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Chapter 4 Balance, proportion, and scale.

Balance and proportion are closely related in floral design. If an arrangement lacks balance, it often lacks proper proportion. If proportions are not correct, imbalance generally results. Proportion is the comparative relationship between the composition parts with respect to the finished size of an arrangement. Visual balance is the result of a desirable relationship among parts. The various elements--container, flowers, foliages, and accessories--need to fit with one another visually as well as physically (see Figure 4-1).

We often use the word "proportion" to describe the size relationships between the various parts of a composition. The words "proportion" and "scale" are related in that they both refer to size. Scale is another word for size. In order to determine size, we need some standard of reference. Size, or scale, is most often determined by the surrounding environment in which the floral arrangement will be placed.


Balance is the quality of a floral arrangement that gives a sense of equilibrium and repose. Generally, we have a need for balance and can sense when there is imbalance. We tend to avoid dangerously precarious ladders, shelves, branches, and anything else that poses a physical threat. Although imbalance in floral design generally does not pose a physical danger, it is disturbing to us, as balance is needed to achieve a sense of order. Balance exists as both an actual physical balance and a perceived visual balance; in fact, they often overlap each other. Both are essential to the success of a floral composition.



Physical Balance

Physical balance is often called mechanical balance. This terminology means the floral arrangement needs to be mechanically sound to independently stand on its own, to be stable and self-supporting. If a design easily falls over, as shown in Figure 4-2, it does not possess sound mechanical balance.

To provide actual balance, containers must be the proper size, weight, and shape for the flowers they will hold. Physical or mechanical balance is often achieved by placing an equal amount and weight of flowers and foliage on each side of a container. The materials are distributed evenly so that the container will support them.

Visual Balance

Closely related to physical balance is visual balance. Even though a floral design might possess sound mechanical balance, if it does not look balanced, it appears unstable and is visually disturbing.

Every floral arrangement relies on visual balance to provide a sense of equilibrium. Visual balance is achieved when the arrangement gives a feeling of stability. There are four types of visual balance: symmetrical balance, asymmetrical balance, radial balance, and open balance.

Symmetrical Balance

Symmetrical balance is the simplest type to recognize and create (see Figure 4-3). Symmetrical balance is achieved when identical flowers and foliages are arranged and repeated in the same position on either side of an imaginary central vertical axis; one side is a mirror image of the other (see Figure 4-4). Symmetry displays immediate balance and conveys a restful, peaceful sensation. Because this type of balance is predominantly formal and dignified in feeling, it is often referred to as "formal" balance. Symmetrical floral arrangements display strength and stability and are often used for formal events, such as graduations, weddings, and funerals. Although traditional and classic in style, symmetically balanced floral designs contrast with nature and usually appear stiff and contrived (see Figure 4-5). A solution to a contrived appearance is to place flowers in a near-symmetry pattern, which is more common in nature in which the same elements are rarely repeated on both sides. Flowers and foliages on opposing sides of a floral arrangement may vary, but because they are so nearly alike, they do not change the impression of symmetry, as seen in Figure 4-6.



Asymmetrical Balance

A floral design using asymmetrical balance is a more complex effort. It is achieved by placing unequal visual weight on each side of a central vertical axis. More subtle than symmetrical balance, it is often referred to as "optical" (connected with the sense of sight) or "occult" (hidden and concealed) balance. Even though these floral designs look more natural and less contrived, more thought and imagination are actually required in creating them. Something on each side of the floral composition must have equal eye attraction to provide balance. Asymmetrical arrangements remain interesting for a long time because the visual weight and eye attraction on both sides of a design are balanced with different elements and various placements. This change provides visual interest and intrigue. In contrast to symmetrical, or formal balance, the effect with asymmetrical balance is more casual, natural, and informal. Hence, asymmetrical balance is often called "informal" balance.

Asymmetrical balance is based on equal eye attraction of dissimilar elements. For instance, one element that attracts immediate attention is color. A contrast in value and intensity is often used to provide equilibrium. Several large light-colored flowers on one side of an arrangement can be balanced by just one small, yet darker or brighter flower on the other side. Generally, dark shades appear heavy, so they can be used to help strengthen balance by being placed low in a floral composition.




Another method of achieving a sense of balance is through the use of bold shapes and textures. One uniquely shaped flower, like a bird of paradise or a hairy, coarse-textured flower, like a protea, placed near the container rim can lend both a sense of physical balance, as well as visual balance when contrasted with the entire floral arrangement containing flowers and foliage that have less interesting shapes and textures.

The seesaws or teeter-totters in Figure 4-7 illustrate achieving balance by position. An adult can balance with a small child simply by sitting closer to the center, or fulcrum. Likewise, flowers can balance each other by their positions. A large flower positioned closer to the focal point, or center of interest, can balance a smaller flower or object on the perimeter of a design (see Figure 4-8). Accessories and figurines can also be added or placed next to a floral arrangement to help give a sense of equilibrium, as shown in Figure 4-9.

Eye direction can also help achieve equilibrium. Facing flowers in a certain direction invites the viewer's eye to follow in that direction. Asymmetrical balance can also be achieved through the use of strong lines and the angling of stems (see Figure 4-10). Eye direction and the angling of stems must be carefully planned, but once asymmetrical balance is achieved, viewer interest is maintained.

No rule of measurement tells us how and where different flowers and objects must be placed in order to achieve asymmetrical balance. The point at which balance is achieved must be felt by each individual floral designer. With practice, you will sense proper distribution of dissimilar elements, and you will recognize when equilibrium exists.

Radial Balance

Another type of balance is radial. All the elements of a floral design radiate or circle out from a common central point like the spokes of a wheel or the rays of the sun (see Figure 4-11). In floral design, radial balance can be combined with symmetrical or asymmetrical balance, depending on whether the focal point is positioned in the middle or off center.





Incorporating a strong radial balance in a floral design provides an immediate and obvious focal point. Radial balance is often displayed in bridal bouquets, where all elements visually and physically extend outward in all directions from a central location (see Figure 4-12).

Open Balance

Open balance is another type of balance, common in contemporary designs. Designs classified as having open balance are neither prominently symmetrical nor asymmetrical. Open balance uses material throughout a design in a more relaxed and unstructured manner (see Figure 4-13). Open balance does not follow any format or rules as do the other types of visual balance, but it does rely on a perceived balance--one that you and the viewer sense.



Proportion, often inseparable from the idea of balance and equilibrium, generally describes the relationship of one part of a floral design to the other parts as well as to the whole. The early Greeks discovered a few secrets of good proportion that can be directly applied as you make floral designs.

The Greeks found that a rectangle or oblong with its sides in a ratio of 2 to 3 was a standard for good proportion. This particular shape is named the golden rectangle (see Figure 4-14).

Another proportion discovery is called the golden section, involving the division of a form or line. The ratio of the smaller section to the larger section is the same as that of the larger to the whole. The progression of numbers based on the ratio of the golden rectangle is 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on. Each number in the series is the sum of the two preceding numbers. For instance, 2 to 3, 3 to 5, and 5 to 8 are each about the same ratio and, therefore, equally pleasing. The golden section can be used in floral design, especially in determining how high the flowers should be in comparison to the container (see Figure 4-15). A 3 to 5 ratio, where the container equals 3, the flowers equal 5, and the whole design equals 8, is a good rule to follow.



Often we hear that a good rule to remember in determining how high flowers should extend, is to simply double the vase height, as shown in Figure 4-16. This rule might work sometimes, but for the most part, a 2 to 2 or 3 to 3 ratio displays poor proportion and is somewhat disturbing.

Another proportion discovery, called the golden mean, is also a dependable guideline for use in floral design. This rule has application any time something can be divided in half. Instead of dividing an area exactly in half, divide the area instead somewhere between 1?2 and 1?3. For instance, the golden mean can apply to the placement of a floral arrangement on a table, as shown in Figure 4-17. Rather than placing the bouquet right in the center of the table, it appears more pleasing and natural when placed slightly off-center.





Scale is another word for size and refers to the overall size of an object compared with other objects; a flower, container, or accessory is only large or small when in comparison with something else. Parts of a floral composition need to be in scale with one another, and the size of the entire bouquet needs to be in scale with its surroundings.

Flowers to Container

The container is an important part of scale and proportion because its size and shape help determine the size and shape of the entire design. A small delicate container generally dictates that petite and dainty flowers should be used to fill it. Likewise, a large heavy vase looks best with massive or showy flowers.

Flowers to Flowers

Just as flowers need to be in scale with the container, the flowers within the same composition must be similar in scale with each other. Huge flowers can overshadow tiny blossoms. Extreme size differences in flower sizes may be distracting (see Figure 4-18).


Flowers to Foliages

The size of foliages you select to go in a floral bouquet should be in scale with the flowers; this will complement them. The various foliages in a composition should also be in scale to one another. Just as extreme flower sizes may be distracting, so can extreme foliage sizes. For instance, lily of the valley foliage becomes lost and unimportant next to bird of paradise foliage.

Arrangement to Surroundings

There are several considerations of scale and proportion regarding where floral designs will be placed. One important consideration is the size of the table or area where the arrangement will be sitting. An arrangement must fit on a table physically and visually and at the same time be in proportion to the surrounding area (see Figure 4-19).

Another important consideration is the size of the entire room in which the floral design will be placed. A floral arrangement is perceived in relation to the area around it. If a bouquet is large, it will become even larger when placed in a small room: The room will appear smaller, the bouquet larger.

A large and grandiose arrangement of heliconia and protea made for a spacious hotel lobby would certainly be cramped in a hospital room. Likewise, a tiny, delicate bud vase of roses and baby's breath in scale for a small office would look ridiculous in a large auditorium.


Floral bouquets should be in scale to their surroundings. Chapels and auditoriums are generally large and, therefore, call for larger floral designs that can be viewed by many people from great distances (see Figure 4-20). In contrast, a bouquet for a patient in a small hospital room does not need to be big enough to be seen across a great distance by large masses of people (see Figure 4-21).

Other important elements to remember for scale and proportion are texture and color. Shiny or coarse-textured containers, coarse-textured flowers, and foliages will appear larger because they attract the eye. Likewise, bright, dark, and even warm colors generally demand more attention and look larger than dull, light, and cool colors.




The success of a floral composition depends on many considerations including balance, proportion, and scale. You will realize just how closely related these principles are if you deliberately consider them as you construct your floral compositions. Before you begin construction on a floral bouquet, consider where the arrangement will be placed. Such factors as the size of the room and the size of the table or area where the arrangement will be sitting are both important scale considerations for deciding how large your arrangement should be. The container should be chosen so it will be in scale and proportion to the whole of the design. Flowers, foliages, and accessories must be in scale to the container, to each other, and to the room size.

Once your supplies are selected, be aware of what type of visual balance is needed for your bouquet. Often the location where the arrangement will be placed, the purpose of the bouquet, and customer preference all dictate the type of balance most appropriate. Even if there is no criteria to be met or you are making the design for yourself, it helps to know what type of balance you want before beginning construction. Your arrangement must not only look balanced, it must be mechanically sound and stable. If it is unbalanced in any way, it will not be visually pleasing and restful.

Terms to Increase Your Understanding

asymmetrical balance


golden mean

golden rectangle

golden section

mechanical balance

open balance

physical balance


radial balance


symmetrical balance

visual balance

Test Your Knowledge

1. What are the advantages of each type of visual balance? Are there any disadvantages?

2. How are proportion and scale related? How do they differ?

3. When can the golden mean be applied in floral arranging?

Related Activities

1. Visit a retail shop. Notice floral arrangements on display and identify the types of visual balance.

2. While at the shop, notice proportions and the scale of individual parts of floral arrangements. Critique the proportions.

3. Plan a floral arrangement. Determine first the type of balance needed and then choose the parts according to proportion and scale guidelines.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Section 1 Theory and Design
Author:Hunter, Norah T.
Publication:The Art of Floral Design, 2nd ed.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Chapter 3 Color.
Next Article:Chapter 5 Focal point and rhythm.

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