Tag Archives: art

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

 

 

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 – Scale & Dominance

Scale and dominance are about the relationship and ratio between parts within the design. Scale can draw attention to the focal point of a design, which should be the dominant feature or motif. We hear the term focal point a lot when people talk about interior decoration. Scale naturally pairs with Shape, but acts on all the Elements.

On a web page the focal point might be the Call the Action with the words “Click Here” being in a large or bolder font. The question to ask is “where do you want your viewer’s or reader’s attention to go?”

Changes in scale can create the sense of depth. Scale works interestingly with color, where the smallest amount can be the most visible focal point. Dominance can be asserted through point of view and framing.

Scale expressing ideas

Scale expressing ideas

Scale acts on Texture to change it enormously. Texture magnified changes to shape. Scale has to do with filling space comfortably and with balance also. Think of furniture in a room. We recently changed our living room furniture because it was so large that it made the space feel crowded.

Scale is a function of distance – the distance of the viewer from the object.

People speak of the scale of a production in theater – that the set concept fits the space and the gravitas of the script. Spectacle is large scale – epic and thrilling; character drama is intimate and engaging.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Sparking Creativity by Playing With Scale

Layer and overlap shapes in different sizes for a design.

Look at fractals, where the amount of complexity stays the same regardless of how much the original is magnified.

Fractal

photo credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL via photopin cc

Imagine how a small piece, sculpture or painting might work if it were tripled in size. What about if it were miniaturized?

Words – change the size of individual words for emphasis as you journal or make quotation posters.

Scale in music – not musical scales – but the idea that some parts might be louder, more grand or that in an orchestra different instruments dominate the melody line at different times.

 

 

 

 

Seeing the Familiar With New Eyes

Buddha head

This week it’s a quick and easy way to jump start creative thinking – looking at the familiar with new eyes.

Our attitudes and beliefs influence our perceptions. This is an idea that is found in different spiritual paths, and in practical psychology. Even the words we use can change our perceptions. We can call something “shabby” or we can call it “comfortable”. We can call something “worn out” when we should be calling it “recyclable”.

Refreshing Your Vision

Artists spend their lives seeing the world around in them in new ways and translating that through their imaginations to a different vision of the world. It’s a skill that can be helped with a few tricks.

Reframe

You’ve seen that cliché of a director holding up his or her two hands to plan the shot. That is a great technique. By framing out some things, you can refocus on what is in the frame.

If you feel silly holding your hands in front of you in the absence of a film crew, a digital camera does the same trick, and btw, will show you clutter more clearly than the naked eye.

Change Your Perspective

Try physically getting into a different space – crouching down, turning the camera to the side, or even looking upside down.

Upside down is especially interesting because it can help you see planes and shapes instead of objects in context.

California Poppies

Try close ups – use a magnifying glass, loupe or macro lens setting to look more closely at familiar things.

If you have only ever read a favorite book in silence, try reading it aloud, or listening to it on tape.

Close your eyes in an environment and listen. Feel textures and temperature.

Isolation

If you ever do any kind of product photography – say for your Etsy store – you probably already have a light box or cyc set up. I use a roll of paper, some clothespins and a wooden chair to create my photo background.

However any kind of place where you can put something to look at it in isolation can help to see different things about it. It’s especially fun to re-examine old things that are special – my mother’s tea set, old jewelry.

Red Cut Glass

Use the Elements and Principles of Design

…to inform your investigations.

If you usually drive one way, take a new route. If you usually drive, try taking a walk. Take a trip on the train. Look for shapes, repetition, color, proportions.

Pause…Be Still

So much of our life is about moving through spaces and being busy with activity. Sometimes what helps most in really seeing something anew is being still and quiet to let our eyes (or ears or hands) roam over what we see.

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This is all about examining things. What’s next? Sketching, drawing, rearranging, seeing connections between objects – each other and their surroundings. This is the beginning of design.

 

Expressing Creativity – Reimagining/Mash Ups

Mixed media canvas

One of the hallmarks of Post Modern arts practice is appropriation – in homage, tribute or critique – of other art pieces in similar media. It goes beyond merely being influenced by another artist’s work. Rather appropriation is about the creation of meaning in your piece, with added layers for interpretation.

Mashing works together is knowing and intentional. Absolute acknowledgment of the source is essential for the meaning, and prevents this from being plagiarism. It is assumed that the audience – reader, listener, viewer – will understand, or come to understand, the source material also. There is a delight that arises from recognition.

It’s very noticeable in music – dance mixes sampling snippets from other songs, music styles or dialogue. I remember when rough mixing on the fly, using multiple turntables with vinyl records and adding in scratch riffs was brand new – in the dance clubs that superseded disco in the early 1980’s.

Part of the enjoyment is recognition, when you grok the source material and get the reference. The score of the Die Hard movies is an example where the insertion of light-hearted themes from classical music or movie musicals (“Singing in the Rain”) skews the action movies towards humor.

Lady Gaga is another artist whose work, especially her music videos, is full of references to pop culture (eg classic movie images and female archetypes) as well as initiating, grabbing and expanding on pop trends. For example the use of “anime eyes” – overscaled cosmetic contact lenses out of the Kawaii/Harajuku trend in Japanese teen/young adult culture. Lady Gaga used computer generated assistance to recreate the look in her video.

Here are some ways to use appropriation and create mash ups:

Memes, and image re-captioning: most social media memes are satire, irony, and sometimes biting social commentary.

Collage and paper craft: scrapbookers are masters of mash up – combining textures, images, and ephemera to tell both their memory story and create beautiful visuals. Collage is mixing images from multiple sources, creating relationships between the visual elements. Try using materials (like scrapbooking papers) in a different way from the usual.

Re-imagine a cultural icon: Create your own take on a famous painting or familiar photo using a different or changed medium. The many recognizable iterations of Mona Lisas or the Warhol style portraits are examples of this.

Reimagining Methods

Found object art: I love work using found objects to create sculptures. They can be so clever and ingenious. This is a loving way to use vintage objects and ephemera.v

In home decorating, a trend is to make a grouping of objects made different with a single surface treatment.

  • One example is the gloss white spray paint technique, which works equally well with other single colors.
  • Another is the fun trend of decoupaging with pages of text from old books.

Appropriate an image as a background for collage or shadow box framing – especially using filters to alter the colors (try sepia or black and white) and the texture.

Photograph two unrelated objects, placed in a vignette. Or use randomness to help you. Combine an image from a random wikipedia entry with a randomly selected page from a magazine.

How I design upcycled projects – scroll down.

In writing reimagining is often adaptation. Writers adapt books to film or theater, making changes that are more or less appreciated.

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Element of Design – Color Schemes – An Introduction

I’m going to talk about how I use color in my arts practice. Here’s why.

There are numerous sources and resources for learning about the science of color, and the biology of the human eye so I need not quote others.

Human eye diagram

Diagram of an eye from Wikimedia commons. Frankly I think it looks like a fish at first glance.

Briefly, humans can perceive light within our visual spectrum through special photo receptors – color loving cones and low light rods – and the lenses and aqueous humor of our eyes. The combination of frequencies within “white” light that are either absorbed or reflected by different materials indicates their color. There is no color in the dark.

There are also great sites full of information about the emotional effects of color – a topic that is canvassed every day by artists and designers. Pantone offers it’s Color of the Year as a trend color. This year (2013) it is Emerald.

There are some beautiful color sphere graphics available, too. When I was in design school, we used designer’s gouache in specific colors and mixed the rest of our color wheel. There was a warm and a cool red, a warm and a cool yellow, and a warm and cool blue, along with black and white in our basic kit. We used these to create our own color wheel – the hues. It was fairly simple to do – the cool red and cool blue created the purple, the warm red and warm yellow made the orange, and the cool yellow combined with the warm blue to make a vivid green. However there was also the concept of “alternative mixtures” – creating a different purple by mixing the opposite combinations of blue and red.

A vintage color sphere from 1905

  • Tints are hues mixed with white.
  • Shades are hues mixed with black.
  • Neutrals are hues mixed with grey – at least in terms of color theory definitions.

I think the word “neutral” is often used in practice to refer to a background or foundation color in a larger scheme. In fashion they sometimes talk of “new neutrals” and variously claim that black or white can be a neutral, as can red, purple or navy along with the traditional beige or grey.

Color is used to make things more visible – dye for microscope work, color coding for brain scans or MRI’s. The colors assigned to certain effects have been chosen by the programmers, usually skewing towards red for greatest activity, blue for quietest. When color is reversed from our expectations we can feel uncomfortable.

Blue banana

Color is probably the most important Design Element to be considered in any intentional design process. It certainly has been a prominent feature of my scenic, lighting and certainly costume design work.

One of my favorite texts is a book called The Language of Clothes. Author Alison Lurie talks a lot about the cultural significance of different colors, along with the messages that our own clothes send – even when we are unwitting. Of course as a costume designer, my responsibility was to intentionally illuminate aspects of character and story for the individual characters, and contribute to the overall effect, spine and spectacle of the production.

When I was in college, I conducted a series of experiments having actors work brief scenes wearing their own neutral clothing, and again with one or two items of costume added to see if it changed their performance. It wasn’t exactly a double blind test, but part of my goal was for the actors to see the “costume effect” at work, even so simply. I think a couple of them were pretty surprised at just how much a single garment – a hat, a scarf – would alter their body language and feelings. Costume design can be tough. People don’t always want to wear something they perceive as unflattering – even if it is right for the character. And a lot of time that has to do with color and how people feel wearing a certain color.

Do you always wear the same colors, or color combinations? Have you considered changing things around in your closet and trying some different combinations?

I use color a lot in Lighting Design also. I’m talking here about lighting the stage, not movie work or architectural lighting. In lighting color temperature is important – it’s what makes incandescent light look more orange, and candlelight warmer still, and what makes fluorescent light look green compared to outside daylight. It’s what makes golden hour – the last hour before sunset – give everyone and everything a luscious glow. If you do any kind of photography at all you know a little about color temperature and white balance.

For lighting in the theater, most of the light starts out pretty warm, especially at low levels. Most of the time white light would be augmented with highlights in complementary opposites. Stare too long at one color, and when you look away at a white surface, you see the opposite for a moment. In theater lighting you want balance and often the sense of movement and excitement. A single color exhausts the Cones, and eventually starts being perceived as grey.

Color Schemes

Designing with color is an elegant dance combining the physical effects of color combination and the emotional meanings behind colors.

Monochrome is the use of a single hue, with a range of tonal values created by tints and shades. Analogous colors are close to each other on the color wheel, while complementary colors are far apart. There are schemes that use two, three, four or more points on the wheel – although eventually you just have a riot of every hue if you go much more than four.

Picasso’s Blue Period – the jug and the bread take it from true monochrome to accented analogic

In Monochrome schemes other Elements can become important – texture, line, shape. But here’s something interesting. Thumb through the pages of Architectural Digest or any home magazine. The most luxurious interiors tend to be mostly monochrome. The textures of luxury – fine leathers, linens, furs, shining metals – become more important. It is rare that there is true monochrome, without a touch of other color. Even in the case of interiors, there is always the view out of the window to supply the enlivening contrast.

In a complementary scheme, emphasis can be created with color in a curious way. It is the tiny spot becomes the most important, eye drawing and attention getting point – the part that is different, anomalous, unusual. I haven’t covered the concept of focal points yet, but I will.

Analogous color schemes are closest to monochrome. They can end up lacking energy (exhausted cones and the greying effect), and in blues and cool colors are even soothing. I have read repeatedly that babies cry more in yellow rooms – but I’m still searching for the original study. And by the way, the idea that red cars get more speeding tickets is a myth.

The color scheme is very bright Triad - but the focus becomes that which stands out - the black and white photos.

The color scheme is very bright Triad – but the focus becomes that which stands out – the black and white photos.

The only occasions when I have consciously tried to design to a type of scheme is when I was creating scrapbook layouts to illustrate the specific concepts and the use of my lovely color wheel for my scrapbooking classes. Usually I have not needed to specify Analogous or Complementary color schemes. The need – the initial design problem – dictates the scheme automatically. There are the conventions of a genre (or the Aesthetic Preference) to consider.

Madeline layout muted primary colors

Madeline layout – Triad with muted primary colors

Plus being mostly in performing arts, my design work has always had the added parameters of Time and Change. A single set still has different times of day, movement of the actor through the space, using lighting to subtly or emphatically indicate change. Any time there is a narrative, there is change happening over time.

What Emphatic Values are most important for this project? Do I want the strong and lively colors of the Triad, for more spectacle, or is the subtle nuance of character development more likely to shine with a simple Analogous scheme, the theatrical equivalent of a black and white movie.

One early triumph was in the use of color as messenger or signpost for the audience. The biographical play, Here Comes Kisch, had a large cast of people playing multiple characters, with the exception of the eponymous hero. I hit upon the idea of using a Complementary color scheme in the costumes to instantly and clearly signify to the audience whether any character was a supporter (warm red, brown and some green) or detractor (cold blues, greys, cool purple). It worked really well, and was lively and vivid too.

Is there ever a time in visual art that color doesn’t matter?

There is more about color – contrasting dischords for example – but I want to talk about it more after the design Element, Tonal Value. Using color exercises to enhance your creativity is whole series of themes. Stay tuned….

Embrace Randomness

Marbled paper

Embracing the random was one idea that I’ve included in a past newsletter, and I want to revisit it. Randomness doesn’t replace Design – which is an intentional process to solve a specific problem. But it can be a great creativity jumpstarter, and a component of your design process. I mean just think of Scrabble!

Surprise effects with projects like tie dye or paper marbling are not the only places where randomness can produce delightful results. Many people are familiar with the idea of opening a book at random to find an “answer” to a problem. It is really a way of resetting your old thought pattern – the answer actually comes from within, from making mental connections.

Sandra Dodd sells Thinking Sticks, a thought and word game designed to encourage players to make connections between ideas that initially seem unrelated. It’s to show that learning can be free ranging. So can creativity.

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

~ Albert Einstein

Here are some happy accidents in the field of science and invention.

Here are some ways for you to use serendipity as creative inspiration:

  • Open a book or magazine at random and press your finger to a page. Use the first words you find as a writing prompt, or to inspire an illustration. Ask someone to think of a number and then turn to that page in a book. Imagine creating a painting or sculpture of the events on that page.
  • Set up a situation where unconnected objects are brought together. Close your eyes and reach into your bead container, or button jar, and pull out three or four items. Use the colors or shapes (or repetition) to inspire a sketch or stacked mini sculpture.
  • Try spinning a color wheel and using only the color on which you land for a drawing, collage or mood board.
  • Paint some pages and tear them into strips. Close your eyes and collect strips from different pages – arrange them into a pleasing collage.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Make up a nutty story about the first person you pass (in your head).
  • Point and shoot your camera every 10 steps. Turn the images into a digital collage, or look for repeating colors or shapes.
  • Go to Wikipedia and start clicking on links randomly. Look at the Wiki Commons images on a page that is several pages along from your start point. Will the picture inspire a story, poem or art work?

Embracing the random within an art piece or project.

Usually the parts of the piece that are unpredictable still come within certain parameters. It’s the detail that is random. For example when we pull the letters out of the bag for that game of Scrabble, we expect wooden letters, not a pickle or a peppermint. Random has it’s limits.

  • Tie dye, whether with crumpled fabric and bottles of dye, or using the actual tied resist method creates beautiful random effects.
  • Throwing balloons filled with paint creates amazing splatter.
  • Making monoprints with gel foundation, or on a hard surface, can create somewhat unpredictable results.

Mistakes

Errors don’t have to be tossed away. My friend Kelly calls mistakes “learning-takes”.

  • What can you do differently next time?
  • How can you embrace the unexpected result this time?

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