Tag Archives: Design

Expressing Creativity – Exploring Materials

Modernism, the historical art era encompassing the late 19th Century through the first half of the 20th, is characterized by an emphasis on materials, media and form rather than metaphorical content. They also wanted to remind people that art, even that of the great masters, was just paint on surfaces.

Artists were exploring the tactile quality of paint itself or the properties of stone or metal – essentially examining the Elements of Design (Shape, Line, Color, Texture, and so on) in their pure forms without seeking to tell stories or express meaning. One might say that the Modernists were fighting a losing battle against human nature, since we are biologically programmed to seek meaning and notice relationships – create stories – and will do so even when none exist. Humans seek to make sense from information, while one big part of Modernism wants to depict nonsense for its own sake. (Eg Dada and Theater of the Absurd).

Writing included the stream-of-consciousness novel and poetry that was more about the sound of words than their meanings. In music atonal or 12 tone music rose, with all its unresolved glory along with the famous John Cage conceptual composition 4’33” – one of several silent pieces. The Wikipedia entry on Modernism has a positive cornucopia of links to the theoretical thinkers, writers and artists of the era. They wanted to explore the stylistic conventions of various kinds of art work, but from a distance, without getting drawn in to the stories.

Rothko Chapel

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Modernist painter whose large scale mono or duo chrome works are the epitome of Modernist non-subjective art. The Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX is a non-denominational meditation chapel, and is open and free to the public. Inside the Rotunda, lit entirely by natural light, are fourteen large scale monochrome oil paintings by Rothko. The light constantly changes so the texture of each painting also changes.

Rothko Chapel

Interior Rothko Chapel

When I visited there in the mid-1980’s I felt like there were figures buried inside the darkness. I persisted in trying to see what was hidden. The paintings seem to have a lot of depth. It was very serene and relaxing, but I still wanted to find a subject in the non-subjective artworks. But then again, I also like finding shapes in the texture of popcorn ceilings.

What does this mean for a creativity practice today?

Modernist practice gives us permission to play with materials and media, to enjoy the process without worrying about the outcome or product. We can smoosh paint, or roll it, combine blocks of color or repeat simple shapes over and over. We can stack wood, metal and stone pieces in pleasing combinations.

Some of the best ideas for Modernist experiments come from ideas for children’s sensory play crafts. Throw pigments, pour, spray and embrace randomness. But also combine surfaces and textures. Use one color of different media for a shadow box or other display – paint, inks, pencils, crayons, collage, fabric, found objects

Simple Art Project Ideas.

Scumbled Duotone Canvases 

When used in theater sets, scumbling is a paint technique where colors are mixed together on the surface with the painting tools. In art scumbling refers to washing the darker finish with lighter colors (often with a nearly dry applicator) to mute the colors below. The tool defines the kind of edges the paint makes – roller, brush, sponge, rags.

  • Use two of your chosen tools to smoosh paint on the surface and then blend the edges together forming an ombré.
  • If you like Rothko, try pairs of rectangles with soft edges. Also consider a central circle surrounded by another color.
  • Arrange several of these finished canvases in a grouping to enhance your modern styled interiors.

Pinned Color Swatches

  • Cut many squares from paint chip samples.
  • Pin them in a geometric arrangement to a cork board with small ball pins in one color.
  • Alternatively use a hole punch to make many exact shapes quickly.

Enlarged Macro Images

  • Collect random items with only physical characteristics in common, such as shape, color or texture.
  • Take photos of them, especially macros, and print to create another art grouping.

Resources and Places

Scumbling, glazing and wash at Artists’ Network 

Suzy Kitman demonstrates Impasto This is a very cool palette knife technique shown by artist Suzy Kitman. I would argue that despite there being a subject in her work, the main value is the texture and the paint itself, which to me makes it Modernist. The image is just an excuse to use particular colors.

Pete’s Original Art – Abstract painting video showing many tools and blending techniques.

Modernist Pin Board

Modernism

 

 

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.

 

Element of Design – Tone

Tone, sometimes called “Value” refers to where any particular hue or surface falls on the white to black scale – how much light is reflected or absorbed by the surface. It has to do with light and shadow, contrast and the effects of texture.

  • A tint is a hue with white added which creates a lighter tone or higher value.
  • A shade is a hue with black added which creates a darker tone or lower value.
  • A neutral is a hue with grey added – which also have tonal values.

If you consider how any color would look if it were filmed in black and white – an effect you can easily create today thanks to photo editing software – you can get an understanding of the tonal value of the hue. In the olden days costume and set designers in the movie studios had charts that translated colors of paint and fabric into the grayscale so that the set and costume colors could be chosen accordingly – varying by which color process the studio would employ. Red often reads very dark – hence the black lipped appearance of all those wonderful classic film actresses.

Scientist and actress, Hedy Lamarr in The Conspirators (1944)

Scientist and actress, Hedy Lamarr in The Conspirators (1944)

A tonal scheme with a great deal of value difference from the darkest to the lightest (regardless of color) is called a “Major” scheme. One with little difference is called a “Minor” scheme. Where the majority of the values are light that is a “High” scheme, while where the majority of the values are dark, that is a “Low” scheme. There is also the idea of medium or middle.

A Low Minor scheme would tend to be heavy and somber. It is rare that there would not be even one lighter hue or tint to relieve it – especially in nature. Adding a light color to make it a Low Major scheme adds some energy, and can suggest formality. (Think dark business suits with a dark tie and a white shirt.) Film Noir is Low Major.

However a Medium Minor scheme could still be a riot of colors. In a minor scheme all the colors would be close to equal in value. Bright Christmas red and green is an example. However if you add white, gold or silver the scheme becomes a Medium Major scheme.

Case Study – The Wizard of Oz

Thanks to the wonderful conceit of creating both a black and white and a colorful world, the 1939 classic gives us an opportunity to see some great tonal work.

In Kansas it’s not just the absence of color that suggests Dorothy’s bland life. The tonal scheme, as she wanders around the farm exteriors is a bland high minor. It’s actually a tough sell overcoming that in a single quiet song, but luckily Judy Garland was, well Judy Garland. Reportedly the studio execs almost cut “Over the Rainbow” as a slow point!

However when the old biddy, Miss Gulch, appears she is notable for her dark dress. The visit to Professor Marvel’s travelling caravan and the following approaching storm take the whole scheme to Low Major, providing more chiaroscuro, and therefore energy.

In Oz there is that riot of color that is nonetheless a Mid Minor scheme in the background. The parts that make the tonal scheme a Major scheme, thereby adding energy and focus, are Dorothy herself in her light dress, Glinda in her pink tint gown, the Witch’s now classic striped socks, the Witch of the West’s darkness and the Yellow Brick Road in wide shots. It is the nature of yellow that it always has a high value. (Ask me about working with Yellow as a lighting designer some time!)

Munchkins compared

The Minor tonal schemes of the backgrounds are especially noticeable in black and white stills. The Emerald City (Medium Minor), the Dark Forest (Dark Minor) and the Witch’s Castle (Dark Minor) function as a background to the actors’faces and moments of action (eg flickering flames).

Contrasting Discords

This is a very useful concept. I’ve read some different definitions, but the one I learnt originally makes the most sense to me.

Saturated hues have an inherent tonal value. I already mentioned that Red is dark (Low). A discord occurs when a color (tint or shade) is combined with a tint, so that the expected values seem reversed.

It’s all about the relationships of colors to each other.

For example:

  • a very pale Pink with Pumpkin (dark orange) is a discord.
  • Lavender and Kelly Green is a discord.
  • Any time you put a pastel with a bright yellow, that’s a discord.

Tone in Writing

The word “tone” is used differently in writing than as the design principle. Here is the simplest and clearest definition of tone in writing that I have found.

However in considering the design principle of Tonal Value when crafting a story it might apply to sentence length, balance of phrases, use of short or polysyllabic words, and paragraph structure. A piece with long, flowing sentences suddenly punctuated with short exclamation might be commensurate with a Major scheme.

Tonal Value might also be reflected in writing by the use of descriptive words that refer to metaphorical light and shade.

Edges

Tonal variations can flow softly, like an ombré or gradation, or they can have sharp edges like the glare of a sunny afternoon. Hard edges can suggest energy, strength or tension and conflict. Consider a classic chessboard – there can be no greater tonal range, in perfect balance, the setting for a perfect codified conflict.

Here’s another wonderful site about color theory.

Perseverance

Wish stars

A few nights ago my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 10th Anniversary Gala of the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the LA Philharmonic. The architect, Frank Gehry, was in attendance and the presentation was designed as a celebration of the design and creation of the concert hall building itself.

Conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, each piece represented a time in the process. The program was:

  • 4’33” by John Cage – that’s the famous silent piece.
  • Bach’s Prelude, from Cello Suite No. 3, with Yo-Yo Ma
  • Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, also with Yo-Yo Ma (who appeared to not have any sheet music in front of him)
  • “These Premises are Alarmed” by Adés
  • Symphony No. 9 by Mahler (III. Rondo: Burleske)
  • Symphony No. 3, “Organ” (IIb Maestoso) by Saint-Saëns – when the actual magnificent built in organ was played.

Each piece was introduced by quotes from a timely Gehry interview, talking about his design process. Then different video clips, presented on three oddly shaped geometric screens, projected on both sides for different places in the auditorium, accompanied the music. This part of the presentation was devised by Netia Jones (who is a fascinating multi-media artist).

The images began with Gehry’s preparatory, exploratory sketches, ingeniously animated, then moved on to his model making process. Gehry spoke of making hundreds and storing them, and continuing to move through the process of designing with the cardboard models. The slides showed images of numbered crates reminiscent of the final shot in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Did I mention I was 20 feet from Harrison Ford speaking only two nights earlier at another charity event?)

Then there were the criticisms, the complaints, the sarcasm in the press about the pace of the project – for a long time only the underground parking garage appeared to be completed. This frustrating time was represented by a visual collage of newspaper headlines and the semi-completed structure.

But in the end of course the building was finished and hailed as one of the masterpieces of contemporary architecture and a new cultural landmark for Los Angeles.

Disney Concert Hall exterior

There is no place where you can’t take a great shot anywhere around the building.

What most excited me was Gehry’s persistence. He continued not just to push for his vision, but through multiple iterations of it, through his own dissatisfactions, and through his search for methods. It is a building that would have been all but impossible (and certainly take much longer) to construct without the computer aided design software Gehry used.

Perseverance is not just not giving up on a project, and continuing to work on and refine an idea. It’s also being willing to discard that idea for better ones.

Persevering with Thinking

When I was working in design, whether it was costumes, sets or lighting, I always knew that my best idea was never the first one. Sometimes time constraints meant that it was the first idea that people liked and we went with, and sometimes it was too late to make the changes that would have improved the outcome.

So when I am working on any kind of creative project or new product, I try to allow time for the ideas to percolate. I sketch and consider the first idea – I get it out of my head and onto paper. But I continue to sketch, play, list, mindstorm, and tinker – not so much to modify the existing stream of thought, but to allow a completely new idea to bubble up.

It is just as important to continue working – editing, revisiting, rewriting, looking at the research, watching the rehearsals, playing with the materials – when you are reasonably satisfied with your work, as when you are frustrated by how it’s looking.

Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great”. He was writing about corporations and companies which by consistent, persistent effort towards a single goal over a very long term gradually become greater than merely successful. But the phrase also works in considering creative projects. The model of the concert hall that won the contest for Gehry was good. But the final result is beyond that to be almost magical, because he wasn’t satisfied with good.

That’s one of the problems these creative competition shows have – Project Runway, Face Off, Work of Art, Design Star – severe lack of time. In the hotbed of competition, it’s not just the challenge of realizing their idea or design in a shortened time frame (which admittedly can happen in the real world occasionally). The real awfulness I imagine is the frustration of coming up with a better idea but being committed by time constraints to finishing what you have started. In support of this notion I present the time in the recent Project Runway episode when bottom three contestant, Dom Streater, was sent back to the workroom and completed a totally different and surprisingly winning look.

Dom Streater’s winning second attempt

What I know for sure is that when I don’t allow myself enough time to think, sketch, plan OR to realize and build, my work is never as good. I have to have time and use it to persevere through doubts, blocks, and sometimes the belief in my own unworthiness.

Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th~ Julie Andrews (member of the Gala Committee for the LA Phil Gala)

How to Persevere

  • Give yourself time for the process, and for creativity to blossom – but also know that the work expands to fill the time available! Just keep going – baby steps.
  • Give yourself more tries than you think you will need. By this I mean if you plan to make a list of 10 things, make it 20. If you plan to make three sketches, do six. If you have a story idea plotted out, spend some time imagining an alternative trajectory.
  • Rest, walk away and return. Let the subconscious percolation happen. Take a walk. Take a nap.
  • Get enough sleep. Eat enough food. I sometimes forget to eat when I’m lost in the timeless void of screenwriting. Luckily I have people around me who express that they are hungry.
  • Gehry would probably say that having sufficient storage space, to keep your first, second, third – who knows how many – attempts is also helpful.

Another time I’ll write about  the opposite problem – perfectionism and incompletion, and the risk of presenting your ideas and work to others.

Encore

The Encore was a beautiful rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star“, and silver mylar stars floated down from the ceiling. I was a wreck.

 

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….

Aesthetic Preference – Shabby Chic

Lois Crowley Heritage layout

Lois Crowley Heritage Layout

I’m talking about Shabby Chic this week, because it follows on so sweetly from Romantic Country Cottage.

The term was coined, and trademarked, by textile artist and interior designer Rachel Ashwell. The style in home decor is characterized by a lot of whitewashing and very pale pastels. The accessories, textiles, and furniture are usually old or look old with intentional distressing. The watchword is Texture.

Hallmarks of shabby chic style include using glamorous and luxurious elements like gorgeous chandeliers in casual settings, and layering folk art elements like quilts and lace tablecloths.

There are two ways to achieve the worn and distressed look on furniture or other items. The most effective, in my opinion, is to sand back the paint at the edges, high spots, and places where “wear” would naturally occur. Using a nice wax based colored polish will add patina.

The other way is to add paint in a rough, even sloppy, way so that the underlayers show through. The best way to achieve that is to use crackle paint finishes, which are designed to shrink as they dry and reveal the underlayers as if they were aged in the sun and rain over decades.

Shabby chic designs include laces, textures, and frayed edges. Printed and stenciled texts remind us of old flour sacks or tea chests. Chalkboard – black with white lettering – is another recently popular element. Empty picture frames, sometimes stacked, suggest the idea of incompleteness.

A shabby garden would have more white flowers, and wild flowers, rusty metal elements, old bathtubs filled with shrubs, lavender (again) and peonies. Clothing would include antique and Victorian lace blouses, tulle layers, granny boots and textured tights (roll on winter). I think faded velvet shawls too.

To me fairy tales sometimes feel shabby chic – the cottage in the forest that is run down and filled with old books, the strange old castle with wrought iron fencing.

Here’s how I described it in my shabby chic treasury:

Simple, aged, distressed, neutral colors & pale, weathered, folk. Old lace. Connection, history, folk tales, burlap, farm house, sheers. Timeworn. Miss Haversham. “To Kill a Mockingbird”. “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.

To this I would add pale lilac, mint green, robin’s egg blue, blush. Wabi-sabi all over again.

Quail Eggs in a dish

Quail Eggs in a dish

Ways to Bring the Shabby

It’s popular because it’s easy.

One way to add shabby chic elements to your decor is to paint vintage or old things – tins, hooks, wood boxes, candlesticks, ornate picture frames – with white or pastel paint and sand the edges. The paint color adds a unifying aspect.

Another is to bleach floral prints and incorporate plain muslins, lace, crochet in cream string, doilies, and many layers of sheers as the textile elements – drapes, table cloths, pillows and slipcovers.

Include vintage and aged garden accessories – especially urns, wire frames from topiary work, and baskets.

Add nostalgic and memory elements – like hanging a vintage baby’s christening robe on a twisted wire hanger among a bunch of silk hydrangeas. Use old pewter and tarnished silver cups and jugs. Mercury glass.

Bring architectural elements, carvings and castings, that might normally be on the exteriors inside.

Shabby looks great in company with industrial, mid-century modern, or minimalism, and loves Beach Cottage style too. However, in my opinion, it doesn’t work as well with Traditional – since it either looks like you aren’t done refinishing the rest of the furniture, or that you have a bunch of old stuff that needs refurbishing. In a house full of very Traditional furniture, I would stick to a few pillows, and small items.

There are a lot of scrapbookers using shabby chic style in their layouts. It works especially well with a touch of glam – silver beads, tiny rhinestones, pearls and old buttons.

Family Ancestors mini-album

Family Ancestors mini-album

Because it is all about the white, it is also a very popular wedding theme.

Plus it’s a great way to affectionately showcase beloved heirlooms.

Carved old mirror

Carved old mirror

 

Please visit my Shabby Chic Aestheric Preference Pinterest Board to see more examples. Do you love it? 

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

 

 

 

The Elements of Design – Shape

The Second of the Elements of Design – Shape

Shape – the outline of an object. It will have at least height and width, and in three dimensions, depth/thickness. Shape is often defined by line, but also by color, and texture. In a sense, a shape is defined by where it ends.

The simplest shape – the circle – is the foundation of technology – the wheel.

There is positive shape – the space occupied by the object – and negative shape – the space left empty. And there is optical illusion – variations on this famous face vs vase illustration.

Vase or profiles

Silhouettes – distinctive shapes in the absence of detail – can be extremely evocative. Instant shape recognition is something advertisers have long known and taken advantage of, as do graphic artists, logo designers, and the designers of public signage. Fact is humans are hard wired from birth to take note of high contrast simple positive and negative shapes that represent faces.

Shapes

Shape in garments – well shaped garments create shape in bodies, including illusion and enhancement.

Proportion is a factor in shape. The visual meaning of a shape alters with changes in proportion.

Proportions

Shape is important in set design. First the floor plan, dependent on the performance space, is a 2D shape. The floor plan facilitates movement and flow. The elevations might show levels. Set pieces  show the architecture of the set – realism, abstract, expressionist. The shapes may have soft edges and curves, or straight lines and hard angles. Geometry, the science of shape, is important – especially for defining sight lines and the effective wedge (the part of the stage visible from every seat in the audience).

The Golden Mean

This is a magical seeming ratio produces rectangles that are considered to be the most pleasing to the eye, the most balanced and the most restful. It is believed to occur all over the place in nature. It has been called the Divine Proportion. Euclid is known for exploring it, and it is a big feature of Classical Greek architecture.

The actual number of the Golden Ratio is represented by Phi, and like Pi, goes on forever. The mathematical formula is:

.

but for artistic purposes we can approximate the ratio as 1:1.618, so a rectangle where the long side is a little more than one and half times the short side is getting there. (Long side divided by short side.)

Try using a drawing program to draw a pleasing, comfortable rectangle. There will be a moment when intuitively it just feels right. I bet you will be very close to the Golden Mean. Some artists are known for intentionally measuring to use the ratio. However it turns up automatically in all kinds of art because of aesthetic intuition. The proportion looks and feels right.

Looking for Shape

Just as once we started looking for line, it seemed to be everywhere, once you start looking at shape inside art, and appreciating the shape of objects in your environs, shape will be really obvious.

Animal silhouettes

Spend time appreciating the pleasing shapes of your belonging and shapes in nature. Shape is often governed by function – leaves, birds’ beaks, animal’s teeth, teapots. Ergonomics influence shape, how a well designed tool feels in the hand. Look at shapes within architecture. It isn’t all rectangles.

Disney Concert Hall

Fun with Shapes

Play with kids’ blocks. Look at the shadows cast by your towers.

Play with tangrams.

Negative Shape – Space.

One reason people stand with their hands on their hip in photos is to create the negative space under their arm. It breaks up the shape and makes you appear slimmer.

The beauty of an object on a shelf can be better appreciated if the space around it is defined – hence shadow boxes, and bookshelves. Many pictures look better framed with a mat.

In music, moments of silence can give clarity to the next notes. It’s called “phrasing”.

Originally the editing of the penultimate scene from “Casablanca” (1942) went like this.
Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects”.

Adding in some space made the moment immortal.

Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot…”
Rick stares at Renaud.
Renaud looks at Rick, and makes a sudden decision.
“Round up the usual suspects”.

Here’s a quote from Doctor Who:

“Oh, you’ve been eliminating yourself from history. You know you could be reconstructed by the hole you left.” Cyber Doctor, Nightmare in Silver.(Series 7, Ep.12)

The History of Interiors in architecture is the history of shape defining space, and space defining function. But that’s for another time.

Steps

Steps – shape and line

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