Tag Archives: color

Design Principle – Contrast

Contrast image

Contrast is one of my favorite Design Principles because it is completely accessible and so very dynamic. In school you will recall being asked to “compare and contrast” two ideas or opinions. We have an intuitive understanding of contrast as opposites, when we see it. In politics, there is no debate without contrasting opinions. In life, change is contrast happening over time.

In designing, the idea is to use the Principles intentionally to change and effect the Elements of Design. Contrast is all about examining or depicting difference. Contrasts, especially those that are unexpected, create vibrancy, draw attention to the subject. Visual contrast creates interest and contributes to a sense of movement or balance (another Design Principle). Contrast defines edges. Uniformity is the absence of contrast. Incongruity is unexpected contrast.

Contrast does not have mean diametric opposites, however. Just like the Tonal Scale where contrast is inherent in defining it, degrees of contrast are possible. Contrast is always comparative – about the relationship between two or more values. Sometimes the degree of contrast defines a style.

One example is the 1940’s film genre Film Noir. The style is defined today by the deep contrast in tonal values of the visuals – with many deep shadows. Shadows will be cast on characters’ faces, highlighting their emotional duality and ambivalence. The audience is left with uncertainty, since every character seems to be both dark and light. The other part of Film Noir mis-en-scene will be the sense of deep shadows in the distance, much of the action taking place at night, in poorly lit cities. The visual style underscores the drama of the story, often crime dramas or mysteries, and characters’ journeys who often represent the “seamy underbelly” of society, or are engaged in some kind of deceit.

This visual style of deep shadows is known as chiaroscuro in painting, a characteristic of the High Renaissance and Baroque eras, among other periods. Painters and sculptors alike were interested in deep folds, faces looming out of dark backgrounds, and consistent looking light sources.

Shabby Chic and prim styles have an intentional lack of contrast. Blurred edges, faded prints or text, distressing and age. If it’s too white, it’s dipped in tea. If it’s too dark, it’s washed. If it’s too shiny, it’s sanded.

I’ve always been intrigued by Dazzle Painting – a high contrast method of camouflage. The key is distance. In nature high contrast often means a warning.

Dazzle painted battleships

Dazzle Camouflage obfuscates the shape

Let’s look at how contrast works with other Elements of Design.

 Color

Complimentary opposites, the colors opposite each other on the color wheel would be a Dual color scheme. Using three colors in an equilateral triangle is a Triadic scheme, while using four colors from the points of a square is Tetradic. Analogous colors have low contrast in hue, but might have high contrast when tonal values are considered.

What do you want the colors to convey? What ideas or emotions? Are you concerned with beauty and comfort, or challenging discomfort? (You see what I did there…..)

Texture

Triadic/Tetradic “texture schemes” are more interesting than just opposites. The opposite of hard is not just soft, but also spiky.

Too much of the same texture can be overwhelming. In Transformers (2007) it was sometimes tough to tell who was an Autobot and who was a Decepticon, when the two were battling. There was a lack of contrast in the bodies, and limited color palette.

Line

The properties of Line include thickness, degree of straightness or curve, and length. Line defines shape, but so does contrast; for example where two colors come together there is the suggestion of Line. However consider that a line may have blurry edges.

Shape and Space

Shapes may be geometric or organic, vary in size or complexity.

photopin.com

Mid-century Modern and Danish style of furniture employs a nice tension in the contrast between the simple shapes of the furniture and the space below and around the pieces. For example the height from the floor is an important part of the sense of airiness and definition.

Intentional Design Process – using contrast

Contrast makes things interesting.

  • Define your message – the reader/viewers takeaway – what you want them to think, see, believe or do?
  • How can contrast convey this message?

Writing with Contrast

Contrast is the foundation of much great literature. The contrast between good and evil is the most basic plotline. People say that irony is the foundation of Jane Austen’s work, but the irony is impossible without the contrasts inherent that idea.

Incongruity is the contrast between the expectation and the result. It works especially well in comedy. For example when the reaction does not match the trigger – that’s comedy. (“Nobody’s perfect.”) Interesting characters contain incongruities or apparent inconsistencies. A flawed hero is far more interesting. People sometimes behave inconsistently too. There can be a contrast between their desires or hopes and their ability to realize their potential.

Mismatches between sequential images, or between the image and the soundtrack, foreshadow events, or strengthen the message. The ominous music always cues our concern when the scene is children playing on the beach. Jolly music playing from the radio strengthens the horror of a catastrophe; lyrical music emphasizes the evil of cruelty. One famous example: Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange (1971).

“A Clockwork Orange” (1971) – Stanley Kubrick

Contrasts invite value judgments – that one product is better for your needs, more suitable than another. For this reason, be cautious when considering Contrast to do with real people. Especially your kids.

 

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….

Element of Design – Texture

Encrusted beading on art doll

Texture is a tactile experience, or the visual illusion of a tactile experience. Texture is characterized by changes in the surface, or the apparent absence of changes in the surface. Texture is about adding interest and the sense of layers, so that we wonder what lies beneath that so interesting surface.

Texture functions emotionally to generate desire – you want to touch and feel – or to repulse – something is scary, dangerous or uncomfortable. It’s not that it tastes bad, it’s that the texture is unpleasant in the mouth.

Texture is a continuum, from smooth or shiny through to rough. It is partly defined by how much friction it would generate. .

To paraphrase Horatio GreenoughTexture follows function. In nature it’s all about surface area in a limited volume – bumps, pores, folded shapes. Think of villi in the intestines, the surface of a tongue, spines or scales, the shape of pine needles, fur to capture and hold heat.

Human design also uses texture for surface area, to generate or eliminate friction, for practicality. Think of knitwear (“warm and fuzzy”), rugs and home insulation, the old “cottage cheese” ceilings, aerodynamics in aircraft and cars.

Flip Doll

Texture becomes more important when other Elements of Design are simplified – a monochromatic color scheme for example, or when simple shapes are repeated. Texture can add the sensation of depth.

Monochrome heritage layout

Texture in Art – Texture as Illusion

In visual art there is the implied visual texture within the images. Think of old masters painting the lush velvets, encrusted embroideries, glowing skin of their royal patrons. But brush strokes – the mechanism of the art – were hidden and minimized as much as possible.

Then came the explosion of Impressionism and later Expressionism, making texture serve an emotional meaning. Then with the rise of Modernism, Texture became a primary element. The qualities of the paint itself, no doubt influenced by the invention of new paints including fast drying acrylics and the new acrylic “oils” – are revealed by intentional brushstrokes. The art increasingly shows the artist’s hand and thought processes as more important than whatever the subject of the painting might be.

Here’s my little bit of controversy – because I don’t care for the Wikipedia definition of Abstract Art. I’m recalling instead discussions of art theory we students used to enjoy back when I was in college.

I prefer the definition that Abstract art is taking a personal point of view, personal vision of a subject away from realism to find the soul or express an attitude about that subject. The subject can become abstracted to the point of being totally unrecognizable, reduced to geometry or just color and texture.

Non-subjective modernism, often misnamed as “abstract art” embraces the qualities of medium entirely. It is about the paint, the texture, the color – without narrative content (supposedly). Ah humans – we tend to want to construct stories and make connections no matter how much the choreographer says “don’t feel, just count”.

Think of sculpture which for thousands of years has been about manipulating a hard, dense material to create the sensation of soft, pliable surfaces. In recent times, artists making soft sculptures have used fabrics and flexible materials to visualize the opposite.

Rolled and inked paper roses

Surprises

Sometimes the visual appearance belies the texture and the viewer gets a surprise on touching the object. Or distance mystifies the amount of texture in a surface. Think of electron microscopy revealing the unseen textures of surfaces beyond our imagination. The smooth steel of a knife blade revealed as pitted and layered as a rocky sandstone. Here is the fractal universe displayed.

Texture might be a function of randomness – spraying, splattering, combing, cross hatching.

Jayn at Hearst Castle

Photo Credit: James Coburn

Texture in Music

When I think of texture as it applies to music, I think of layering of instruments and the repetition of motifs or phrases with different instruments. Perhaps resonance is an equivalent of texture, or vibrato in a voice. Anything that adds interest and depth to the music might be termed adding texture.

In Writing

I like to think of texture in writing as creating a sensory experience with the words. Texture might be filling in visual background detail (but not so much that it detracts from the progression of the story) or imbuing minor characters with different voices or quirks. It is a way of adding interest.

It also might be created through manipulating word sounds – so that it is revealed viscerally through reading aloud. Read “Harry Potter” aloud, or indeed any of J.K. Rowling’s work aloud. It changes the experience. The addition or absence of sibilance, the repetition of certain sounds or words, the cadence of dialects revealed – that is texture at work.

Creating Texture

Sometimes texture is inherent in the material like marble countertops, granite building blocks, woodgrain, or honey comb candy. If not, and it is desired for interest and depth, then it must be added.

The illusion of texture can be created with lines, including cross hatching, shapes and repetition, and shadowing or shading. I have created the illusion of texture with lighting – using gobos and angles to cast shadows.

Multiple textures actual and implied

Actual texture can be created by adding material, removing material (think carving or burn out lace) or manipulating material, either in the construction process (like crochet or tatting, weaving or impressing into clay) or with a finished base (like ironing in pleats, gathering or folding).

Layout using textures and vintage photo

Texture added with pleated paper, crumpling and sequin embellishments to the sense of texture created by the differently scaled prints.

So please follow me on Twitter for the Daily Tweets!

 

 

Retrospective and Prospective

Suzani embroidery Collage Sheet Image

I’m taking a break this week from a new Creativity Blast. I will be sending out a new topic again next Monday. Upcoming Blasts will include more Elements of Design, and starting on Principles of Design, as well as more aesthetic preferences, finding your “gateway” art form, and more ideas for overcoming blocks and jump starting your creative process.

In the mean time, please revisit old posts which now have all the corresponding tweets attached at the end, and enjoy reading some of my older articles under the Robyn’s Writing tab.

Here are a couple more creativity quotes for you to enjoy:

 “Talking endlessly about something instead of doing it depletes you of the drive to get it done.” ~ Milli Thornton, Write Your Screenplay in 29 Days

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” ~ Richard Bach

“Every artist was first an amateur” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities” ~ Dr. Seuss

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” ~ Thomas A. Edison 

I’ve been asked to address some color theory, which I love so much I’ve been saving it. Color is the foundation of so much of my work in theater – costuming, lighting – and for my dolls and mixed media art. It’s a huge topic as an Element of Design, and will surely take more than one Creativity Blast to attack – and think of the fun activities. Any way – it’s coming soon.

If you have any Creativity questions or topics you would like me to write about, please let me know in the comments. Honestly the vast majority of the comments I receive are spam, so it would be nice to get some real comments every now and then.

 

 

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?

So Follow me on Twitter for the Daily Tweets. Please Retweet and use the share buttons!

If anything turns out to be useful to you, please let me know in the comments.