Tag Archives: visual

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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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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