God’s governing principles of good design are balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension.  These forces operate in the vast galaxies and under a microscope.

As the offspring of God, we instinctively create and employ our Father’s principles of design.  We invent tools and toys, houses and furniture, and cars and boats.  We feed our egos with designer fashions and our bellies with designer foods.  We can’t help ourselves in this compulsion any more than we can restrain sweating under duress, burping after a huge meal, or laughing at clumsy people caught on video.  

Creativity is a reflex.  Flash anything close to someone’s face and he’ll blink; tap his dangling knee and his leg impulsively kicks back - survival reflexes!  Have you ever been stopped by the police for driving a few miles per hour over the limit?  It’s quite natural to rattle off your story in hope of leniency - creative and squirmy reflexive behaviors!  

Countless stories leave plane-crashed or shipwrecked people marooned on that stereotypical tropical island.  They survive the “sink or swim” scenario.  “Do or die” becomes their mantra.  The castaways build shelters and live off the indigenous plants and animals.  Their creative instincts carve out survival - a new life.  Then one day a plane flies overhead.  The pilot smells the ascending aroma of a succulent wild boar on the rotisserie.  Circling the island and peering from his cockpit window, the pilot spies signs of life.  His curiosity and his hope of free lunch entice him to land.  He lands.  He meets the castaways, with whom he exchanges warm greetings, sips tropical juice from a coconut shell, and eats a lot of pig.  
The end?  No!


Have the islanders invested their creativity in building the ideal thatched treehouse in a paradise garden for naught?  Have they conquered the wilderness and begun to luxuriate in the plush jungle only to fly away?  There’s more to creativity than mere survival.  What?
John Adams wrote this to Abigail Adams; “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”  (John Adams to Abigail Adams, [post 12 May 1780] Adams Family Correspondence, 3:342,


Much to everyone’s amazement, the happy castaways never left the island.  Creative survival gave way to the creative building of a utopian heaven on earth.  After all, Jesus told us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).  Furthermore, they had artistic, peace-loving children who wrote poetry, wove clothing from jungle plants, and made musical instruments from large sea shells and hollowed boar bones.  They joined the symphony of wild creatures and praised God around evening campfires.  



Master the basics of survival.  Get food, shelter and clothing.  Feed your body and keep it alive; then move on to more noble endeavors.  Whether building a society that embraces the arts or an island paradise, we are builders, creators, who are ever moving toward peace and perfection.  It’s as though God has handed humanity this quest for the ideal.  As birds fly, fish swim and monkeys swing, we compulsively pursue the higher ground, the better way - perfection.  Our holy commission is to “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).  Jesus was not joking, exaggerating or lying when He spoke of perfection.  Come to think of it, everything Jesus said had to do with our journey to perfection!  Somehow, it must be attainable.  

We fulfill His commission by walking in what we know is right.  This means we must first believe Jesus’ commands and speak of them.  Next, we walk it out in obedience to the truth according to our conscience.  Our conscience is a gauge.  It comes as standard equipment in the human heart.  God is good!  While the remote peoples of the world may not have heard Jesus’ words about perfection, this universal truth is encoded in humanity’s spiritual DNA.  Everyone knows right from wrong.  There’s no escaping the quest for excellence.  

We experience balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension in life.  These are God’s design principles at work every day to nurture higher levels of perfection.  Nothing stays the same.  Erosion seems destructive while it’s actually creative.  The same is true of life.  Our old nature erodes while our new Christ-like nature evolves and matures.  God invites us to experience His redesigning process, which eradicates our sin nature while creating the picture of Jesus in our lives, from the inside out.  This is the process of Christ being formed in us.  This is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27).
Look at the big-picture timeline.  Each of us is the result of the original creation - the creation of Adam and Eve.  Zooming into the future, we see into the millennial creation, while today the creative processes of God are working in us.  We are becoming new creatures in Christ right now! (2Cor. 5:17)

Why study the God’s design principles?  He is creatively using His principles of design today as He continues His creative work in our lives (Eph. 2:10).  We are being transformed by His working in our hearts and minds (Rom. 12:1-2).  He’s bringing balance and unity where instability and chaos harassed us.  He’s resolving tension with harmony, while replacing bad habits with new patterns of holiness.  Amen!


How we move toward perfection determines if we smile or frown.  To have happy faces we must be obedient, yet outward obedience is never good enough.  Amaziah, King of Judah, did that which was right before the Lord, but not with a perfect heart (2Chr. 25:2).  If we obey the Ten Commandments and ignore Jesus’ exposition on them (Mt. 5-7), we’re ignoring His intent, the spirit of the Law.  In Deuteronomy 28:47, we read that God’s children didn’t serve Him with joyfulness and gladness.  Therefore, many curses came upon them.  The point is that perfection penetrates from the outside to the inside of the soul and spirit.  

Graphics is outward and visible, and by studying God’s design principles we’ll learn to create beauty.  By allowing these same principles to work in our hearts, we’ll become His graphic inwardly.  We should be the graphic to create the graphic.  


Beware of the pit of perfectionism.  This drive can become a consuming force, an obsession, a devilish taskmaster who has distorted the truth of grace.  He makes a slave of all who believe that greater human effort produces greater spiritual perfection.  It’s a lie.  Less human effort and total reliance on God’s grace empowers us toward inward perfection.  The fact is that we are already complete and perfect in Christ by His faith.  His faith is sure of what His grace will accomplish, as long our humility sustains us (Hab. 2:4, Col. 2:10).  

To remedy the angst of perfectionism, let these words paint a funny picture in your head: Contentment belongs to everyone who strings a carrot from a stick in the face of his mule, and enjoys the scenery while prodding his beast along the journey to perfection.  Be the wise rider.  (The following verses speak of becoming complete in Christ: 2Cor. 13:11, Eh. 4:13, Phil. 3:15, Col. 1:28, Col. 4:12, 1Thes. 3:10, 2Tim. 3:17.)


The key to our journey toward perfection has everything to do with the carrot.  What Is your carrot?  What is your vision?  Vision determines destiny.  Hold the highest standard, the biggest carrot, and God’s design principles will work in your life.  You’ll embody balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension.  These are God’s design principles.  You’ll become the principles of design.  You will own these truths and  use these truths/principles to create as He creates.  
Creativity without nobles obliges (a very noble carrot or goal) deteriorates to self-indulgence.  Nobles obliges compels the Creator and His children to create with kingdom purpose.  “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31).  We should design with destiny in mind.  Create images of everlasting Truth.


We’ve been excited about our maturation since kindergarten.  As five-year-olds, we weren’t content with singing the alphabet; we put the letters together to make words.  We put words together and created sentences.  Our sentences embodied meaning; we expressed our mental images with words.

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Fe Gg Hh Ii Jj 

Likewise, we’ve learned the alphabet of imagery, the visual elements: line, shape, form, texture and color.  With these we  articulate art.  Line, shape, form, texture and color are the survivalist’s basic markings of art.  Now let’s move on.  Cave paintings give way to the Renaissance masterpieces, just as island survival gives way to island paradise.  We’re taking mastery of the visual elements to the next level by exploring the principles of design: balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension.  

Design principles govern the arrangements of line, shape, color, form and so on.  Design is all about arrangement and function.  Why is your living room furniture strategically situated as it is?  Balance, movement and rhythm work together creating a sense of cohesiveness.  The furnishings contained in the volume of space get along; they’re related and interdependent.  

Simplicity often rules a good composition.  Here the young artist employed plenty of energy with strong spot-color and a variety of shapes and dynamic positioning.
        Line                                   Balance
        Shape                                Unity
        Form                                  Repetition
        Texture                              Movement
        Color                                 Tension

Think of design principles as God’s laws of composition - God’s laws of composing, combining, compiling, compartmentalizing, and commingling.  Composition and design are the intentional arrangement of visual components (visual elements) in the creative process.  

These visual elements are obviously visible, whereas the principles of design are invisible.  However, the Word says, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen...” (Rom. 1:20, Heb. 11:27).  The principles of design unite as a force, like the physics of wind.  Although we cannot see the wind, we can see its effects.  We feel the wind’s fury; we experience its gentle caress, and every velocity between these extremes.  The wind talks, she whispers and she howls.  Even so, balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension speak to us through the arts.  Deliberate arrangements of imagery create their own energy, their own wind, which communicates the message.  There is power in balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension.

We feed ourselves with our eyes.  This dinner plate holds edible and non-edible visual candy.  The final impact comes from  the visual elements (the stuff on the dish) and the power of the the principles of design which govern their arrangement.

Design principles apply to all creative expressions, from playing with mud to playing the piano, including dance, architecture, sculpture, drama, fashion design, auto body design, interior design, and the making of false teeth.  One must create beauty, regardless of occupation or medium.   

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (NIV Col. 1:16-17, Acts 17:28).  God’s design principles are innately woven into literally everything.  Yes, everything, because He has created everything that is visible and invisible.  Remember, we live in His gallery of creation.  


Such godly ideals of perfect balance, unity and harmony have their dark counterparts—imbalance, disunity and discord.  Combinations of these opposing forces create the drama of our universe: good versus evil, light versus darkness.  Just as God always uses the negative to create a positive outcome, so do His artists.  We employ the negative, the dingy tones, to accentuate the glory of the jewel tones.  We use visual tension and conflict to illustrate a truth.  Proverbs is replete with contrasts of right and wrong.  A magnificent painting has many effective ugly colors, which enhance its drama to speak its message.  Similarly, our unpleasant experiences can become the Master’s genius brushstrokes in our lives. 


God’s design principles are operative laws that shape our spirituality.  He uses balance and imbalance, unity and disunity, repetition and movement, and tension and resolve in the seasons of life to conform us to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29).  We are becoming His new creation (2Cor. 5:17).  The principles of balance and imbalance are inescapable in nature and in human relationships.  When an earthquake creates imbalance people desperately work to restore stability.  To spiritually lose one’s balance implies falling from grace.  

For example, young Joseph, son of Jacob, traveled through a gauntlet of design principles in becoming the leader God had purposed.  His coat of many colors symbolized future leadership and family position, which was confirmed in his dreams.  Psalm 105:19 says that “Until that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him.”  Perhaps God orchestrated the storyline of Joseph’s life to further perfect him and make him a graphic picture of many truths.  Let’s see him evolving as clay on a potter’s wheel from one level of becoming a new creature to the next. 
1.  Favored Son   -    Unity w/Dad, Tension w/ brothers    
2.  Sold into Slavery    -    Tension, Movement
3.  Favored by Potipher    -    Repeated Unity
4.  Imprisoned    -    Repeated Movement, Tension
5.  Favored in Prison    -    Repeated Balance and Unity 
6.  Forgotten in Prison    -    Repeated Tension
7.  Favored - Interpreter    -    Repeated Movement, Balance
8.  Privilege/Pressure of Leadership    -    Repeated Unity    

Enjoy the following graphic challenges as natural exercises with spiritual applications for godly living.  

Study each of these graphic images.  Critique each of them from the perspective of the one Principle of Design that accompanies the work.  Write one or two sentences that summarize how the design principle functions in the image.  Continue writing a personal critique of the image.  Be sure to note both positive and negative impressions.

     1. Balance

    2. Movement

    3. Tension

     4. Repetition

    5. Unity


You will create 5 images that exemplify the 5 principles of design.  The same original image file will be used for each of the 5 exercises.  Use Photoshop to manipulate the image as you overstate, exemplify and illustrate each of the principles of design. 

  Choose only one of the images from your personal collection of photos.  Make 5 copies of the file.

  Label the 5 files with your first initial, last name, and the name of the principle of design (balance, unity, repetition, movement, tension).  File names should look like this: jcilluffobalance.psd, jcilluffounity.psd, and so on. 

  Begin with the balance file.  Rework the image to maximize the idea of perfect balance.  The concept of balance is open to your personal interpretation.  Be free to say what you want about balance.  Use multiple layers, extreme cropping, cutting and pasting as well as all the editing possibilities of Photoshop.  Alter lines, shapes, forms, colors, and textures to illustrate the idea of visual balance.

  Repeat step 3 with each of the other principles of design files (unity, repetition, movement, tension).

Think of populating this site with your creations! 


-	The governing principles of design are balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension. 
-	As the offspring of God, we instinctively create.  Creativity is reflexive. 
-	We are builders; we are creators, who are ever moving toward peace and perfection.  We compulsively pursue a more perfect way of life. 
-	Jesus said “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect [complete]” (Mat 5:48). He was not kidding and there’s nothing lost in translation.  
-	Everything Jesus taught had to do with our journey to perfection!  Somehow, it must be attainable as we master balance, unity, good repetitions, positive movement and embrace tension as means for greater peace.
-	God’s principles of design are at work in our lives today as He continues building His character in our lives.  He removes our fallen nature and replaces it with His divine nature. 
-	King Amaziah did that which was right but not with a prefect heart (2Chr. 25:2) Perfection has more to do with being right than playacting the right behaviors.
-	God’s design principles are at work in our lives nurture maturity and perfection.
-	Vision determines destiny. 
-	The design principles are God’s laws of composition.
-	The principles of design are invisible forces that work like the physics of wind.
-	Balance, unity, repetition, movement and tension have inherent visual power.
-	There are counter forces for every positive force of the principles of design.
-	  Balance encounters imbalance; unity strives to survive amidst disunity; repetition of good battles wrong patterns of thinking and habits; Movement resists stagnation, and tension is embraced in the journey to peace. 
Joseph, the son of Jacob, experienced this formation process wherein the principles of design shaped him like clay on a potter’s wheel.  He walked through times of tension, repeated trials, forward movement, a balanced life and restored unity.


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