Thursday, March 06, 2014


The study of design elements. The building blocks of any composition. Objects that are available for us to arrange in our creative work.

I started in Florida taking some random pictures of scenes or things that created lines. 
Once I was back in Wisconsin I found myself still on this journey of collecting lines.

And, with lines you get shapes. A closed line = a shape.

It's all so simple and yet if I asked you to name the five elements of design right now, not to Google it but name them, quite a few of you would have that deer in the headlight look.

And, why is it important some of you ask?  I just paint or create what is inside of me, what needs to come out you say. I know this intuitively, you say.

And, perhaps you are the artist that does and you manage to create a combination of these elements that produces a beautiful cohesive, dynamic piece of art work. There are at least ten more artists standing behind you that don't. 

They almost get it right but something is missing, or the size or shapes are off or there is too little value contrast or the piece lacks texture. Perhaps our colors are off.

I'm not suggesting that we use a recipe to create but there are guidelines, a checklist of things that we can mentally go over as we work on a piece to see if we have potential issues developing. 

I don't know if a study has been done but I bet you could ask Quilt store owners about the volume of mid-range values, in fabric, that they sell.  A wise shopper of fabric will make sure that either in her stash or in her hands at the checkout counter she has some darks and lights in that mid- value color hue. 

As I have been sorting my fabric and putting it away I've found that a couple of interesting things.  One I often buy fabric that is what I think Purple only to bring it home and find out it is Blue Purple. If you look at a fabric color chart not a paint chart you will see that there is quite a difference and that difference might be critical in an art quilt. 
I also tend to buy in one value of color. Something I will have to adjust as I use my fabric.

I guess what I would say is that by studying the elements of design, these building blocks of shape, line, color, value and texture I have discovered that the things in a composition that often frustrate me or make me unhappy with the outcome have always come from ignoring these elements.
I may have a good sense of the Design Principles and how to use the elements but if I forget them or what they constitute I have a piece of artwork that bugs me. 

If I understand color theory, what happens to certain colors when they stand next to another color, how important it is to have various values of color in the piece to help create movement and harmony.  If I understand shapes and how important they are to scale and balance then I have a better chance of creating something that doesn't leave me asking myself the question, "What's missing?"

You can't come to the table and discuss the principles of design, if you don't understand how the elements, the building blocks are used. You can't use the building blocks if you don't understand what a design layout is. The road map, the bones of your structure. When all the parts of a design layout are there you know where to go.

Sure, layouts are "rules" and you can break them but if you do you have to make it work and I haven't personally met that kind of artist yet. The design layouts are tried and true. They go back centuries. People have already gone through the great works of art and charted the design layouts. Science has already figured out why our eyes see a certain design layout and mentally approve of it. 

It's not necessary for us to re-invent the wheel here, folks.
Let's swallow a little pride and refresh or learn what makes up a good design. Something that makes the viewer want to stand in front of your work and study it.

If you have a message, a theme, something that you have poured your heart and soul out into this piece don't you want to have it connect with a like minded soul? From ten feet away, don't you want that potential viewer to wander closer, to get a better look? Don't you want a connection there?

Do you understand that contrast, a principle, is something more than just light and dark colors?  That it's the push and pull kind of tension between opposite things, such as curved and straight lines or big and small shapes. How about smooth or jagged, simple or ornate and bright or grayed?

That too much harmony can be boring. That changing the size of something can create movement from front to back of your piece. 

If you use the Principles of Design, Principles of Elements and Design Layouts as simply a checklist, in your sketchbook, for your Theme and you jot down what your plan is you will find that you have set up outline of the plan. 

Your Theme and your Intention for that Theme actually written out will allow you to turn begin work, get yourself in the "flow" and create from your soul. 

Now go create.


1 comment:

  1. Bea, I am so glad to see this post. I have thought, off and on, about doing some posts about the elements of design. I think people that create often get stuck and don't have this very important information in their toolbox to help them out. Maybe I'll put it back on my list (and get back to blogging more) and expand on what you have prompted me to think about, again. Thanks, Susan