Kill Art Block NOW with Symmetry Tools

Symmetry can be a powerful tool for character generation. It’s also a murder weapon for art block.

Drawing with symmetry can be a very powerful tool for character creation. Many digital programs support symmetry, including Procreate, Photoshop, and Clip Studio Paint. Symmetry is my go to tool for experimentation when I’m feeling stuck in a rut. In this article, we’ll look at what symmetry is, how we can use it, and how we can expand on the results we get from the symmetry tool to make your work look more natural. Let’s start!

For this exercise, I’ll be demonstrating symmetry techniques using Adobe Photoshop. In my view, it’s not so much about what app you use as it is how you use the technique.

Photoshop’s symmetry tools appear in the Options bar when you select the Brush tool. There are many types of symmetry tools you can choose from.

For this article, we’ll focus on using vertical symmetry. With the Brush tool active, select Vertical from the Symmetry options. You’ll see a blue bar that you can move around. Drag it to a point in the middle of your canvas and hit Return.

The vertical symmetry tool in all its glory.

When you start drawing with your brush on one side of the symmetry tool, you’ll see a mirror image of what you’ve drawn appear on the other side. Using the vertical symmetry tool is a fast and easy way to play with shape, size and silhouette in your character designs.

A quick sketch using the symmetry tool.
Another quick symmetry sketch. You can keep the sketches simple…
…or more complex!

In the real world, people, by and large, do not have 100% symmetrical faces. You can test this by taking a selfie – slicing it in half and flipping one side over the other side.

Normal photo taken of the author
With symmetry applied. Taking the right side of the photo and flipping it horizontally. There’s a sense of uncanny valley.

Having perfect facial symmetry is not natural. It often exudes a synthetic artificiality that can give the viewer a sense of “uncanny valley“. Because of this we need to tweak the results we get from the symmetry tool to make our character more natural.

Let’s take a look at that third sketch from above and modify it to give the drawing some imbalance or asymmetry. The asymmetrical version (on the right) looks more visually interesting and appears to have more personality. We’ve given the character a more distinct hair style, cut off one of his horns, tweaked the eyes, and varied the teeth, all while keeping the basic silhouette of the character intact.

The sky’s the limit with the symmetry tool, but this article is meant to be a simple starting point for using it. There’s much more I have to say about this subject, but we’ll leave it here for now. Have fun!

The sky’s the limit when using the vertical symmetry tool.