Van Gogh and Composition

Learn how Symmetry Effects your Drawings and Paintings

Vincent Van Gogh was a master of placement and effect. By putting objects just so in his paintings and drawings he created drama and interest.

Have you ever considered the placement of objects in you painting? The placement of trees or a barn in a landscape, a teacup or flower in a still life, or a hand in a portrait can dramatically effect the way your artwork turns out. By just moving one element you can turn a ho-hum picture into something extraordinary. The trick is to know when and where to place you subject matter.

Symmetry, or balance between two halves of an object (in this case a painting or drawing), plays a pivotal part in you work’s interest to the viewer. There are three types of symmetry to consider:


Zinnia drawingSymmetrical paintings or drawings have an even amount of objects on each side, both sides are a mirror image of each other. Here is a sketch to show what I mean. This is very simplified, but as you can see, there is the same amount of eye “weight” on each side, meaning your eye is not drawn to a certain element in the drawing. All the parts are considered equally important. Faces, for example, are usually symmetrical.

Symmetry is handy when you want the viewer to take in every bit of the painting. This can be a bit boring, if not handheld with a little extra zest. For example, a painting that is especially zoomed in on it can be quite surprising and interesting.


Asymmetrical painting and drawings are not symmetrical. They usually tend to have objects that are off-center or more on one side than the other. This type of placement is sometimes used to create drama in the work as Van Gogh did in Starry Night,

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Asymmetrical balance is when objects are used to counterbalance each other in a painting or drawing. This is the most interesting way to create a painting. The eye will flow from one object to the next. Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, is a great example of this. As you can see, one side is not a mirror image from the other, but there is balance. His sketch The Chair, is also a good example of asymmetrical balance.