Week Four Focus: Principles of Design
Recapping Week Three:
Our third week went fantastically. Participation was very high - thank you to all the new members for jumping in so eagerly!! Really good to see. I am overjoyed to see so many people carrying the knowledge of each week over to the next. Keep up the great work. Go for that pro mark! A cookie for the first one!!
Theories of Design
There are two lists commonly taught in art schools, but often skimmed over or not given due diligence. One list is the ‘Elements of Design’, and the other Principles of Design’.
Elements of Design:
Line – Here we are talking about the mark made by a brush (be it digital or analogue). Lines vary in length, pressure, thickness of the brush and the ‘treatment’ or the subtlety of its usage. Here we can also talk about edges, or the lines made when two shapes meet.
Shape – Here we are referring to geometric shapes within a painting that are self contained. A positive shape within a painting automatically creates a negative space counterpoint to it.
Direction – Be it vertical, diagonal, horizontal, direction gives different feelings of action or momentum to the piece.
Size – literally the relative size of elements in a painting.
Texture – The textural properties of a painted element. This describes surface quality, ie hard, rough, smooth, wet.
Colour – We have discussed this in week 3
Value – The lightness or darkness of an object – also called tone, and also previously discussed in colour.
Principles of Design:
The other list is the one we will be expanding on and discussing this week. The principles of design are a little more abstract and merit further investigation, however they are a large part of the mysterious and ambiguous term we call ‘composition’. Composition is often confused with directional lines – and people can wrongly associate composition with visual edges that direct the eye. In fact, when we talk about composition, we are referring to how ALL elements of the picture are combined – that unique combination is your composition. This includes overlap, perspective, colour, all of these elements, and where they are placed on the canvas and what relationships that creates.
Although lists of the principles of design vary, I believe these to be the most central and important:
Proportion: Here we are talking about the proportional relationships between objects. We can also call this scale – although proportion is a helpful term in indicating the two ways it is approached. The first is as a way to achieve a believable illusion – in other words, we are trying to achieve correct proportion. Humans should look in scale within their own anatomy and their surrounds, people are shorter than trees, and so on. The other way, more often called scale, is skewing the proportions of objects to each other for dramatic or narrative effect. For instance, a giant ant attacking a city. When thinking about proportion, also think about the effect that object sizes have on the viewer relative to their position – ie a massive building that dwarfs the viewer looking up at it.
Balance: Here we are taking a concept that pertains most specifically to 3 dimensional objects, and applying that to our 2d methodology. Balance in 3d is easy to conceptualise – if an object loses balance, it tips over. In the same way, our eyes can ‘tip over’ if the composition of our painting is not balanced. There are two types of balanced compositions; symmetrical and assymetrical. Symmetrical compositions are sometimes known as ‘formal’ compositions, and are, as they sound, symmetrical around one or more axis. Approximate symmetry applies the same symmetry, but with objects that are slightly different but still have the same overall visual weight. Assymmetrical symmetry is more vagure but also more useful to us in creating dynamic compositions. Here we attempt to arrange two (or more) distinctly different objects in space in such a way that they balance the viewer’s eye out as a whole. We can think of this as in physics.
Imagine a fulcrum (pivot point) with a long plank on it that represents your canvas. On this canvas, you have to place two blocks. One is large, and one is small. If you placed each block at each end of the plank, it would tip to the side with the heavier block. However if you place the small block at the end of the plank on its side, and on the other side you place the large block close to the pivot point, the plank will balance. The same applies in composing your painting!
Rhythm: We can liken this principle of design directly to rhythm in music, where we are talking about a regular, timed beat. We are speaking of timed intervals and patterns within the overall structure that set a pace, mood, or tempo. To achieve this visually, we replace musical notes with shapes of colour, lines, light and so on. Linear balance can be seen in masterful gesture drawings, where the artist varies the weight of their stroke to indicate the pushing and pulling of the forms of the body. Repetition and alternation refer to patterns created in the work – for instance repeating a line of trees into the background can create repetition and a beat, or alternating the colour of armour plates on a chestpiece from silver to gold to silver to gold could again create a rhythm. Creating a good rhythm in your piece makes it read smoothly, just like in a song, and when the beat drops or a note goes missing that breaks our illusion.
Emphasis: This is what we have been talking about all along when we speak about focal points. Emphasis indicates our ability to break the rhythm or pattern where appropriate and draw attention to the essential message or focus of our painting. You can create emphasis through repetition, contrast, colour, texture, pattern, shape, size, scale, position and detail. We use emphasis as artists to call attention to something we wish the viewer to focus on, or merely to ensure enough variation in the composition that the viewer remains interested.
Finally, Unity describes the cohesion of all of the above principles and elements, and the degree to which we feel they are a successful whole. When we achieve unity, we achieve a strong illusion and nothing feels like it does not belong in the painting (even if it is contrasting highly, it should feel like the focus, not the ugly step brother). Artists strive to achieve unity through consistency of elements – things like not breaking from an established cool/warm scheme, or keeping all of the elements consistent to a time period, or designing a creature that functions realistically in its environment including all elements of anatomy, coloration, scale and so on. Consistency and cohesion achieve unity.
Study Task 1:
Find one painting, classical or contemporary, that uses one of the design PRINCIPLES to great effect, and discuss this.
Study Task 2:
Take your production piece from week 3 and using the same design principle from study task one, improve your painting with that design principle. For instance you may notice that you have no repetition, so you can add in some repeated elements to establish a rhythm.
This week I want to see ALL OF WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED coming to fruition. This week I will be giving you a MARK OUT OF 10 for the UNITY of your piece. I will be including consideration of all we have learned, right from perspective, atmosphere, colour through to the principles of design and will be judging how well you can combine all of these elements. Consider balance, rhythm, proportion, emphasis. You will be judged on the unity of all of these elements.
The topic is to do a painting of a castle.
It must be:
• Full Colour
• Set on EARTH, during DAYTIME (important for week 5)
• Show the full castle at a reasonable distance – not just a spot on the horizon. Enough to see perspective and design.
As usual there will also be a discussion mark. This is a BIG week’s work – next week we will be backing off a step and having a half time easy week - so work your butts off for this one!
THURSDAY (anywhere in the world).