Tag Archives: Elements of Design

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.

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.