ratio on it’s head.

This I Could Get Used To by Alison Day Designs

Here’s another example of placing the photos on that first one-third line, only this time the line runs vertically. Also, the focal point of the photos isn’t on that line, the edges of them are. But since the dark pink strip grabs your eyes and it’s on the one-third line, you are tricked into thinking the photos are too. Also of note, proportionally, is the ratio of that bold floral pattern to the muted Kraft and turquoise papers. Yep, that pattern’s bold and bossy, but most of it is covered up. In fact, I’d say there’s only about a third of it on show. Once you know the magic proportions you can play with it in so many ways!

2. Photos in the Two-Thirds Space

My Funny Valentines by Alison Day Designs

Here’s where I start flipping that light to dark ratio I mentioned earlier. Here, the bottom two thirds of the layout is visually heavier and is where the majority of the elements are – photos, journaling, title, embellishments, etc. By comparison the top third is pretty much empty! But you know what? Proportionally, it works. If we go back to the graphics I showed you that demonstrate good vs bad proportions, this layout follows the one in the top left – lighter top third, darker bottom two thirds.

LAOD15 - How We Say Hello Now by Alison Day Designs

This one follows the same proportion diagram. And here’s where I turn the “keep the bold pattern to one-third of the page” rule on its head! I’ve embraced the darker busier pattern and kept quite a bit of it on show, but I’ve kept the proportions intact by leaving the top third(ish) lighter visually. I’ve also changed the proportions of title to photo size. Normally, you’d expect the photos to be larger than the title but in this case, the photos are not that great and are really only a supporting element of the story, so to emphasize that I want people to read the story, I’ve used a large title in multiple fonts to pique your interest and direct you to the journaling.

Remember, proportion is about the relationship of elements of the design to each other, so how you place things on the page matters!

3. Working with the Central Two Thirds

Hello Lovely Baby Girl by Alison Day Designs

This layout shows one way to use the rule of thirds when creating a double page spread (or a single page too but this is the example I had on hand!) Here I’ve placed all my elements in the middle two thirds of the spread. Can’t figure out how to get a “middle two-thirds” of something? Draw an imaginary line horizontally through the centre of the top and bottom third then place all your patterned papers, photos, title, journaling, and embellishments in between them. That’s your middle two thirds!

This is maybe a bit more of a complicated principle to grasp – and I’m not even sure I have a good hold on the difference between proportion and scale – but I hope I’ve managed to give you a few tips to take to your scrapping table!

To Recap:

Proportion is all about the relationship between the elements of your design and how they work together to create balance.

The Greeks developed the Golden Ratio which gives easily measurable ways to determine the proper proportion for your designs.

We can easily apply the Rule of Thirds to create pleasing proportions on our pages.

How can you apply this somewhat hard concept to your scrapbook layouts? Start with the rule of thirds. Get comfortable creating pleasing, proportionally balanced layouts and then try messing with your proportions to emphasize different aspects of your layouts. A tiny photo in a sea of busy pattern is completely disproportionate but may in fact be just the thing to call attention to that tiny photo! Interior Designers do it all the time but it takes practice, guts, and an eye for design to really pull it off. But it’s just paper so if it all goes horribly wrong, you simply reprint the photo and try again!


Next week we will talk about Scale and how it relates to proportion. If you want to read more about Proportion please check out this article from an Interior Design company blog. Sometimes learning about a concept through a different lens can help clarify it in yours! And from a scrapbooking point of view, see this article from the A Cherry On Top blog (also where I got some of my graphics).

See you soon, have a great weekend everyone!


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