Composition and Design – Harmony and Unity

Composition and Design – Harmony and Unity

Finished Free Motion Stitched Seed Heads

Unity is the presentation of an image that is integrated; an agreement exists between the various elements and they look as if they belong together. Another term for this is harmony. If the various elements are not harmonious, if they appear separate or unrelated, your design is not cohesive and lacks unity. An important aspect of unity is that the whole of the design should be dominant – you should see the whole before seeing the individual parts. Creating visual unity is made easier by the fact that the viewer is looking for some sort of organization, something to relate the elements. Viewers tend to group objects that are close into one unit; negative spaces will also be organized. Objects of similar shapes will be grouped together by the viewer’s brain. Our brain looks for similar elements, and when these elements are recognized, we will see a cohesive design.

Value Sample 14

Unity can be achieved by the following methods:

Finished Still Life


Proximity – put the elements close together

Screen Printed Leaves

Repetition – repeat various parts of the design to relate the parts to each other

form birch groveContinuation – continue an element from one form or another to draw the eye

Organza squares
Organza squares

Continuity – the planned arrangement of various forms so that their edges are lined up i.e. using a grid to create serial designs (thanks for the use of your photo Zed!)

Using repetition to create harmony and unity is often seen in traditional quilt patterns. Shapes are repeated and colors are repeated to give a pleasing unity to the quilt. I don’t make many quilts and the piece above is made from selvages that are repeated. Often the quilting is repeated over the quilt’s surface and that may create a unifying factor.

Fauvism at an angle

However, you don’t want too much unity as it can be boring. Thus you must consider adding variety. Shapes may repeat, but perhaps in different sizes; colors may repeat, but in different values.

Any of the design elements that I have discussed before can be repeated. This is a simple pattern of repeating lines based on frost. Think about how to use the different elements in your composition and how you can repeat them to create harmony. Should you use repetition of line, shape, color?

Couched Lines

And the shapes or lines that are repeated do not have to be the same. Similar shapes and lines that are related still give repetition and a feeling of unity without being too boring.

Questions to get you started:

Can you produce a design that is only of one subject repeated many times? How do you keep this design from becoming boring?

Practice making small compositions with a variety of geometrical shapes. How do the elements look scattered randomly across the surface?  What happens when you move the items into groups that are close together or overlapping? What does your design look like with similar shapes repeating in a pattern? How can you move the viewer’s eye from one shape to the next? If you use a grid as your format, how does this affect the design?

11 thoughts on “Composition and Design – Harmony and Unity

  1. Great examples Ruth. Thanks for putting them together. It’s a good reference.

  2. It’s interesting you used that organza piece of mine, Ruth. As I was reading your description of Unity and Harmony, i thought ‘Oh, that’s how I always paint and probably influences the way I felt too’, and that piece is based on some paintings! I like the way you make things understandable. Each of these could be a challenge subject too 🙂

    1. Thanks Zed, your piece did fit right in to the subject matter. And I agree, you could use these for challenges but somehow people aren’t that interested or are intimidated by “design”.

    2. Intimidated probably. The culture over the last couple of generations has made us so afraid of failing that we’re too afraid to try.

  3. I’m catching up on some of the posts I’ve missed and your pieces about design are very interesting and thought provoking. Although I like to think I know the basics of “design” your posts are certainly giving me more ideas for playing around with shapes and line.

    1. Glad you’re enjoying the posts. I find that every time I re-do these (I posted all of these before on my personal blog), I learn something new searching for pieces that illustrate the concepts.

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