"Being an artist isn’t just a “right brain” activity---you must use ALL of your brain, body and spirit to create. When the creation is done, the whole is much more than the sum of its parts… and so is the creator." - Lyrae Perry

Symmetry vs. Asymmetry

Symmetry vs.  asymmetry – I was going to define those terms—but after reading the definitions I just said to h**l with it!  Too complicated !  LOL

Here’s a much better definition that all artists can relate to immediately and one you’ll like a lot better:


Do you know that it’s pretty darned easy to learn how to draw and paint symmetrically?  You can get quite good with a little practice.  What seems to be harder is rendering asymmetry.

Don’t believe me?  Have a look at children’s drawings of trees.  They tend to put even spacing on the leaves and branches.  I think it’s completely natural for us to do that even as adults.   Adults might have a more critical eye and see the imperfections in symmetry more easily than kids, but that’s beside the point.

I see unwanted symmetry in artworks all over the place, and I’ve done it too.  Interestingly, and most frustratingly, we all seem to have a tendency to draw or paint symmetrically, and you have to work pretty hard to override that tendency.   I’m always looking at my work with a critical eye. Walking away from it periodically,  coming back later in order to see where I need to make adjustments.  It’s important to take breaks from painting to rest and return with fresh eyes to catch symmetry issues and fix them.

Asymmetry is present in the faces of both animals and people even if we don’t notice it so much.   As a wildlife painter, I find that the differences are even less obvious in animals. In other words, they tend to be much more symmetrical than humans and you have to pay a lot more attention to the spot the small differences. The right and left sides of animals and people are going to be different, and completely unrelated to perspective.

My mom was a portrait painter and she was the person who first told me about how the right and left side of everyone’s face was really different.   She showed me what she was doing with each painting, and how just one little brush stroke or dot of paint could make a big difference in how someone looked.   Those little blobs of paint she carefully added literally made a huge difference in capturing the person’s face properly.   Her draftsmanship was amazing.   Mom understood very well how asymmetry played a big part in the way a person looks, and she became a master at painting the tiny differences. She loved painting children, and it really showed. Their features are a lot less chiseled and dramatic than adults with softer color, fewer shadows…which makes them pretty difficult to do well.

I really admired my mom’s nearly perfect powers of observation and the ability to paint portraits in oil so effortlessly. She didn’t just make a painting look like the person; it actually was infused with their personality. Everything was in the fine details of those imperfectly shaped little blobs of paint that were not any color you could ever name.

I will always be grateful for the hours I got to spend watching her do her magic on the canvas in the back room of our big house.  I would love to go back in time and be able to soak up more of that.  I still have a lot of her paintings, and every one of them is an art lesson.  I want to create a page with some of her art on this site as a thank you.  I know she would have loved that… XOXOX Mom!

A Fun Exercise You Can Try Too:

I wanted to compare the differences between the right and left sides of our faces, and I remember reading something about a photographer who had printed some copies of a full-face image and cut them up and reassembled them. I took a photography class back in the day when you actually developed film and created prints in a dark room. I know, I know…ancient history! But it was a lot of fun.

One of the projects I wanted to do in my photography class was a symmetry comparison photo. I took a picture of my daughter and printed three copies. One original print of her face straight on and two extra copies that would be cut in half vertically along the center line of her face. One of the images has to be reversed—so I flipped the negative and printed one image.  This will be one of the images that will be cut in half, so you can match the same sides of the face.

I carefully aligned the two right sides together, and then the two left sides. Then laid out all three images in a row for comparison. It’s very interesting to see the differences, and each image had its own personality and mood.


My daughter and I agreed that the matched right sides made her look sweeter and more pensive than the picture with the two left sides. We didn’t really like either of the “matched-side girls” all that much. As her mother, I can look at any one of them and still recognize my daughter, even if the pictures seem off a bit. But I think it’s kinda creepy when we see our own images split up like that. My daughter and I also agreed that imperfections or lack of perfect symmetry is still the best—being imperfect is not a handicap in any way. I like everything to be perfectly imperfect—it’s so much more interesting!

This experiment really drove it home for me about how important it is to really pay attention to tiny differences between the right and left sides of a face–animal or human.

Here are some links if you’d like to read more about symmetry and the fascinating studies being done as they relate to physical and mental health. I had no idea there has been so much work done in this area.



Just for fun, there are a couple of sites you can click on at the bottom of the Wikipedia article where you can upload your own photo and see what you’d look like if both sides of your face were the same. Feel free to post your pictures here if you like.



  1. Nancy J. Jones says:

    Lyrae, I just had my first look at your blog……….I love it and it is filled with great info. Reading your comments about your Mom and her art made me tear up….I hope you do post photos of her work…that would be a lovely tribute to her and a visual treat for us all!

    • Lyrae Perry says:

      Nancy! Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so happy you like the content and the site. I needed a big towel when I was writing that about mom and her art as well. I am going to get some of her work posted on a page as soon as I can. I think my brothers will be happy to see that too. :-)

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