Principles of Design
We are going to cover Balance, Proportion, Harmony & Contrast, Focus, and Pattern.
There are 3 types of balance you need to be familiar with; Formal, Informal, and Radial. Which type you will use will depend on the feel you wish to impart to your signature. Below is three signatures made with the same render and color combinations but three different balances.
First is Formal:
You will notice that the focus of the signature is in the center. To either side of the center the background and foreground are identical. The text, though not mirrors of each other are in the exact same spaces and have the same visual weight. Both the frames and the text are used in even numbers. Formal balance is solid, stable, dependable, and can be boring. For that reason it is not usually preferred.
Second is Informal:
Unlike Formal Balance the focus is not in the center but to the side. There is no mirror imaging and the moon with the two frames of the same color make up an odd number of accessories. Even the text has been written in three lines. Whenever possible in informal balance odd numbers are preferred. Even so the total composition is of even weight on both sides. Asymmetrical or informal balance is exciting, moving, and allows for more creative approaches. That is why it is the most common type of balance used in signatures.
Third is Radial:
In Radial Balance everything "radiates" outward from the focal point. It does not need to be identical all around. The focus does not even have to be centered. It just has to be in the middle of the surrounding radius. In this case the radius is created by the dark to light radial gradient centered behind the focal image. The circle around her is not symmetrical but is still obviously centered around her. The text and detailing are likewise centered of the image that is the focus. When used formally by placing the focus in the exact center of the signature radial design can, like formal design, be boring. If used in an off set such as this it can create interest and be dynamic. Either is rarely seen though.
When making signatures there is only two things you need to remember; the larger image will draw attention to it's self and the Golden Mean.
Do not be afraid to make your focal image large even if it means cutting some of it off. The larger size will draw the attention of the viewer. If you're background has more weight then your focal image you run the risk of making your background the focus instead.
The Golden Mean was discovered by the Greeks in antiquity and has been used ever since. There is a ton of information out there involving mathematics and 1.618 but you don't need to know it. All you need to know is that things look best if placed between 1/2 and 1/3 up or down or even across in an signature. For example:
The arrow that bisects the focal image is not quite at 1/3 and the text is brought up just enough to prevent it from being centered in the signature.
Harmony & Contrast:
Usually these two principles are taught separately but I am going to cover them together. Harmony are the elements that are the same through your entire composition that brings it together and Contrast is the elements that you do differently to bring attention and excitement.
Harmony is created by the elements you carry through your composition such as using a certain type of style (surreal, grunge, realism) or line (curves, geometric, diagonal) or colors.
Contrast is those things that break the harmony and draw attention to themselves. It can be a contrast in light vs dark, color, line, style, or a combination of the above.
To see how both work together we will look at the Radial Signature:
The Radial Balance signature has a curved textured background. Those curves are mirrored by the swirl around the image and the curves in the outer border on the right. In contrast to that is the straight arrow the figure holds that draws your attention directly to her. Also the dark contrast in the gradient directly behind the image helps to hold your attention there.
You're focus or emphasis is where the eye is drawn in a signature.
There is many ways to create a focal point; in Formal Balance the focal point is always the center of the image, in Radial Balance it is the center of the radius, however when using informal balance it must be established using Proportion, Harmony, and Contrast. Nine times out of ten if you are unhappy with your signature you can find out why just by going through each of the previous sections and asking yourself how they apply to your signature. If they don't chances are that is where you have gone wrong.
It is very important that nothing pulls the eye away from the focal point or you will have a split focus. Watch the lines in your piece. The eye will follow strong lines where ever they point even if it is right out of the signature. Try instead to use the lines in your image to pull the eye inward to your focal point. If you can do it in a series of steps it will make the signature more interesting then if it is obvious where the focal point is from the beginning.
Most importantly remember everything that goes into the signature needs to have a design purpose. If it does not it will jar the eye and draw attention to itself whether you want it to or not.
That leaves us with pattern. Patterns are created through the use of a repeated elements such as a line, image, or texture. Using patterns can create harmony in the signature and anytime you break the pattern it will create a strong focal point.
Use of a pattern is optional. Because it does create such a strong reaction from the viewer it may not always be appropriate. It is also often difficult to mix patterns with other elements successfully so it is best to use elements that harmonize with your pattern as much as possible. An exception to that is the combination of a curve, a geometric, and a stripe. The Formal Balance signature was made with this combination.
Any two of the three would look incomplete but by using all three a pleasing combination is created.
There is many different ways to apply the Principles of Design to art work just as there are many ways to define them. A good basic understanding will help you analyze you work and see what con be done to perfect it. The use of multiple Principles, beginning with Balance and including Proportion, Harmony & Contrast, Focus, and even Pattern, can create more interest and more interesting signatures.
I hope that this helps someone as much as I find it helps me.