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Principles of Design





Harmony is the visually satisfying effect of combining similar or related elements.

  • Adjacent colors

  • Similar shapes

  • Related textures

Harmony in a painting or design helps bring about unity. All harmony and no contrast, however, can become monotonous. A balance must be struck between areas of harmony and areas of contrast.


In the painting below the harmonious, repeating rectangles are relieved by the contrasting round forms of the pots and flowers. The overall warm color harmony is given relief by the cool green shutters. Grouping the subordinate, contrasting organic shapes reinforces the focal point.

Open Shutters –   © John Lovett, 2006

Open Shutters – John Lovett, 2006. Mixed Media on 300gsm Arches paper

By keeping the area of contrast smaller than the large harmonious area to be relieved, a visually  satisfying balance is achieved. Understatement is usually better – sometimes just a tiny contrasting mark is all that is needed.

A limited palette will keep a tight color harmony. Tonal contrast then becomes the main tool for emphasising a focal point.

In this mixed media painting below, a limited palette ensures a tight color harmony. Strong tonal contrast in the upper right hand side of the shoe, and a protruding, frayed shoelace establish an  off centre focal point, breaking the symmetry of the subject.

One Shoe Off - © John Lovett

One Shoe Off – John Lovett 2003 Mixed Media on 300 gsm Arches paper.


Renzo Piano’s buildings demonstrate a harmony between form and environment. His Columbus International Exhibition building in Genoa, Italy, makes use of sail structures and intricately rigged booms that pay homage to the history of the ancient sea port on which it sits.

Renzo Piano - Columbus International

Renzo Piano, Columbus International Exhibition, 1985-1992 Genoa, Italy



Architect John Nicholes designed the Karijini Visitors Centre to weather into the North Western Australian landscape. Most of the exterior of the structure is built from heavy, welded steel panels. These are acid washed to rust, echoing the iron ore outcrops of the surrounding country.


Nicholes building not only relates to the surrounding landscape, but also ties in with the beliefs of the traditional owners of the land. The plan of the building is an abstraction of the goanna, an important symbol to the custodians of the land.


Nicholes worked with the traditional owners to design the internal layout in accordance with their beliefs regarding the importance of the symbolic areas of the goanna. So as well as a visual harmony with the landscape, the building has a cultural harmony with the traditional beliefs.

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Karijini Visitors Center

John Nicholes – Karijini National Park Visitors Centre, Western Australia



The principles of harmony and contrast seem completely contradictory, but it is the balance between these two that is vital to the success of any work of art.

Author: John Lovett

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