Principles of Designs – Part V: Scale

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Time for another Design Lesson!

How has your week gone? Mine flew by! My middle daughter turned 10 yesterday AND it was a Pro-D Day (so no school) which meant … PARTY!! Needless to say, a lot of other “should have dones” never got done this week! Gulp!

Oh well. Like Taylor says “shake it off!”

Did you find time to scrapbook this week? If so, did any of the past four lessons come to mind as you laid out your page? I know last week’s lesson on Proportion was probably a bit confusing but hopefully you were able to employ some of the Rule of Thirds pointers. Keeping that tic-tac-toe grid in mind when you’re designing your layout can really help. What about the other lessons – Balance, Rhythm, and Emphasis? I think most of us naturally employ all of these principles when we are creating but it’s worth a refresher now and again! I know that looking back at these concepts and my old layouts is really helping me when I stand at my crafting table. I was creating a layout recently with some fussy cut clouds and my original placement was against the natural flow of how we ‘read’ images. When I noticed that and made the switch, the layout came together much more easily. Nice to know this stuff works!

Today we are continuing our discussion on proportion – kind of.

Principle #5 – Scale

As I said last week, scale and proportion are related, and easily confused, but not the same thing. Scale refers to the size of an object in relation or comparison to its usual physical size.

Ever been in a sales centre for a new townhouse development? Quite often they have a model of what the entire development will look like. These models are scaled down versions of the real thing. All the proportions are kept the same in the model, only the scale is changed. If you were to blow it up to a 1:1 scale (actual size) it would feel totally natural. Nothing would feel oddly sized or out of proportion. In situations like this – specifically dealing with Interior Design and Architecture – the human body is most commonly used as the measure to which everything is scaled. This makes it natural for us imagine ourselves in the space. We know how big we are so when we place our imaginary selves into a room, whatever the scale, we can start to plot out where the other elements go in relation to ourselves.

When we are talking about Graphic Design however, things are a little bit different. We tend to think of scale as referring to things like patterns and how one element relates to the others on the page. When creating embellishment groupings it’s common to see one large, one medium, and one small. If you want to give one particular photo dominance over another you make it bigger. For today let’s focus on patterns and lay out some strategies for how to mix their sizes with gorgeous results.

Mixing Patterns of Different Scales

There are as many “rules” for mixing patterns together as there are patterns! At the most basic though, is the one that keeps the scale of the pattern in mind. What I mean by this, and where another of our principles comes into play, is to remember to keep your patterns balanced. A lot of large patterns will overwhelm your design unless they are used in a smaller proportion to white space or small scale patterns. Think of a large floral pattern on a sundress or a delicate arm chair. Potentially disastrous unless carefully balanced by accessories or – in the case of the chair – other pieces in the room.

You can use a large scale pattern in a large amount, but you have to keep in mind that the other patterns and elements on your page will need to be ‘quieter’ so that your viewer doesn’t get tired or overwhelmed as they look at your page. Let’s see if I can find some examples that may help explain this.

Large scale patterns as the background

Snowy Selfie by Alison Day Designs

The predominant pattern on this layout is that floral. It’s pretty bossy! To keep in check I framed it with the red card stock and then kept all other patterns very subtle. A simple white polka dot on yellow in a small strip, and a tone on tone blue diamond pattern. All the other elements on the page are also kept in one place. If I had spread them around or done an embellishment grouping off in a corner, the layout would feel scattered. As it is, once your eyes have taken in the floral, registered that it’s a repeating pattern so not to be worried about, they can relax and move over all the other elements on the page allowing the floral to fade into the background.

Looking at this layout again though I admit that a large piece of vellum behind everything that is sitting on top of that floral would have helped tone it down a lot. The layout as it is works just fine, and in person is not nearly as busy as it is on the screen. I think it helps to “feel” the different textures when you are looking at it in real life.

P&S by Alison Day Designs

Here’s another example of using a large scale pattern in the background. Here it is the entire 12×12 background but roughly two thirds of the pattern is covered up with the photos and journaling. The other patterns on show are smaller in scale so don’t compete. This is a great way to use that gorgeous paper with the giant flowers on it that you completely fell in love with at the scrapbook store but now don’t know what to do with! Large scale patterns like the confetti pattern above, or the floral in my example, are actually easy to use as backgrounds. And it’s because they have a pattern that repeats in a regular way. Our eyes are trained to pick up repetition so they quickly recognize it here and once recognized, ignore it! Pretty soon you barely notice all that colour and start looking at the photos and reading the journaling.

Small scale patterns together

Sometimes you may not have, or may not want to use, a large scale pattern. Today it’s the tiny floral and the pinstripes that are calling to you. No worries! You can mix those together easily. Just make sure they are all different patterns. Try to avoid using a small red polka dot with a blue polka dot of the same scale, and things like that. Let’s look at an example of that.

J'Adore by Alison Day

Here the background floral and the red dotted stripe are of approximately the same scale but since one reads as a polka dot and the other as a stripe, they work in perfect harmony.

Marley at 9

Here’s another example where I’ve used many different patterned papers but they are harmonious due to the fact that their scales are roughly the same. The one exception is the yellow piece with the light yellow houses (top right quadrant) but as the pattern is essentially a tone on tone, it still works.

Mixing the scales on one page

It could quickly become very boring to only scrapbook with one large pattern as your background, or many small scale patterns all together. So we need a way to know how to mix different scaled patterns on the one page. A simple rule of thumb in this case is to have one of each size. One large pattern, one small pattern, and one that’s somewhere in the middle.

Not Your Typical Mother's Day by Alison Day Designs

There are a lot of patterns on this layout. The red horizontal stripe in the frame, the tan coloured coffee cups, the polka dot in the multi-tonal blues, the tiny teal Swiss dot, and the pink triangular pattern on the journaling card. It could all add up to pattern overload (and maybe for you it already is!) but it works because they are all of different scales. And because of that great big expanse of blue card stock that holds them all together.

#Modern Parenting by Alison Day

Here’s another example. This time my largest scale pattern is that piece of Kraft coloured card stock that I’ve stamped all over with large doilies. The background – while a busy pattern – is the mid sized pattern and then the brick pattern is actually the small scale pattern. The pocket page cards along the bottom are also patterns but you’ll notice that I’ve arranged them so that the small scale patterns are to the back and the ones that are more prominent have images and text on them so your eyes discount those as being patterns. They become embellishments and you treat them differently.

Okay, I think that’s enough on pattern play. I could go on about making sure your visual balance is in check, and you’re emphasizing the thing you intended to emphasize .. but it’s late and I’m tired!

To Recap:

Scale is about the relative size of something compared to it’s actual physical size – or, for our purposes, to the other elements on your page.

Larger scales objects carry more natural weight – both physically and visually – than smaller scaled objects.

When mixing patterns together it is helpful to have one large scaled pattern, one small scale pattern, and one that is somewhere in between.

Oh, and there’s one more rule I need to tell you about. RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN! And sometimes it’s when we break the rules that we discover something new, something fun, and something beautiful.

Homework: I haven’t given out homework before but I think this is a fun exercise to try. Go to where ever your patterned paper is kept and pull out three full sheets of 12×12 patterns that you love. Make sure one is a large scale pattern, one is a small scale pattern, and (can you guess?) the third one is a somewhere in between. Then rummage through your scrap bin and pull together some papers in different scaled patterns that you think would coordinate with your backgrounds. Don’t go nuts, simply pull out 2 or 3 patterns per full sheet. Look at what you’ve pulled together. What about those patterns works? If you were to create a layout with them, how would you place them on the page. Would you keep your 12×12 sheet whole or would you look for card stock to use as a background instead? If you’re feeling brave, make a layout with each set of papers. Share them here in the comments or over on my Facebook page. I will do this exercise too and let you see what I make!

Be brave!

If you haven’t had a chance to read the other lessons in this series I do encourage you to do so. We have covered Balance, Rhythm, Emphasis, and Proportion already. Next week I will have our last lesson in this series and it will be on Harmony. Seems only fitting that we wrap things up by taking a moment to step back, look at the whole picture, and make sure all our elements are working together!

If you are looking for further reading on Scale you can check out this article on the Creating Keepsakes Blog, or this one from Debbie Hodge. Noell Hyman from Paperclipping also had a great episode on Scale and Proportion. If you’re a member you can check out Episode 161. If you’re not a member, you can see a preview that may give you some pointers here.

That’s all I have in me tonight. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Alison out!



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