Allyson, This is a VERY difficult question. It depends on the type
of design desired and very much on personal taste. After a while
you do develop a sense for what works and what doesn’t, but it’s
hard for me to disseminate that
What are the basic elements of a "complete" design ?
As you have noticed, intuitively, a complete design needs to be
balanced. This is fairly straight forward with symmetrical
geometric designs, but less clear with say a asymmetrical organic
design. Although it can be harder to pull off the clean geometric
design, as everything has to be perfect. If you are interested in
finding out more about how to create a balanced asymmetrical (not
necessarily organic) design I would recommend going to your local
library and looking into a school of design call the "Bauhaus"
which started in Germany in the early twentieth century and moved
to the U.S. around World War II. Most design since then is
influenced this movement.
I look at other people's work and try to see what they got
That’s a good way to learn, borrow some elements from an existing
piece and incorporate them into your design. Once again you can
look to recent and ancient history for references. It helps to
know what has come before and learn from an others experience.
I hope this has been of some help,
Ed Colbeth Metalsmith, UMASS Dartmouth
Taunton, Massachusetts (Soon to be Deer Isle, Maine)