Tag Archives: texture

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 – 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.

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Aesthetic Preferences

Beautiful Roses

Blushing roses

I have come up with the concept of “Aesthetic Preferences” to mean people’s taste and the kind of home decor, literature, clothing, visual arts and performing arts that lifts their spirits, makes them feel comfortable and beautiful, and ignites their creativity. Essentially it is the style they prefer.

I was developing these as a path to understanding the kind of look and aesthetic my prospective scrapbooking clients might want for their layouts.

I started listing them and came up with about 20, but I think there will be more. Some the really visible or prevalent ones popular today include Shabby Chic, Steampunk, and Modernist. Others include Traditional, French Country, Cottage, Prim, Mid-Century Retro, Craftsman, Shaker, Tribal, Beach and Asian.

One place where I have been able to illustrate them has been on Etsy through treasuries. These are a nice way to support other handmade artists, promote my own shop, and gather visual material together. Please visit my Treasuries Page to see them. I started numbering them, so I think I’ll visit them here over time in the same order.

Aesthetic preferences are a continuum, sliding from one to the next in eclectic moments.

Just as nobody likes only one kind of cuisine,  as far as I can tell, nobody likes only one aesthetic style. People will respond positively to more than one, and most likely they will be influenced by how “well realized” the style may be. But people’s preferences change with time, with personal maturity, with lifestyle changes, even with fashion.

As a film and theater designer I often had to work with multiple aesthetic styles to reflect the characters, sets, locations. Scripts and plays would be part of an aesthetic, that informed the design. But why should you concern yourself with defining your own aesthetic preferences?

  • Exploring images always inspired my creative thinking. You too can be inspired just by researching.

  • Discovering your own Aesthetic Preferences can help your creativity by giving definition to your plans. If you want to make something for yourself or your home, you have a starting point.

  • Understanding other people’s aesthetic preferences will help you when you want to make or buy something for them. It can also help you define your target market if you are in business.

  • Possibly examining your aesthetic preference could lead you to finding your creative blocks or fears. Do you find some aesthetic overwhelming, or too hard to realize? Do you fear that you will be judged for your preferences or taste?

  • Examining aesthetic preferences can give you a clear idea of what you don’t like, in the quest for deciding – and expressing – what you do like.

  • As we move forward with different AP’s, think about the fundamentals of each one, to discover the principles and criteria that define the AP – then they can be applied to your other work, other media.

Aesthetic Preference #1 – Romantic Country Cottage.

Here’s the description from the treasury page – I don’t think I can top it:

 Mix cabbage roses, liberty prints & chintz. Tea in cups. Favorite author: immortal Jane Austen, but also some Tolkein, Wodehouse, Shaw. Miss Marple, not Poirot. Old Merchant/Ivory before Helena BC went all Tim Burton. Cold Comfort Farm. Herbs & lavender.

Think of toile printed fabric – there’s that Jane Austen again – and old leather bound journals too, lace collars and irish linen with sprigs embroidered. Little House bonnets and pinafores. Hollie Hobbie takes it linear.

Cottage garden

Cottage Garden at Stop Street

Core Concept: Nostalgia.

At one end Romantic Country Cottage sits next to charming Chinoiserie with painted turquoise tea cups or  blue and white china, at the other it creeps towards Art Nouveau and looks over the hedge at Craftsman. Bleach the chintz (lessen the contrast) and it fades to Shabby Chic.

One of the aspects of this that sets it apart from the much newer aesthetic neighbor, Shabby Chic, is brighter color and greater tonal range – more contrasts. The idea is to choose related prints in close color ways but in different scales to create variation in texture. Simpler two tone textures, like stripes or ticking, create rests for the eye. The colors featured are usually pastels mixed with gelato brights, but with some darker shades of the core colors. There will often be a sense of depth.

I think I’ll start a Pinterest Board devoted to each preference as I mention it. (Please visit and repin)

As far as scrapbooking, there is so much very pretty vintage look floral paper, so many borders, embellishments and pearl button stickers, that it’s actually very easy to achieve. Most people tend to want to take it distressed, and that’s perfectly fine. Make it masculine with earth tones and navy blue, add ticking stripes and more of that brown leather. “A River Runs Through It” to Americana.

Chintz pattern Tea Set

Chintz pattern Tea Set

Is this your favorite style? Do you love overstuffed sofas in chintz with mismatched throwpillows, and walking through an overgrown wildflower garden wearing a big hat and thinking of Marianne Dashwood? Sweet teacakes on a floral platter, and butternut squash soup in a tureen.

And pretty aprons!

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