Category Archives: Themes

Design Principle – Symmetry

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Versailles

After an enforced break caused by hackers, I hope that I can quietly continue posting free articles about enhancing your creativity. Ahh hackers – very clever people with a lot of creativity; if only they would use their powers for good in the world instead of nuisance. Of course, some do.

So I suppose an article about symmetry is an appropriate segue from the idea of good and evil in the world. Symmetry is all about reflection. By repeating and reversing the line, shape, space, and motif of an image, balance is maintained. There is a line symmetry, and point symmetry (like a snowflake). In the natural world, with the exception of snowflakes and atomic structure, the symmetry is approximate. But beauty, such as of face and form, is biologically tied to our perception of symmetry.

When we were children first playing with paint, one of our earliest endeavors might have been folding piece of paper in half with smooshed paint and opening it again to see the magical mirror image results. Paper garlands of cutout figures are exercises in visualizing symmetry. I think they are fun too.

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/petritent/2104771626/">a song under the sugar sugar</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licen

Snowflakes

Symmetry is a function of Balance. The greater, or more absolute the symmetry, the more formality in a layout or design. The human hand imposing on the natural world often emphasizes the orderliness of symmetry. Absolute formality of architecture and landscaping is not in favor right now. Compared to ordinary homes, such places may have a forbidding quality, beautiful but austere, rather than a sense of welcome. However in times past the grandeur of such architecture was an indicator of class and meant to be very impressive. Perhaps that is still the case. It works in music also. Consider the very formal and dignified march by Edward Elgar, “Land of Hope and glory”, which has an undulating melody line and repetitive rhythm to the note values.

On the other hand symmetry can also be comforting because of repetition. For example children’s songs and nursery rhymes often have a sense of symmetry and stepping, such as “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”.

In point symmetry the focal point is always the center. However balance can be attained through asymmetry as well. Interest, conflict, surprise – all of these can be created by the interruption of a symmetrical scheme. Rhythm is often a function of symmetry, ongoing, even relentless, so that a sudden change becomes the focal point. The eye or the year or the emotions, are drawn to the moment where the symmetry is disrupted.

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Taj Mahal

These are all things to consider when making art of any kind. I like the old drawing exercise that consisted of cutting a photograph in half and re-creating it in pencil as a mirror image. With all our Elements and Principles of Design, when we start looking for them we see them everywhere. I’m looking out my window and I can see my ornamental pear tree that over time has been vaguely pruned into a rough symmetry. The dictates of urban living, to wit the footpath on one side, and have meant that the tree is not as perfect as it might have been. However balance and symmetry are very important for a healthy tree, and the leaves show lovely symmetry.

A visual experiment in disrupting symmetry to create a focal point

 

Create an abstract piece using line symmetry. It might be painting or a collage. Then cut out a simple symmetrical geometric shape, such as a circle or square, in a contrasting color and place it around in different places on your canvas. What feels balanced? What feels uncomfortable?

Go further. Create a piece using point symmetry and experiment again with your “disruptive influence”.

Design Principle – Unity

Vintage Architectural Print

Unity is the feeling that all the Elements in a design work together. A work of art can be judged as successful through its sense of Unity.

Certainly Unity can be very comfortable. The adjectives for a Unified piece might include pleasing, pretty, sleek, relaxing and beautiful. Unity is easy on the eyes and comprehension.

This doesn’t mean that there is no contrast or that the effect may not be challenging or discomfiting. For example atonal music can feel uncomfortable but has an internally unified structure. Art that is meant to challenge preconceptions or make the viewer feel intentionally off balance, might be intentionally shifting the emphasis between different elements.

John Lovett postulates that Unity between subject or content and medium or realization is even more important than unifying internal elements: “Relating the design elements to the idea being expressed in a painting reinforces the principal of unity.” Therefore Unity expresses the theme.

From Wikipedia: “According to Alex White, author of The Elements of Graphic Design, to achieve visual unity is a main goal of graphic design. When all elements are in agreement, a design is considered unified. No individual part is viewed as more important than the whole design. A good balance between unity and variety must be established to avoid a chaotic or a lifeless design.”

White considers Unity to be the middle ground.

Unity is often detectable by a feeling. Consider the balance in a piece, whether individual elements have a visual relationship, whether the theme and narrative in the design or art work are supported by the Elements or whether incongruities add to the meaning or message.

Unity is the feeling of satisfaction at the end of a great novel, or the catharsis at the end of a wonderful play or movie. It’s the enjoyment of a pleasing gourmet meal where every dish enhances the next, the charm of a pretty garden, the enjoyment of your own special room when you are surrounded by the things you love.

Mother and Child Layout

Mother and Child Layout

 

 

Aesthetic Preference – Mid Century Modern

Rialno Designs

As we move forward into the new century, Mid-Century Modern refers to a period increasingly distant in the past. In this case even the word “Modern” refers to what now seems a quaint retro aesthetic – but one that has seen a rediscovery in recent years, especially in interior décor and furniture.

The Mid Century Modern style is characterized by simple, geometric shapes with an emphasis on the horizontal. Related to Danish Modern, the woods of furniture tend to be light in color. Surface details are minimal, with the emphasis on repeated shapes rather than textures.

Furnishings are often low in over all height but still float above the floor on think legs, rather than anchored with weight like Traditional or Art Deco styles. Close to Minimalism, the furniture tends to sleek and slim – never overstuffed or puffy. Alternatively, pieces display amoeba type shapes, again reflecting the post war fascination with science, and new technology.

Stylized botanical print

The textiles and art work of the era include barkcloth – a heavy plain weave cotton – usually printed in either large muted stylized florals or sci-fi/technology themed motifs. It was the dawn of the atomic age, and the designs that looked so futuristic then, look so fun and retro today. Both original yardage and reproductions of these fabrics are available today, and are used to restore original pieces as well as make focal point or accent pieces.

Vintage Mid-Century Modern pieces look cool upholstered with contemporary fabrics and colors. Wooden pieces like sideboards or floor lamps tend to work great as individual statement pieces. If you furnish a whole room with the style using reproduction textiles, you might find you look like you live in a 1960’s sitcom.

Finding it

  • In the 1959 scandalous melodrama A Summer Place, the film shows a pointed visual distinction between the traditional Victorian style boarding house, the titular summer place, and the new Frank Lloyd Wright designed modern home where the unfaithful spouses take up residence. Ultimately they are considered the better people, the film having gone to considerable lengths to highlight the inadequacy and downright evil of their first spouses.

Interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Clinton Walker House as used in the movie. The public living areas are on the street level, while you go downstairs to the bedrooms.

(In an interesting piece of cultural trivia, the posters of the American version of the hit film feature the young lovers, Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee, as the beleaguered lovers who learn the folly of judgmental attitudes. However the Italian versions of the poster highlight the parents’ steamy sexuality, and their story of love rediscovered. I can only imagine this reflects the different mores and attributes of the ideal between the two cultures.)

  • Jacques Tati’s humorous masterpiece, Mon Oncle (1958) makes much of some of the extreme characteristics of the futuristic style, especially the furniture.
From Jaques Tati's Mon Oncle

The interior of the modern home

Life in the future

  • The USS Enterprise  NCC-1701
Photopin.com

Photopin.com

  • North by Northwest (1959) – it is interesting that this architectural style was often used to signify wealth and luxury.

To Take Lessons or Not

Art doll

Art doll available on my Etsy

I believe that creativity is the foundation of all human learning from the time we are infants. Human infants are hardwired to learn, develop and communicate. Children apply creative thinking to all their play and enjoyment. Creativity itself is a natural state, that unfortunately can be squashed by lessons, tests and strictures at the wrong time, even by well meaning teachers.

For this reason I believe it is crucial that any kinds of creativity lessons or classes:

  • be freely chosen by the learner, for their own reasons
  • be skills based, rather than trying to teach creativity itself
  • that teachers consider themselves facilitators of the learner’s agenda, rather than insisting that what they want to teach is more important – you can always write a blog to carry your own message 😉
  • have a transparent grading or feedback system structured around the student’s goals
  • be flexible

For me, I found the classes I took to learn particular skills invaluable. They were absolutely what I needed at the time to gain certain esoteric skills, and for the most part I was not concerned with grades. However today, with the information available freely on the internet, I might make different decisions for some of the classes.

Nor do any of the desired characteristics I listed preclude following a course designed by a teacher. Even a tough instructor who pushes for excellence, like my lighting design mentor, should still be facilitating the learner’s desire to improve their skills.

Places where you can find guidance include:

  • YouTube – there are so many filmed tutorials for all kinds of arts and crafts skills, or science projects, as well as people lecturing about theoretical constructs.
  • Khan Academy – free classes in an immense range of subjects
  • Art Museums often hold classes or workshops for their members in all kinds of esoteric areas.
  • Craft stores hold classes, most at low cost.
  • Universities with online coursework
  • Community Colleges often offer personal enrichment courses in various artistic disciplines
  • Individual tutors, coaches or mentors.

 In praise of trial and error

What I want to emphasize today is that while lessons, classes, tutorials or workshops can be wonderful, and guidance can be time saving, the “slow way” of trial and error – personal experimentation – also has immense value.

 A skill that you have discovered yourself, painstakingly, or just from following the manual, can feel wonderful. You have true ownership of your own learning process and skills. Once you have been through the trial and error process you will truly know how something works, and works for you. You are unlikely to forget – and you still have the chance to practice further and compare your experience to that of others later.

Trial and error can be fun! Working in private can also alleviate nerves or feeling self-conscious.

But know when to look for help, guidance or hints & tips too!

Auditing

With any luck, you will have the chance to sit in and audit many classes you might be considering. You will see if the class will be useful to you – expanding, challenging and inspiring.

Talk to the instructors to ascertain whether they are flexible and sympatico. Talk to the students to see whether they have the opportunity to offer feedback and change the plan as needed.

And remember this – it’s never too late to practice a new art form or learn a new creative endeavor.

 

Design Principle – Progression

photo credit: DanaK~WaterPenny via photopin cc

Progression of hues. photo credit: DanaK~WaterPenny via photopin cc

You will remember that a Principle of Design acts on the Elements of Design to create meaning and impressions.

Progression, sometimes called “Gradation” means difference, change and interest, and relates closely to Repetition.

The change might be smooth, like an ombré, or a series of steps – like pixels. Progression might show the feeling of fast acceleration, or ponderous movement. It might be steady or jerky. It might be symmetrical or lopsided. Plus Progression may go in two directions like a bell curve.

In functional design, the pace of progression might relate to functionality – like a clock, designed specifically to maintain a steady pace of movement, through time.

Consider Ravel’s “Bolero” – a constant build of energy and complexity with the same few notes and beats.

Consider any kind of narrative, building to a climax and catharsis or resolution.

Calligraphy is made possible through gradations of Line. Progression of Size creates the impression of perspective, or discombobulates it. Progression is used to create the sensation of solidity – shading and shadows for 3D in flat artwork.

Photos of a sequence of events over time – the illustration of a work-in-progress, or a garden’s flowering, or a child’s growth – are a common use of Progression.

Here’s about 9 1/2 minutes of serenity with flowers blooming for your enjoyment.

 

Criticism

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photo credit: Etwood via photopin cc

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in the last couple of months. That’s because I’ve been working on an important writing project, quite literally full-time. It was a creative non-fiction book proposal, with a sample chapter.

Now that the proposal is submitted, in this brief interlude before I begin the main project, I intend to get a little ahead on my Creativity Blasts.

There have been two valuable parts to this project so far. The first is the deadline, which forced me to organize my process. I didn’t have time to procrastinate, and even though I needed to research, I couldn’t use that research to procrastinate.

The second part is the critique that I originally received when I first handed in something of a rough draft. It was very emotionally challenging to be told how far my work was off the mark at that point. It made me realize the lack of clarity in my writing, and forced me to think a little harder about point of view. What I’m working on is in the realm of creative nonfiction. There is still narrative, character, and the need for engagement.

The people who were the most rigorous, almost brutal, with their criticisms, were the ones who helped me the most.

“The first draft of anything is shit”. ~ Ernest Hemingway

It was hard to hear. It was even a little embarrassing. But the contrast between that first attempt, which I acknowledge was unfinished, and the work in the newly written chapter is enormous.

It was crucial that I stay open and acceptant. I chose acceptance. Even though my initial emotional reaction was defensive, I set that aside and asked for more criticism. I wanted specifics – specific problems – because these would help me more than generalities.

The great thing was that in the process of doing the next draft, if I found myself recreating those particular issues that had been raised with me, I was able to see it occurring. My own discernment was raised from the process of accepting criticism. That too is, and will be, invaluable.

So this week my challenge to everyone is to be acceptant of criticism of your creative work, to be open to the information, and to push through your own emotional resistance and self-defense. It may be that on reflection you disagree with the critique, but that isn’t what happened to me this time.

And this time I learned a great deal more from criticism than from praise.

“Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending”  ~ ActII;Sc3, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

5 Questions: About Fun!

Here is the next in my intermittent series of Five Questions blog posts.

Dancing in the sprinkler

Now this was fun!

When I say five questions about fun I don’t mean general fun. I mean using fun to reignite your creativity. There are many times when the creative process does not seem like fun at all. For example you’ve heard of writer’s block I suppose? What about all those times when actually completing a project of any kind means a hard slog of physical labor? And then there are the times when you just can’t come up with an idea or a method to realize your dream.

These are questions to help you rediscover the fun. Remember it’s supposed to be fun. You can write your answers, make a collage, or a sketch, or talk them over with a trusted friend. If you want to have a discussion on Facebook or leave comments here please do.

Question 1:

What was your best day ever when you were 10 years old? What was great about it? Visualize. Remember to smile while you think about.

Question 2:

Why did you want to do this (your current) project in the first place? What was going to be fun about it? Is it still worth doing?

You can turn this into a question about a future project as well. Why do you want to do this? Will it be fun? Even with challenges, is it still worth doing?

Question 3:

Think of your best friend from your childhood. What was the most fun thing about that person? What was the most fun thing you ever did together? Have you done anything like that lately?

Question 4:

When exactly did this stop being fun? What were you doing at the time? Were you hungry, lonely, tired, burnt out? Did someone else diminish or criticize your project?

Question 5:

Who (make it a fan of your work) can you talk to today to rediscover the fun? Or do you just need a break?

Have fun!