Fundamentals of Comic Book Book Art Part 8: Principles of Design

by Matt Russell - Posted 1 week ago


Welcome, my CryptoComic Compatriots! Holy crap, we are almost done. We have been working on the Fundamentals of Comic Book Art in this 9 part series. It seems like only yesterday, we just started.

After an enlightening spotlight with Dan Cote (Zen: Intergalactic Ninja, RE) I decided to try to enlighten you all with the Fundamentals of Comic Book Book Art Part 1: What are they? Here, I start your journey by explaining the basics.

In the Fundamentals of Comic Book Book Art Part 2: Construction, I show you how to build up everything from simple shapes. Once you master the simple shapes, the world is your oyster and you can draw anything.

We move from Construction to Perspective in Fundamentals of Comic Book Book Art Part 3: Perspective. Here we learn exactly how everything fits into place using 2 and 3 point perspective.

We jump back to the human body with Fundamentals of Comic Book Book Art Part 4: Anatomy. Now that we know how things fit together in a landscape, we see how the human body fits together.

In order to give you a little break from the human body, with Fundamentals of Comic Book Art Part 5: Color Theory & Light, we jump back to basic shapes and see how light and color react to them. It’s strange to think that color is simply light. Check that post to learn what I’m talking about.

In Fundamentals of Comic Book Book Art Part 6: Composition we show you how to draw the eye to the correct location on your image plane and how to begin to think about design and layout.

We jump back to the human body in order to learn how best to draw a quick sketch and not make it look stiff and or just plain off.  For more information check out the Fundamentals of Comic Book Book Art Part 7: Gesture Drawings and learn some great warm-up exercises for each day.

Now that we are done backtracking, we are ready to learn exactly how to put everything together. Lest start talking about the Principles of Design.

What are the Principles of Design in Comics?

I am forced to break out the old textbooks for this post. It’s amazing how much of the technical details I either forgot or just don’t consciously think about anymore. I guess this proves why it’s good to keep going back and checking out the fundamentals.

Basically, the Principles of Design explain the way we combine various elements into our art. This builds very heavily off Composition. How do we combine everything that we have learned in the past and still make an image look good?


Distributing the visual weight of an image by utilizing objects, texture, colore, and simple spacing. Think about a scale. Each side of the image should weigh the same.

If you don’t believe me still look at simple designs such as a ying yang, the bat symbol, various religious symbols, and so on.

Those are examples of symmetrical balance. They are the same on both sides. Basically if you can hold a mirror up to half of the image and see no difference, then you have achieved Symmetrical balance.

There is also asymmetrical balance where both sides are different, but still balance. Think about the “S” shield from Krypton. Some other notable examples of this in art is DiVinci’s Last Supper, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother known as “Whistler’s Mother,”





Now we have to move onto the radial balance. This is where the elements are arranged around a central figure. Think of a pie cut into many equal pieces. Each piece comes to a point in the middle. They may not be symmetrical but they are very similar. Check out the image below of Melozzo da Forlì, St. Mark’s Sacristy for the perfect example.



This is where the composition really comes to play. What draws your attention? What is designed to stand out? Below is a prime example of emphasis from the legendary Claude Monet, with his Impression, Sunrise, 1872

This vivid sunset stands out amongst the weaker greys and blues of the surrounding scenery.

Color, texture, shape, and size all play a huge role. How do you manage to emphasize one single object and maintain balance?


We are not talking about dance (although that is considered and art style).

We want the viewer’s eyes to cut a path through the artwork, otherwise, what's the point of drawing anything other than our main focal point. Movement throughout the image can be created using lines, edges, shapes, color and other elements within the comic page.

Check out that Starry Night as shown above and check out how it takes your eyes on a rollercoaster ride through the piece. How do you convey movement? In comics, try speed lines.

Has Flash every been able to convey movement without speed lines? Hell yes! Check out the cover of Flash Issue 762’s cover and you can see a great deal of inferred movement, granted, slow movement, but movement nonetheless.


I think we all understand what a pattern is. Simple repetition can really create unity and bring a cohesion to an image. We’ve been looking for patterns since we were young and given certain toys as a child; block in a square hole ring any bells?

Telephone Booths' by Richard Estes is such a unique example. This highly detailed painting is actually based off a series of photographs taken outside the famous department store Macy’s. This masterpiece represents the confusion and clamor of busy life in New York City.


Repeating a theme within a pattern can make the artwork seem active. This adds an element of unity to a page.

Now, I will never understand the appeal to Andy Warhol’s “Campbell Soup Cans” personally. Maybe Men in Black III had it right, and he was an alien? I can personally set aside my personal bias to appreciate this work and the repetition nature.

He must have done something right because in May of 2006, it sold for $11,776,000. That's probably more than I will ever see in my lifetime (hopefully not, but that's the dreamer in me).


The feeling of unity created when all parts relate to one another. This includes size, amounts, or numbers of an object. When drawing or painting realistically, proportion is important. If the proportions are incorrect, then the resulting image will look less realistic or abstracted.

The Greek mathematician and sculptor Phidias used the golden ratio when designing the Parthenon, which still stands on the Athenian Acropolis in Greece. As shown above.

According to the Guardian: (For the full article, click here)

"Shapes that resemble the golden ratio facilitate the scanning of images and their transmission through vision organs to the brain. Animals are wired to feel better and better when they are helped and so they feel pleasure when they find food or shelter or a mate. When we see the proportions in the golden ratio, we are helped. We feel pleasure and we call it beauty."


Organized movement. When several elements are combined in order to create a feeling of flow of an object. This is actually harder than it looks.

Think of an orchestra playing a symphony on a canvas. Much like the image above, the S-shaped ripples along the shore line create its own rhythmic beat and the small line of boats and people along the shore break up that melody with their own vibrato.


Every image needs an element of harmony between all it’s working parts. Without that, we lose the sense of completeness.

I have always been fascinated by the work of Salvador Dali. part of that comes from his strange behavior (story to follow) but much of it comes from his art. In the image above, he uses spheres to paint his wife Gala Dali.

As promised, here are some strange facts about Salvador Dali. He believed he was his own reincarnated brother, he designed the famous candy wrapper for Chupa Chups, he hosted weekly orgies, and he was obsessed with cauliflower...

He once filled a Rolls Royce with it and drove from Spain to Paris. The reason being “Everything ends up in the cauliflower” and was attracted to the “logarithmic curve.” This guy was so strange that I would love to do a full article about this guy.

Now that we have derailed the topic of unity enough, let's jump back to the last principal of design; variety...


Seeing the same layout over and over again can become rather boring. By switching it up once and awhile, we “cleanse the pallet” if you will and begin to see something new.

For this we are again looking at the Batman cover by Chris Daughtry.

I absolutely love how Superman’s color scheme stands out so perfectly along the dark tones of Gotham.

To Be Continued

It’s time to call it a day and set up the final post in this 9 part series. We will be discussing the materials and tools of an artist. This isn’t typically associated with the Principles of Design, but it really should be.

Until next time, I can’t wait to see your work. Create a Living journal in the marketplace and post a link in the comments below so we can watch you grow right before our eyes. Join us next week as we bring the comics topics!