Scale and proportion basically refer to size. Scale means size i.e. large scale means big. However, unless you have a standard of reference, the term “big” is meaningless. Proportion means relative size as in size measured against other elements or against some mental norm or standard.
Scale and proportion are closely tied to emphasis and focal point. Large scale makes for an obvious emphasis especially in proportion to other elements of the composition.
The scale of art can be considered in several ways:
• Human scale – consider the scale of the work itself in relation to human size; Unusual or unexpected scale is attention getting. Sheer size does impress us.
• Context – consider the surroundings and the circumstances in which the art is displayed – does the scale of the work affect the meaning in that particular context?
• Internal proportions – scale and size are relative to the overall area of the format of the work; changes in scale within a design change the total effect of the design. The choice of scale and proportion should help to achieve the artist’s intentions.
• Contrast of scale – scale can be used to draw our notice to the unexpected or exaggerated, as when small objects are magnified or large ones reduced. A sudden change in scale draws attention.
• Scale confusion – deliberate change of natural scale to intrigue or mystify the viewer rather than to clarify the focal point – surrealism often uses this technique.
Proportion is linked to ratio. The proportion is judged to be correct if the ratio of one element to another is correct. The ancient Greeks sought to discover perfect proportion and developed the golden rectangle. This has influenced art and design throughout history and is found in growth patterns in nature. (click on the illustration above to enlarge)
Do you usually make pieces that are small or do you always work in a large format? How does switching to a different size format affect your work? Can you make three separate works about the same subject but vary the scale and proportion in the work? How do you think the viewer will feel about the change in scale/proportion and it’s affect on the meaning of the work?
Can you use contrast of scale or scale confusion in your composition? How does this exaggeration make you see your work differently? Do you use the “golden rectangle” in your proportions? What happens if you deliberately make a piece based on the “golden rectangle”?