Composition and Design – Shape

Composition and Design – Shape

We’re off to our next design element, shape. So what can shape do for you? Or perhaps the better question is what can working through these design elements do for you? Are you ever dissatisfied with how a piece turned out but aren’t sure why? Do you ever wish that you had planned ahead a little more instead of just throwing more embellishments at it? Learn more about design now because you’ll really be able to use what you learn every time that you make something new. Yes, it takes some effort but I’ve found that it’s fun once you get started!

Free Motion Stitching on Felt - Clematis

A shape is an area that is separate from other areas and/or its background. The separation can be by a boundary line or a change in value/color, texture or any other difference that lets you see that the shape is different. The boundary can be an outline or a distinct edge like cut paper, a rough edge like torn paper or a soft edge like a smear of charcoal.

sketchbook warm geometric

Mechanical shapes are those made with straight lines, circles and/or parts of circles — the shapes you can make with a ruler and a compass. These are man-made shapes sometimes called geometric shapes. They can be simple or complex. Think of the inside of a clock or other piece of machinery. The feeling mechanical shapes give is of control and order.

Front of Sketchbook Cover

Organic shapes are shapes found in nature — the shapes you draw freehand. They are generally complex and have a natural, spontaneous feel to them. Think of the enormous variety and complexity of plant and animal life.

Purple and Blue Stamped Sketchbook Page

Forms and shapes can be thought of as positive or negative. In a two-dimensional composition, the objects constitute the positive forms, while the background is the negative space. For beginner design students, effective use of negative space is often an especially important concept to be mastered.

Some artists play with the reversal of positive and negative space to create complex illusions. The prints of M. C. Escher often feature interlocking images that play with our perception of what is foreground and what is background. Other artists take these illusions of positive and negative images to even greater lengths, hiding images within images. Perception of form and shape are conditioned by our ingrained “instinct” to impute meaning and order to visual data. When we look at an image and initially form an impression, there is a tendency to latch on to that conclusion about its meaning, and then ignore other possible solutions. This may make it hard to see the other images. Training the eye to keep on looking beyond first impressions is a crucial step in developing true visual literacy. (photo from the M.C. Escher site).

B&W Design

A shape or form can be open or closed. An open form involves placing an element in the work so that it continues beyond the frame, either literally or figuratively. If the main subject of our piece is shown in its entirety within the frame, it is a closed form.

OK, so now you know a little more about shape. What can you do with shape in your work this month?

  • How does the composition change if you emphasize the positive shapes? How about the negative shapes?
  • With one main shape in a composition, would your piece be more interesting if the main object was integrated into the background?
  • What do you see when you look at abstract shapes? Does the shape represent or symbolize something to you? How does this affect your connection with the viewer of your work?
  • How can you move the shapes around in your composition to affect the depth perception in a piece?
  • How does the size of the shape change where it appears to your eye? Does a larger size bring the piece forward? Smaller size?
  • What does overlapping shapes do to your composition?
  • How does making a shape an open form change your composition? Closed form?

Leave me a comment about shape and how you use it in your work. If you want, you can share with everyone on the forum how you use shape in your work.




13 thoughts on “Composition and Design – Shape

  1. I am definitely guilty of throwing more embellishments on pieces 🙂 I do use lines and blocks of patterns occasionally, when doing plaid inspired pieces, sometimes the lines are the focus, sometimes they highlight the blocks, other than that the piece I made with prefelt from Heidi Feathers is probably the most structured use of shape I’ve done. Thanks for this, Ruth 🙂

    1. Thanks Zed, I think we’ve all done that at one point or another, adding more embellishments. You are definitely more about color in your work but I think it might be interesting to add some solid color shapes kind of like Rothko.

  2. I definitely tend toward geometrics. you can see that in tomorrows post. Very structured too though I am trying more open and less ordered things too. I have a terrible time doing foreground. I do understand perspective. I wish I could remember how my grad 9 art teacher taught us to draw it out.

    1. Thanks Ann. Yes, your post is definitely got some good shapes in it. It is good to try things you wouldn’t normally do, expands your design horizons. I have to try more geometric things as I am very much the organic girl. I am sure there are plenty of youtube or online instructions for perspective.

      But with your city example, you could try putting some of the buildings in front of other taller buildings to get a sense of depth.

  3. I’m definitely not a pattern person. While I do plan some things, others I find more satisfaction in creating as I go. A lot to think about…

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.