What makes a woodworking project beautiful, appealing, or attractive? You can probably go through a furniture store and point out immediately what pieces you like and don’t like. The harder question is, can you explain why? And if you set out to make something better, how do you go about designing it? The answer lies partly in using widely recognized design principles that can be applied to many different forms of art.

Artistic Design Principles
Artists refer to a series of design principles that guide the creation of a piece of art. These principles describe the techniques artists use to make people want to look at their work a little longer. You probably recognize them as techniques you apply in your work, even if you don’t use the same words to describe what you do. Here’s a look at some of these basic elements of design and how you can harness them in your woodworking projects to add beauty and appeal to your work.

Contrast: When you hear “contrast,” your mind may immediately jump to light versus dark. Without a doubt, combining contrasting shades and hues of wood beautifies any project. Don’t stop there though. When it comes to contrast, think of things like texture, line, and shape. Can you make sharp corners and smooth, rounded lines work together? Try combining woods with different textures or intensity of the grain. Contrast is one of the easiest design principles to apply - use it when picking out knobs, shaping legs, or designing an inlay.​

Symmetry: Symmetry refers to the balance of elements on both sides of an art piece. Woodworking projects tend to rely heavily on symmetry (especially for functional items). It makes sense for a bed, dresser, chair, or cabinet to be symmetrical. A dresser with four drawers on the left side and five on the right might feel wrong to most people looking at it. Symmetry creates a feeling of balance and correctness that people generally find appealing.​

Asymmetry: Woodworking doesn’t have to be bound by symmetry, though! If you want to think outside the box, try your hand at making them asymmetrical. A clock, butcher board, or decorative table needn’t be symmetrical to be functional.​

Balance: Balance is related to symmetry and asymmetry. An object can be balanced whether it’s symmetrical or not. This is a good principle to apply when designing a set of pieces, like bedroom furniture. If there are pieces of different sizes, the larger pieces will naturally draw the eye. Make the smaller pieces stand out more through contrast, intricate details, or the use of unique shapes.​

Emphasis: Emphasis refers to those parts of a project that have the most visual “weight.” What is it that you want someone to notice first when they see your piece? Emphasis usually relies on contrast, so look at the size, color, or shape of your piece and add more contrast to the elements you want to emphasize.​

Every artist has their own unique style - woodworkers as much as painters or photographers. No matter your style, you can apply these design principles to improve the visual appeal of the pieces you create.

We love hearing from you. Do you think about these principles when designing a piece or is it ingrained into your subconscious (pun intended)? Let us know in the comments!