• Carolyn Land

Principles of Good Design in Art and Life

The science of design, or of line drawing, if you like to use the term, is the source and very essence of painting, sculpture, architecture…Sometimes…it seems to me that…all works of the human brain and hand are either design itself or a branch of that art.?”                                                                            Michelangelo Buonarroti


  Life’s Force                                           Collage

The natural question that came up after my last blog was: “What are those ‘Principles of Good Design’ anyway”? Well that depends upon who you ask.  I was taught that there are 8, but some people say there are 5 or 7 or 12.  It depends upon who you ask, and how they define them or lump them together. In most cases the use of one, leads you to another.

I had another topic in mind following the last blog about life and personal reflection, but the question led me in a more academic direction.  So, as they say, “it is a teachable moment.”

A work of art needs:

Emphasis. The artist creates an area of the composition that is visually dominant and commands the viewer’s attention. This is often achieved by contrast / color value, a cluster on shapes, or excessive movement.  It is also called the “Center of Interest” of your painting.

Contrast. There needs to be  a difference between elements of art in a composition. (The Elements being line / mark, shape/ form, color, and texture.) When a dark value is placed next to a light value it produces a contrast and commands the viewer’s attention. An area of contrast is the first place that a viewer’s eye is drawn. However, contrast can also be achieved by the juxtaposition of any of the elements of art.

Movement.  This is the result of using the “Elements” so that they move the viewer’s eye around and within the image. A sense of movement can be created by diagonal or curvy lines, either real or implied, by edges, by the illusion of space, by repetition, or by energetic mark-making.

Repetition.   Repeating a shape, line, color or texture, by varying its size and position helps produce movement. and gives the painting rhythm.

Rhythm.   This is created by movement which is implied through the repetition of elements of art in a non-uniform but organized way. It also can be passive or active.

Variety.   This is created by varying the size of your shapes, the size of your lines and the way the colors play off of each other. By varying the size of your shapes and the type of lines you incorporate into your composition you create interest.  However, too much variety creates chaos.  Ideally, you want areas of interest in your composition along with places for your eye to rest.

Unity / Harmony  When all the parts of our painting  work together we get a feeling of wholeness.  This is done by using similar elements within the composition and placing them in a way that brings them all together so you feel a unity of parts. By using colors that work well together you achieve a feeling of harmony.

Balance.  In the end the elements should be positioned evenly around a central point.  They can be symmetrical; when elements are positioned in such a way that two halves of the design (whether vertical or horizontal) are mirrors of each other. But, usually in a painting they are asymmetrical.  This is when elements are positioned so that there is an even distribution of weight on either side of the painting, but the elements are different.

As you can see one lead to the other and some could easily be lumped to together. There are only subtle differences between several. Arranging the elements and principles of design is like conducting an orchestra. One relies on sound and the other on sight, but they both rely on orchestration. At times the artist must silence one section of a painting and make another louder, just as a conductor does when leading an orchestra. How the elements and principles of design are utilized will determine the success of the artwork.

These are also things that can be applied to our life.  We all need a focal point (emphasis) in our life even if it changes over time. With life come seasons and each one has a different focal point.  The contrasts in everyday living give us challenges as well as interest or excitement. They also move us to learn new things and accept new thing.  Life is also a series of repetitions, as our daily life has tasks that become routine. These everyday tasks become our life’s rhythm.  But we need variety to spice it up a bit and make it interesting.  It also works best when there is harmony and unity in the unit, we call family.  But most important is a well-balanced life. This leads to a wholeness of us as individuals.

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