Composition and Design

Composition and Design

Zed and I were having a discussion about artistic talent and having “an eye for art” when she asked about the mini landscapes that I painted. Many people think that they are not “talented” and “can’t draw or paint” and have never been to art school. I too have never been to art school and I used to think that I couldn’t draw. But I have since learned that you can teach yourself (or learn) these skills and you can also learn the basics of design as well as practice creativity. Once you start practicing those skills and add in the elements and principles of design, you too can have “artistic talent”. I truly believe that everyone is creative but most people let their creative muscle turn into a couch potato. Zed was interested in learning more about art and design and I hope that the rest of you are as well. (All the photos are mono prints using acrylic paint and a gelatine plate that I have pasted into my journal.)

monoprint turquoise

I am planning on writing a post about composition and design once a month or so. I am certainly not an expert on the subject but I have found that if I write about it, I learn a lot myself too. I will give lots of references of both online websites and books that can be found in your local library (hopefully). If you can’t find a specific book, don’t worry, just look in your library in the art and painting section. There are lots of good books available that can help you improve your “artistic eye”. I am actually updating some posts that I wrote over on my Permutations in Fiber blog that were called Design Focus Friday. I started writing those back in 2010. If you’re in a hurry, just go over there and search under “Design Focus Friday” and you’ll find all my old posts there.

monoprint peach

When I looked up the definition of design here are some of the answers I got:

  1. make or work out a plan for
  2. create mentally
  3. an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned outcome.

monoprint painterly

Now I think that we all have done that sort of thing when we created a piece of fiber art. I also have heard many people say that they want to create spontaneously and creating a design first would put a damper on your creativity. I think that you can do both because once you know the basics of design, even though you are creating “spontaneously”, you are using what you’ve learned in the past to create a piece that has a composition that works due to the elements and principles of design. What do you think?

monoprint green orange

Here is an overview of design elements and principles. These are pretty standard and although there are some variations noted in different sources, I’ve tried to provide a comprehensive list. To develop a composition, you will be using design elements arranged with the principles of design in mind. There are no really hard and fast rules but the design principles can guide you to create a piece that draws the eye and keeps the attention of your viewers so that the message you are trying to express comes through in your art. Think of the elements as your building blocks and the principles as guidelines to follow in how to place your elements to achieve your best work.

monoprint glue gree bronze

Elements of Design

  1. Line – A mark on the surface that can be thick or thin, smooth or jagged. There are many types of line such as vertical, horizontal, diagonal, actual or implied, contour etc.
  2. Shape –A line that comes together to form a 2 dimensional object which can be geometric or organic.
  3. Form – A 3 dimensional object such as sculpture with real volume or thickness. It can be implied 3 dimensional shape using shading, lighting or other techniques in a 2 dimensional work.
  4. Texture – The surface quality of the object whether it is rough or smooth. This can be actual texture or it can be implied by various techniques.
  5. Color – This refers to the hue used from the spectrum of colors. A basic color wheel can be used to determine a variety of color schemes in including monochromatic, complementary, analogous or triadic.
  6. Value – A property of color, value refers to the lightness or darkness in a composition. Contrast can be depicted by changes in the values you use.

monoprint ghost

Principles of Design

1. Center of Interest – Also called the focal point or emphasis, it is the way to catch the viewer’s attention. The center of interest is more important in the composition compared to the surrounding areas.

2. Harmony/Unity – The presentation of an image that is integrated and pleasing to the eye. Agreement exists between the parts and provides visual connection.

3. Balance – The distribution of the visual weight in a composition provides equilibrium to the piece. This can be symmetrical, asymmetrical, crystallographic or radial. All of the elements of design can be used to create balance.

4. Scale/Proportion – This refers to the comparative sizes of the components of the composition. It is relative, size measured against other objects or against a “normal”.

5. Rhythm – Refers to the movement of the viewer’s eye over repetitive patterns in the composition. It involves a clear repetition of an element in the piece.

monoprint black and red

So if you’d like, do a little research. Look at the links I’ve provided below. If you can find it, the book Design Basics by David A. Lauer and Stephen Pentak is wonderful. I found a copy in my local library and it was the first design book that I’ve been able to read through without falling asleep. Do you have a sketchbook or studio journal? Do you use it much? Here’s an opportunity to start. Take a look at artwork that interests you either online, at a museum or from a book of your favorite artist’s work. How did that artist use the elements of design? Are the principles of design evident? Go through the list above and ask yourself how the artist used each of the elements and principles in the work. Why does a certain piece catch your eye and another doesn’t? Print out some of your favorite artwork and paste them into your journal. Write down your ideas about why you like the pieces. Let me know how it goes and check back next month for the next post on using line in your work.

19 thoughts on “Composition and Design

  1. Yes. You got it. Even though I studied this in a college Design course, there is no reason why you can’t learn this on your own by studying a good book on Design. I have learned more on my own than I ever learned in a class.

    1. Oh, sorry, I actually pasted a link, but a huge photo has appeared and I am unable to edit my comment!

    2. Thanks Lyn, the photo is a good “inspiration” for my print. I do think it looks architectural. No worries about the size of the photo, you never know how links will react these days.

  2. Thanks, Ruth, for taking the time to write about design. It takes time and concentration to consider design in your art work, and there are folks who simply don’t want to spend the time necessary to do that–thus the couch potato artist. On the other hand, there’s much to be said for spontaneity and going with the flow. I do use design principles in my felted landscapes, but admittedly not 100% of the time.

  3. Wow, you’re tackling a big topic. I’ve had some formal and informal training, but I don’t always consciously think about those elements individually. Its great to have a refresher course. Thanks for putting this together. I truly believe it’s possible to be spontaneous and include the basic elements.

    1. Yes Marilyn, it is a big topic but every time I write about, I learn something new. So hopefully it will help everyone including me.

  4. Thanks for this, Ruth, I’m going to really enjoy this. I was thinking the same as Nikki. I’m fine with abstracts and placing things, but actually having a structured plan or design scares me a bit!

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