Sign up and become a better designer, as in NOW! Design Principles 101 is a learning place dedicated to supporting and developing designers and creatives of all stripes.
Far beyond discovering a few new tips & tricks, Design principles are the actual tools of composition. They help coordinate how visual things engage with other visual things while distinguishing your work. For some, this experience will be about standing clear and apart from a crowded field of competing visions. For others, this will become a deep, expansive dive into personal expression…or just more fun!
And then there’s rhythm – the wild card of design principles. Have you ever come across a course in visual rhythm? Neither have most people. Until now.
Rhythm engages viewers and this learning environment contains a course in it. You’ll learn about how design principles work, the various kinds of rhythm, examples and explanations, as well as a number of helpful videos. (Tip #1: Repetition and Variation are the key to how rhythm works.)
DesignPrinciples101.com is not just about how design works, but it’s also about how rhythm works, and why notan could become the secret sauce that many creatives have been searching for. Also included in this course, one of the most important ideas you’ll ever come across – gestalt, is finally made user friendly and accessible.
At last, here is a course on design and art with which you can actually binge. Order up a coffee and while waiting, watch a two-minute video, then grab your beverage and go! La dolce vita while you learn – life is sweet!
This particular major section has subsections or modules. Every module or subsection contained within, contains lessons. Each module has at least one exercise. Some of these modules have a good number of them. Some lessons only contain a discussion. Some lessons only contain an exercise. Many lessons contain both.
© Copyright 2023 Howard Schneider, all rights reserved.
- Introduction Exercise Completed
Design is the structure of art. Art is more about the dynamic, creative response to the condition of living. Not all art requires structure though it’s hard to find an artistic expression that does not involve structure even at a minimum. Even the sky is a stage.
Now let’s switch from design as a docile noun to design as a dynamic verb. Here’s a definition you might find helpful as you use the exercises and resources in this site:
Design is the logical selection and arrangement of visual elements for order with interest.
Design involves logic and intuition, though necessarily not in that order. Design is not merely the result of knowing a program or mastering a technique, but it does rely on tools. The visual arts landscape is comprised of two primary sets of tools: Design Elements and Design Principles.
Design Elements are the more tangible of the two. They are comprised of:
Dots | Lines | Shapes | Volume | Value | Color | Texture | Space
Design Principles however are a different animal. They are all about coordinating any of the Design Elements with each other. Design Elements by comparison are pretty easy to recognize. Design Principles on the other hand feel more elusive; more abstract. A comb is a comb. A “passive area” is a what?
Each of the Design Principles listed below contains examples of how each principle functions in art, design or photography. The goal here is not to be consumed by these principles, but to become increasingly comfortable in using them. After a while, these principles will become a set of tools readily available at your whim and service.
- Students begin here Exercise Completed
Depending on how your instructor wishes to move forward – or even for those without an instructor – the first step should be to take a quick visit through this text’s three main learning sets: (1) Exercises in Unity & Composition, (2) Exercises in Rhythm, and (3) Just the Videos. Your instructor may wish to target specific lessons, modules or videos for you to focus on. No instructor? No sweat, just proceed, digest and do (the exercises that is.) Revisit favorite sections at a later date if desired.
Then return to this section and read the first three lessons on Proportion. That’s where you find the exercises. Also start watching the videos on Proportion. The learning modules are generally aligned with the videos. The greatest benefit is from consuming both the written portions and the videos.
This learning experience is more experiential than one you might have to normally and doggedly commit to rote memory. Simply enjoy taking it in. That’s your primary responsibility. Read the text, watch the videos, do the exercises.
Get the maximum benefit by repeating any of your favorite sections, videos, or exercises after at least six weeks.
- Educators begin here Exercise Completed
This virtual textbook was created as a supplemental learning tool that can also serve as a class’s primary resource. This virtual textbook can alternately become a flexible and vital learning tool for any number of courses within your department. It can readily become a useful resource to which you could refer a struggling student for whom negative space, for example, is still a mystery. Or proportion. Or hierarchy. Or rhythm. Or balance.
There is no universally-adopted narrative on DesignPrinciples. No two designers, artists or educators are the same. Just when you think that all art educators know there’s six design principles, your department’s newest lecturer has a seventh. Given the degree of inter-collegiate transference and the inherent inconsistencies of scaffolding despite everyone’s best efforts, one student’s reinforcement can also be another student’s introduction.
DesignPrinciples101* represents a surveyed compilation of some of the most commonly-shared principles currently in general use. This site can easily function as a self-guided course or instructor-led. It can be readily customized as per the need.
The reader’s first step should be to take a quick visit through this text’s three main learning sets: (1) Exercises in Unity & Composition, (2) Exercises in Rhythm, and (3) Just the Videos. And yes, there is a FAQ section.
Intermediate level students might enjoy revisiting one of their earlier creations after they’ve consumed the reading sections, did at least some of the exercises, and viewed the videos – or merely after having revisited their favorite sections and then revisiting an earlier work – just to see how their sensibilities might have evolved.
This course is very helpful towards building a sensibility and appreciation of structure and aesthetics, but the longer-term goal is to wean one’s self away from obedience and orthodoxy of principles into a more fluid sense of playfulness with a lingering mindfulness in regards to how design works. And how rhythm works. And balance, and proportion, and hierarchy, and…
So welcome to DesignPrinciples101.com and enjoy the journey – which just began! Enjoy!
- A_ PROPORTION
- A1 Proportion: Harmony, Balance, Contrast & Weight Exercise Completed
Proportion is all about the amounts used of anything. Harmony is a state of cohesive balance in which similarities are achievable despite contrasts or variances. A harmonious musical chord will have a structure composed of various notes, yet will blend together the instant it is heard. Balance is all about achieving an equilibrium. Three factors control balance: size, value (or color), and location. Some might add a fourth: shape, since some shapes are more attention-grabbing than others. Contrast is the most dynamic expression of proportion. Visual weight refers to the lightness or heaviness of an item as well as the item’s hierarchal or relative importance within a composition.
Balanced contrast is a state in which diverse elements have combined in ways to create a harmony. Not all art strives to find it, but being able to make the necessary adjustments is a measure of craft unto itself. Here are a few examples with descriptions added below:
■ Cielito Lindo expresses a visual balance between the geometric (rectangle) and the organic (angel) by managing the amount of one versus the other; ■ Broad to Disney juxtaposes details of two adjacent buildings – a mass of swooping, curved and darkly diagonal shapes against a brightly illuminated diagonal area in the visual center; ■ Wabi Sabi Plus Flower balances the amounts used of decayed wood against a partial reveal of bright yellow roses; ■ Rose Parade 2023 balances a bright red rose against a more generously displayed palm tree. Though the rose becomes a focal point, the importance of the tree balances out the overall narrative or concept; ■ Branching Ballet finds balance between the figure and the branching area by dialing down the color and saturation of the latter; ■ Dimitri’s Bakery is an homage to Piet Mondrian, a Dutch 20th century modernist who used grids, colors and solid shapes to achieve compositions of precise, asymmetric balance. Continue on to the next module and dive into the exercise.
- A2 Proportion: Harmony, Balance, Contrast & Weight Exercise Completed
Achieve a balanced harmony by controlling proportions. Three factors control balance: size, value (or color or texture), and position. Some might add a fourth: shape, since some shapes are more attention-grabbing than others. All of these factors have a decided affect on the distribution of visual weight within a composition.
The goal in creating an ideal sense of balance in a visual space is to create a state where all visual items are seen at the same instant despite their inherent differences. In that ideal state, nothing dominates over anything else.
Balance may not be everyone’s objective, and certainly not all the time. A desire for emphasis would require that a hierarchy be established. Hierarchy would help the viewer determine where the viewer would go initially and then successively. Towards achieving hierarchy, the same factors we used to achieve balance would be employed: size, value (or color or texture), and position. And let’s not forget the role of shape.
Exercise in Balance: Create a white square with a very thin black frame, digitally or by hand, any size. Next, add three circles in three very different sizes. Next, fill each circle in with a different value: light gray, medium gray, and black. IMPORTANT: the frame or stroke of each circle should not be visible. Finally, arrange your circles within the square or up to or beyond (“bleed”) the edge. Make sure there’s no overlap of circles and that they’re not touching each other. If any portion of a circle goes outside the frame, trim away the excess.
Your goal is to create a sense of balance whereby all three items are seen at the same instant. No single circle dominates over the other two and no two circles dominate over the third. Each circle must be very different from the others in term of size, value and location (but with no overlapping or touching). Any of your circles can “bleed” over the edge, but the excess must be trimmed off.
Test your results: Want to see if you’ve achieved balance? Hold a blank sheet of paper over your composition and stare at it for 30 seconds. Then quickly pull it away. Balance or imbalance will reveal itself immediately. Make the necessary adjustments in terms of size, value (or color or texture), and position. (A good double-check is to turn the composition upside down, then do the paper test.)
The lesson here is two-fold. If you can control balance, you can also begin to control hierarchy. Hierarchy aids in the exploration of any composition. Its helps identify which areas have greater importance over others. It helps in the navigation of those areas will likely be taken in fist, second and so on.
Examples representing balance:
Examples representing hierarchy:
- A3 Proportion: Contrast Exercise Completed
Contrast is about as dynamic as proportion gets. Contrast takes no prisoners and provides no quarter. Contrast can be a confrontation, a precipice, or a life-saver.
FYI, the following exercises have a legacy: the Bauhaus. Joost Schmidt’s intro course included two exercises in contrasts. The first one involves a symbol. The second one involves imagery.
Exercise #1: Contrasts abound. Your task is to create nine types of contrasts using a plus sign (+) as your basis. Can be digital or hand drawn or any combo. Nine individual studies.
Exercise #2: Your task is to create nine individual studies. Each study must contain an optical and thematic contrast. Imagery must be involved. Concept or narrative (story) is involved here as well. Can be digital, found, hand drawn or in any combo. Images can be used in whole, cropped, modified or outlined as desired.
For additional inspiration: Bauhaus founding director, influential Swiss painter, designer, writer and theorist Johannes Itten identified a range of contrasting conditions in his basic course at the Bauhaus school of post-WW1 Germany. The types of visual contrasts he suggested were inspiring and varied:
Rigid vs Fluid
Flat vs Textured
Color vs Gray
Stable vs Random
Thick vs Thin
Large vs Small
Long vs short
Much vs Little
Straight vs Bent
Pointed vs Blunt
Horizontal vs Vertical
Circular vs Diagonal
High vs Low
Plane vs Line
Plane vs Volume
Smooth vs Rough
Hard vs Soft
Still vs Moving
Light vs Heavy
Transparent vs Opaque
Steady vs Intermittent
Sweet vs Sour
Strong vs Weak
Loud vs Soft
(and in any combination)
- A4 Proportion: Contrast & Scale Exercise Completed
Contrast of Scale – another form of Proportion – is all about comparing varied size relationships. It could be a simple, everyday contrast of scale such as toy car placed upon the hood of a real one, or perhaps a reversal of expectation such as in a surreal environment.
Far left: Pomposity, 2021. Below, left to right: Stagecoach, 2009; Snowbird Marathon, 2021; Late Night Litho, 2021; Marge, Not the Neighbors Again, 2023.
Contrast of Scale plays its strongest role when an artist or designer wishes to heighten tension or extend a sense of depth…or even reverse one.
It’s your turn! Exercise in Scale: Find an image of something normally small, like a bee, and enlarge it dramatically to present a very bold perspective. Make the size 5″x8″. Now find something normally large and related to your first image. Reduce its size dramatically and cut it out. On a white 8½”x11″ format, integrate one image with the other by trying to express an ironic pairing. Change the opacity of the enlarged image if desired to achieve balance.
Proportion 3: Contrast of Scale
- A5 Proportion: Hierarchy & Focal Point Exercise Completed
Hierarchy aids in the exploration of any composition. Its helps identify which areas have greater importance over others. It helps the viewer identify which areas will likely be taken in first, second and so on.
A focal point is the most active area in a composition. Some prefer calling it an entry point. Not every composition requires one, depending, of course on the nature of the composition, intention or outcome.
As seen in the Vermeer painting on the left, a focal point can lead the viewer into secondary areas of interest and thus into the heart of a story or narrative by way of creating hierarchy. (Hierarchy and focal point are also covered under the Active/Passive definition, shown elsewhere within this section.)
Below are examples of hierarchal compositions and hierarchal compositions with focal points: ■ Six Donuts; ■ Unity & Rhythm screenshot; ■ Rose Parade 2023; ■ Flood Refugees; ■ Chairman’s Letter, 2003 PFCO Annual Report; ■ What Makes Communities Stick?
How is the artist controlling what we see first, second and so on?
- A6 Proportion: Hierarchy & Focal Point Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! Exercise in hierarchy and focal point; details: Find a vintage magazine or newspaper ad with multiple focal points. Deconstruct the entire ad and reassemble it into a composition with a visual hierarchy starting from a single focal point. This can be done either digitally or traditionally using high contrast prints, scissors and glue, then photocopying the final result.
- A7 Proportion: Hierarchy & Focal Point Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! Create your own version of Hierarchy through the medium of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Create a composition that’s a layering of three visual items. Make whichever adjustments you need (size, brightness/dullness, color, texture, positioning) to create a hierarchal composition that also features a focal point.
Advanced: See if the net result can communicate something stronger than that which is suggested by the individual parts alone. If not, see what adjustments need to be made to make that happen while still maintaining a hierarchy and a focal point.
- A8 Proportion: Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Balance Exercise Completed
Balance can be proportionally affected by visual weight and also by structure. In general terms, the most frequently used means of establishing structural balance involve symmetry and asymmetry.
Symmetrical Balance involves mirroring an image along an imaginary axis. The compositions immediately below demonstrate four different types of symmetrical balance: vertical, diagonal, horizontal, and radial. In each case there’s an imaginary axis that provides this kind of underlying structure. Vertical symmetry: ■ National Watercolor Society poster; ■ Keep Your Head Above Your Heart poster; ■ 5 Generaciones wine label; Diagonal symmetry: ■ Beef Consumption poster; Horizontal symmetry: ■ Angel Hearts; or Radial symmetry: ■ Snowbird Marathon logo; ■ Staircase, Sagrada Familia.
On the other hand, asymmetrical balance does not involve a mirrored structure or axis, but rather a felt sense of balance. The sense of structure is typically more fluid and possesses more random qualities. The compositions below; ■ DADA/no; ■ To Our Shareholders; ■ DP101 Robot; ■ Church of the Nazarene – demonstrate asymmetrical balance. In each case there’s a felt sense of balance borne out of proportional considerations (size, value or color, weight and placement).
It’s your turn! Create your own composition through the medium of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Create or find another item or image of something that’s symmetrically balanced. Now create or find another image that is asymmetrically balanced. Then integrate these two images into three compositions: (1) favoring asymmetry; (2) favoring symmetry; (3) a balance between things symmetrical and asymmetrical.
- A9 Proportion: Notan, Balance & Harmony Exercise Completed
Notan is a Japanese concept roughly translated as dark/light and is most apparent where shapes and patterns occur. It’s all about darks and lights (or other visual forms of opposition) composed into harmonic, balanced patterns or relationships; a concept made visible in this painting by Utagawa Hiroshige, (View from Massaki of Suijin,1856; The Art Institute of Chicago). In the painting, neither the flowing tree nor the receding landscape dominate one over the other. Harmony and Notan become the result.
“Darks and lights in harmonic relations – this is Notan…”, Arthur Wesley Dow; educator, painter, art historian.
Below are various examples of Notan in which balance achieves harmony, left to right: ■ OK logo: two symbols – one dark, one light – are combined and proportionally adjusted so the neither shape dominates the other; ■ Snowbird Marathon logo; ■ 42nd Annual Dakar Rally poster; ■ Me; illustration;
Below, left to right: ■ Yellow Dancers by Edgar Degas (1874/76, The Art Institute of Chicago) in which patterns of dark, medium and lighter tones are balanced by controlling the proportion of one set of tones against the others; ■ Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer (1663, The Rijksmuseum) further extends the idea of harmony being achieved through balance – with Notan as the net result.
Below are additional examples of Notan in which pattern of shapes, colors, values or tones appear as contributing factors, left to right: ■ Exterior and interior details, Sagrada Familia; Antoni Gaudi, 1882, Barcellona. First detail displays patterns in both positive and negative spaces; ■ second detail displays softer pattern contrasts; ■ third detail displays a balance between softer and stronger patterns; ■ fourth detail displays a random balance and harmony among a varied group of contrasting shapes, colors and patterns in which no single elements appears to overwhelm any of the others.
Below, left to right: ■ Snowbird Marathon poster continues the same quality of Notan as enabled by balance and harmony, ■ as do January ’59, ■ Post-Pandemic Ball 2023!, ■ In the Spirit, and ■ Wayne Hunt’s Been Dancing.
Time to test yourself:
Proportion 7: Time to test yourself.
- A1 Proportion: Harmony, Balance, Contrast & Weight Exercise Completed
- B_ DIRECTION & MOVEMENT
- B1 Direction & Movement Exercise Completed
Direction & Movement: There’s a difference. In the example on the left, a pattern of black dots is shaped into a line with a decidedly diagonal direction. This line also has a sense of movement. It is a bit bumpy and fairly active in addition to flowing diagonally.
The diagonal direction being expressed by the dots is entirely the result of alignment and of the dots being close enough (tension) for a sense of unity to take place. This same line of dots reinforces the overall direction (or orientation) of the canvas which is diagonal.
Movement is reflected by internal forces within the line contributing to a felt sense of advancement or progression. There is also a counterpoint or balance: an orange line which acts as an alternately diagonal, subordinate source of direction. The direction of both the dotted line and the orange line are echoed and repeated by the lightish blue strokes behind each.
Below are some examples of direction and movement: ■ Rolling Hills 2 represents horizontal and diagonal direction; triangular and curvilinear movements; ■ New Year’s Eve Ball represents diagonal, triangular and vertical directions as well as curvilinear moments of movement; ■ 77th Dakar Rally exudes cascading movement and a somewhat diagonal sense of direction; ■ DP101 Workshops poster strongly express both vertical and horizontal directions; ■ Broad to Disney sweeping curves contain a perfectly counterposed diagonal edge; ■ President’s Message expresses movement through the aid of a fractured perspective; and ■ Cielito Lindo balances the organic, curvilinear movements within the angelic illustration against the geometric, horizontal direction of the rectangular area.
- B2 Direction by Alignment Exercise Completed
Alignment provides one of the simplest and most direct means for conveying direction and creating unity in a composition. Overlapping creates a continuous mass of shape. On the other hand, alignment implies a direct link from one independent object to another independent object. For example, the text on this page runs in a tight sequence of letters and words on an imaginary horizontal path. This text also happens to be aligned on the left edge (“flush left”).
■ Night Stream‘s black dots float along as if in a diagonal migratory sort of flight. ■ All of the 5 Generaciones wine label elements align along a center axis, as do the black elements. Please notice that each system of color has it’s own rhythm. Alignment bonds both rhythms. ■ What Makes Communities Stick? uses alignment and hierarchy to create a meandering but coherent path. ■ We’re Back! uses flush left text alignment to connect the body text to the salmon and then to the headline. You’ll notice here as well that each color has its own rhythm and that alignment unifies one color system with another.
Alignments require a certain degree of tension or closeness from one object to the next and an imaginary path, otherwise the connections tend to weaken. Alignments assert control:
Descriptions of alignment/control shown above: ■ Stagecoach poster, the floating, quoted text appears tethered to the move title on a left axis which also controls the actors’ images and client’s identity. The “tethered” elements assert a dominantly vertical direction. ■ Magritte’s Grotto, an egg yoke shares a centering axis with the red shape beneath it, acting as a tether and helping to offset the more random elements of the image. The relationship of yoke to red shape asserts a subordinate direction. ■ Dakota is built on a central axis that engages the text, middle ground pattern, and background vignette of the circled star. All content but the larger silhouetted airplane shape are controlled by this visual thread. Although the composition is dominantly horizontal, the central/vertical axis asserts the composition’s only subordinate direction. ■ Marineland of Rolling Hills #1 features a pattern of white triangles (and dolphins) that are aligned on diagonal, horizontal and vertical axes. There are two dominant directions at play here: triangular and horizontal.
- B3 Direction by Alignment Exercise Completed
Direction by Alignment Exercise. Empty out your pockets or your backpack onto a table top. Arrange everything along an imaginary center axis, either vertically or horizontally. Overlap a few items to create some variety. Take a few pics, overhead, including a variety of angles and closeups. Save for later exercises.
- B4 Direction by Orientation Exercise Completed
The examples below each feature one dominant direction based on overall orientation. From left to right: ■ Sagrada Familia staircase’s dominant spiral orientation is complemented by the subordinately radiating pattern of steps; ■ Tokaido with Poem (Utagawa Hiroshige, 1837; Chicago Institute of Art) horizontal direction with triangular submovements; ■ Oldsmobile 88 Ad has diagonal movement yet triangular orientation. ■ The complexity gradually increases in January 59 which has a strongly reinforced radial movement that runs in counterpoint to the vertical format and individual letterforms. The horizontal January text reinforces a subordinately horizontal direction. Continue on to the next module and dive into the exercise.
- B5 Direction by Orientation Exercise Completed
Direction by Orientation Exercise. Reformat your pics from the B3 exercise by enlarging and cropping into each image. Crop into, enlarge and rotate the images as desired to change the overall orientation of each image. Create at least three variations for each of the best center alignment image and three for the best common edge alignment image.
Direction by Orientation, left to right: (1) strongly vertical orientation and direction countered by the horizontal direction of the bottom-edge alignment; (2) centered horizontal alignment created by the coins, countered by the stronger vertical direction of the pen: (3) center-aligned, strongly diagonal orientation of the objects, countered by the same objects creating an opposing diagonal direction.
- B6 Direction by Alignment & Orientation Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! Create your own composition that expresses alignment and orientation through the medium of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Create one piece of art with your eyes closed. ■ Next, create another piece of artwork with eyes open but in 3 seconds or less. ■ Next, split one or both of your art pieces in half. ■ Next, recombine all pieces to create a composition that displays only one dominant direction and at least one subordinate direction. ■ Lastly, create a frame that’s too small for your combined art. Place the frame on top of your art and see how many different orientations you can create before trimming the excesses at the frame’s edge.
Top row: ■ Rolling Hills (triangular movement with diagonal and horizontal direction; dominantly diagonal orientation); ■ National Watercolor Society poster (dominantly horizontal orientation with typographic reinforcement; subordinately vertical direction reinforced by the address line at bottom), ■ Magritte’s Grotto (dominantly horizontal direction established by horizon, subordinately vertical direction due to implied center axis of yolk to red shape).
Bottom row: ■ Do the Math (triangular cluster of symbols, counterposed by a horizontal line suggestive of either a horizon or a rotisserie; ■ For Love (dominantly horizontal direction and orientation, subordinately vertical direction in heart/for love relationship, subordinately diagonal direction middle/left); ■ Douglas C-47 (dominantly horizontal direction and subordinately vertical orientation); ■ Queens of Hearts (dominantly horizontal orientation, subordinately diagonal movement, subordinately vertical movement).
- B7 Movement by Fracturing Exercise Completed
Fractured space can express Movement or even shape a story. Anytime you watch a movie, a TV show or most any video, something about what you’re watching has likely been edited, spliced, trimmed or reconfigured. This is fracturing at its core and at its most everyday. It’s alternately a product of natural forces or a human contrivance. In terms of the latter, think of fast forwarding with a remote control or the precise instance when a media selection is suddenly changed.
Examples shown below, top row: ■ President’s Message suggests a chaotic process of self-examination in which even the most sacred of all symbols would not be exempt; ■ 42nd Dakar Rally suggests the circuitous, rugged nature of an off-road rally; ■ Wayne, Off-the-Grid juxtaposes the artist with his work; ■ They Were Heroes, represents the narrow window of strongest opportunity in the planning of D-Day, WWII. Bottom row: ■ Consulting Fees, Nationwide Aggregate, 1st Q, 2022 suggests the enormity of the hourly fees charged by a fictitious business consultant; ■ 2003 Paula Annual Report suggests the various farming interests whose insurance needs are represented and the communities thus supported – and metaphorically, what could be chaotic encounters control.
- B8 Movement by Fracturing Exercise Completed
Exercise in fracturing and creating movement: Find a simple yet strongly graphic page from a magazine. The least amount of clutter, the better. Subdivide the imagery with scissors or digitally into a pattern of 2″ inch squares. Subdivide one or two squares into 1″ squares for variety.
Rearrange your squares in a way that hints at the original layout but creates a more rhythmical and dynamic composition than the original. It’s all about how you arrange the squares continuously and non-continuously. No overlapping; no gaps.
- B9 Movement by Gesture Exercise Completed
Movement can be expressed by the wave of a hand, the bounce of a ball, or even suggested as in the sweeping, overlapping lines of a freeway interchange. Motion tends to produce a trail whether actual or imaginary. Point A to point B has an “in between” stage. Motion has a path, whether it’s straight and simple or convoluted and complex; continuous or interrupted.
On the left, ■ Westbound abstraction suggests a shifting cluster of cumulus clouds floating somewhere in or about Los Angeles.
First row down: ■ Snowbird Marathon logo depicts compressive and expansive gestures occurring at the same time; ■ Post-Pandemic Ball 2023 leaps and revolves in celebration of the post-Covid era while referencing the bubonic plague doctors of 16th century Europe; ■ DADA suggests the tumbling chaos that was encouraged by the early 20th century art movement; ■ 5 Reasons to Drink suggests the haphazard effects from the very activity being described.
Bottom row: ■ Arrived Australia suggests the distortions that accompany the uninitiated global traveler’s experience; ■ Asymmetrically Yours suggests rotating movement and the stylishly ghoulish; ■ Branching Ballet is a learning-from-nature narrative in which gesture and movement unite normally dissimilar elements.
- B1 Direction & Movement Exercise Completed
- C_ POSITIVE/NEGATIVE SPACE
- C1 Positive/Negative Space Exercise Completed
Negative Space: so misunderstood. The empty space that surrounds physical objects is generally ignored. Many of us see empty space as “background”; a harmless void, generally considered not too important unless you enjoy things like deep fried doughnut holes. And there’s the hook. Negative space is generally ignored until it provides some sort of reward or feedback.
In this demonstration, you’ll see how negative space works as an invisible force, building tension, pattern and rhythm just like positive shapes (aka “objects”) do.
Let’s create a square, any size. We’ll add one simple shape like a smallish circle and position the shape in the mathematical center. It will likely appear static, showing no likelihood of moving and giving the background no vitality.
Make a copy of the shape and place it just to the right of the shape you just moved. Notice now that the space between your objects and the outside edge has compressed. The objects are moving towards something, in this case towards an outer edge and towards each other, and by doing so, they have gained tons of momentum. The space surrounding the object(s) has more variety now than it did before.
This latter point is quite important. Negative space, instead of being “just the background”, has shape. And tension. And rhythm. A hole in the ground has a shape. Some varieties of swiss cheese are virtually defined by their holes.
If variety makes things interesting, shouldn’t that also apply to the shape and proportion of negative space? Why not give the surrounding space a little attention? You’ll soon begin to see that negative space has presence and pattern, factors that you now can begin to control. You’ll begin to see that “empty” space is indeed a powerful asset in coordinating your compositions.
- C2 Positive/Negative Space Exercise Completed
Positive/Negative space can be an extension of line, shape…and rhythm. A simple composition made out of a series of identical objects like pencils, is arranged on a simple background. These objects are then arranged so that the proportion of spacing between the objects repeats.
Next, a second composition is created from the same objects but the space between the objects get varied. The pencil’s width becomes the model for space making, making the negative space reflective of the positive matter. A positive shape has been repeated and varied as a negative version of the positive object.
Repetition and variation are the underpinnings of rhythm. It’s easy to see how negative space can assume rhythm just like any other tangible pattern of elements. Negative space has all of the qualities that can make its presence an asset. And lastly, negative space isn’t always white.
Ask yourself: In which ways are the following examples affected by negative space?
- C3 Positive/Negative Space Exercise Completed
Using very simple silhouettes and positive/negative space, create a fusion between a mammal and its ___________ (fill in the blank as to what the other half of the pairing is: Joy? Food? Habitat? Offspring? Friend? Prey?). One silhouette must be a positive shape and the other a negative shape.
Optional: Save your creative results and revisit after completing the next exercise and video which includes notan. What adjustments would you make? None? A little? A lot? Do these changes change the meaning?
- C4 Positive/Negative; Figure/Ground; Notan Exercise Completed
Figure/ground relationships are similar to positive/negative relationships but allow for more involved variations in which multiple layers of relationships can occur. For example, the above left print, ■ Yoshiwara/Fuji Marsh by Utagawa Hiroshige (1855. Chicago Institute of Art), depicts a landscape in which the clouds that cluster at the base of Mt. Fuji take are roughly the same shape and pattern as are the tufts of marshlands in the foreground water. As a result, a pattern of positive/negative shapes gets distributed amongst both the foreground and the background. As each “figure” leaves behind a “ground”, the reasoning behind the paired terms figure/ground begins to make sense.
Figure/ground, positive/negative – and even form/space – have each evolved from the Japanese sensibility of notan. Notan has no literal translation in English but, according to 19th century educator, painter and researcher, Arthur Wesley Dow in his book Composition, should be understood to mean, “darks and lights in harmonic relations“. Through this sensibility, harmony and beauty is achievable through the selection and arrangement of dark and light spaces – and not just extreme dark (black) and extreme light (white), but in an infinite variety of combinations. The Hiroshige example directly above is an example where neither the foreground, middle ground, or the background dominate one over the other. The same could be argued for the January 59 image next to it and the Wayne Hunt Been Dancing composition to its right. If the latter’s orange radial shape were any larger, it would dominate the entire work.
Negative space can take on it’s own pacing and integrity. The ■ January 59 image has three layers of objects – (1) all three gray photos; (2) a white 59; and (3) a black JANUARY – in which each of these three layers create their own dynamic layout of negative shapes. Similarly, ■ Wayne Hunt’s assemblage, Been Dancing, creates multiple arcs of figure and ground throughout the composition.
- C5 Positive/Negative; Figure/Ground; Notan Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! This exercise deals with how positive/negative, figure/ground and notan relationships can be discovered nearly anywhere.
Details: Find several images that were unintentionally taken or were just poorly composed to begin with. Pick one and crop into it (meaning to trim away the excess, typically after enlarging) so as to reveal a balance between positive and negative shapes. This may involve losing your photo’s sharpness, meaning or importance, but not to worry. We’re just dealing with space and shape and emphasis at this time.
Rotate the image if desired. Crop even further if necessary. After achieving the desired balance between positive and negative areas, use the original image again, but now create a second composition. In this alternate composition, your intention will be to achieve balance between dark areas, medium areas, and lighter areas, that neither will dominate one over the other. Lastly, compare the two compositions. How are they similar to one other and how are they different?
Positive/Negative Space 4: Test yourself
- C1 Positive/Negative Space Exercise Completed
- D_ CONTINUITY
- D1 Continuity Exercise Completed
Continuity is all about visual flow: the means of leading one’s eye through a composition. There are two types of continuity: Visual and Physical. Visual continuity is about alignment. An example of which is on the left: a circular rose aligning with a circular palm tree. The text on this page aligns along a left edge. Physical continuity is about physically connecting. An image of a clothesline – with the line removed – exhibits both types – all garments are unconnected and overlapping. In the end, it’s about how the eye navigates.
Displayed below are examples of images with both visual and physical continuation. ■ Woman in Blue Reading a Letter contains a map on the back wall whose lower edge/contour disappears and re-emerges from behind the figure, a visual continuity (aka, alignment) is maintained. The right edge of the table appears to physically continue onto the figure’s coat. ■ The year 2008 will forever be associated with the collapse of one of the lengthiest bull markets in history and is physically connected to a market graph in this visual. As the Dow Jones evolved into a fallen bull at the cycle’s end, visual continuity connects the end of the graph with the tail of the fallen animal. ■ Stockyard Scene depicts several lines of cattle and reflects an implicit line of visual continuity with occasional moments of physical continuity for the sake of rhythm. ■ Copeland’s Rodeo reflects a managed tension created by tight proximities within the text (creating a virtual physical continuity at the text level) and also with the line art that contains it. The star’s visual alignment with the vertical line below it reinforces the composition’s vertical direction that is established by the fork standing on the right side. The top of the fork is aligned with the white star at the top and the black line at the fork’s bottom.
- D2 Continuity Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! Exercise in Visual and Physical Continuity. Details: Find a magazine with lots of color images. Go to a feature spread, cut it up and reassemble it but not back to its original configuration. Instead, attempt to reassemble the layout in a way that features physical as well as visual continuity. Tip: don’t worry about the story or concept in this exercise. Let’s see what story or concept emerges unintentionally.
- D1 Continuity Exercise Completed
- E_ REPETITION, VARIATION & RHYTHM
- E1 Repetition, Variation & Rhythm Exercise Completed
Repetition is perhaps the most ubiquitous form of unity in the visible world. Repeat something and you’ve created that something’s twin. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Three hundred identical gray dots could become a bit predictable especially if identically spaced. Change just one of those gray dots to red and you’ve created a dynamic event called variety. Change the spacing of, say 10 of these dots and you’ve created a more dynamic form of rhythm than was previously – though perhaps benignly – there.
Repetition is logical. Variety can be playful and graceful or wild and unpredictable. Tall grasses swaying with the wind can express both qualities at the same time. The same can be seen in the pattern variety of a bird’s feathers or the color variations found in produce at a farmer’s market. Similarities with differences can also be discovered when comparing the dashboard design of some automobiles to their exterior profiles.
- E2 Repetition, Variation & Rhythm Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! Exercise goals: repetition as a means of creating unity, variation as a means to elevate interest, and rhythm as the net result .
Details: Create a mask, flat or dimensional, any medium, based on at least two or three simple shapes that are repeated and varied throughout your creation.
Create your mask using just existing media – whether it be print or digital – but none of your media can represent a face or have anything initially to do with a face. You will be creating a face using repetition and variation of visual items that you find, cut, copy, repeat and put together.
To get you started, below are two items that have nothing to do with facial features, yet either or both can be downloaded and used to create a mask. At the bottom right is an example of a mask borne out of circles, rectangles, and triangles, which reflects repetition, variation, and with rhythm as the result.
Have some fun!
- E3 Repetition, Variation & Rhythm Exercise Completed
Exercise goals: Repetition, variation and rhythm created through critical analysis. (Critical analysis may sound like a fanciful academic task, but it can actually be quite simple. If you see an interesting pattern, spot it, consider what makes it interesting to you, and then repeat it as something else.)
Details: Take your exercise from E2, make a copy of it, or if you’re working digitally, add a new layer. Next, on this copy or new layer, add a geometric pattern to your mask in a way that mimics or repeats one of the interesting rhythms or patterns in your mask.
Repetition and variation can easily become your first line of repair when creativity gets jammed up. “Is there something here that I can repeat and vary?”
- E4 Repetition, Variation & Rhythm Exercise Completed
Repeating something is one thing, but aside from any need to create unity, what is there about that thing or item that makes it worth repeating? Are we talking about repeating a precise shape or maybe “being influenced” by a shape in general? Is this thing a texture, a movement, a color, a palette of colors, a meandering pattern?
Aside from making life in general interesting, variety can also introduce creatives into unexpected and engaging paths. Below are some examples: ■ A cloud covers the base of Mt. Fuji and its unique shape gets repeated and varied into a pattern of marshy grass clusters; ■ A Cy Twombly-inspired drawing is populated by arcs, loops, and straight lines – repeated and varied by widths, textures and tones; ■ Marge, Not the Neighbors Again features a cluster of onlookers whose individual shapes are somewhat similar to exclamation marks – even down to their comparable sizes. ■ Repetition unifies this box of donuts while variety colorizes an otherwise empty feast.
Repetition & Variation 2: Test yourself
- E1 Repetition, Variation & Rhythm Exercise Completed
- F_ RHYTHM: A DEEPER DIVE
- Beneath, Within and Around Us: a Universe of Rhythm Exercise Completed
Rhythm can seem as well-behaved as a parade formation or as chaotic as a swarm of bees. Rhythm is borne out of our experience with the flow and pacing of the natural world, and serves as a means to understand underlying patterns that intrigue and engage us. This phenomenon doesn’t need a title or a name, however, we do. Several modes of rhythm will be discussed in this module, both individually and collectively.
Both the written and viewable lessons of rhythm F-6, F-7, and going forward, make up the advanced section. This advanced section reflects a dualistic approach to movement and balances in which any of the preceding, basic modes of rhythm F-1 to F-5 can be combined. These sensibilities can also extend themselves into harmony and balance-related concepts such as notan and yin yang.
This major section contains lessons. Many lessons contain an exercise. Some lessons only contain a discussion. Many lessons contain both.
- F-1 The simplest of all rhythms: an uninterrupted sequence Exercise Completed
An uninterrupted sequence can be about as simple as a rhythm can get. All rhythms involve a sequence. Repeating shapes can create a pattern that – depending on which kind of sequence it assumes – may result in a sense of movement, generally referred to as rhythm.
An uninterrupted sequence is as simple as it gets. Depending on the nature of what’s being repeated, movement can result as well. It’s hard to find movement in static patterns, that’s why not all patterns have rhythm. Patterns with even the slightest degree of variation can still produce a rhythm.
- F-2 Interrupted sequence Exercise Completed
Creating a more dynamic rhythm. Revisit the uninterrupted sequence example shown in Lesson 1.0 and this time imagine removing one circle at a time in order to create and sustain an implied horizontal line. Try it on a piece of paper with pencil and eraser. How many circles did you end up removing until the line finally fell apart? Five? Six? More?
Notice how the line or sequence seems to continue despite the fact that some of its circles are missing. (FYI, this effect is called Closure. Find out more in the video on Unity.)
The main point is that the interruptions create their own rhythm among the remaining dots. The missing circles (aka, open or negative space) now affect their own sort of pacing or rhythm as well. Conventional swiss cheese is noted for its flavor but also its holes. Shouldn’t open space have its own dynamic as well?
It’s your turn! Create your own version of an interrupted sequence through the medium of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Find or create two images: (1) a group of people, and (2) a group of spheres. The spheres could be marbles, golf balls, meatballs – anything round. Combine the spheres imagery with the crowd imagery to create an interrupted sequence of rhythm. Take pix.
- F-3 Altered sequence Exercise Completed
The varied “pulse” within the each of the two thumbnail sequence of circles has wide reaching, interesting consequences. What if just a few alterations are involved? Or just one? Black, white and gray are cool, but also think about how this can apply in the use of color; different proportions such as large vs. small (and in-between), heavy vs. light, strong vs. weak; varying textures, alternating spacings, etc. How many unique applications can you come up with?
Repeating and varying visual elements creates rhythm. The possibilities are quite limitless.
It’s your turn! Create your own version of an altered sequence through the medium of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Take your exercise from the previous lesson 2.0 and modify it. In this altered sequence version, use a dramatically different contrast of scale than in the previous exercise. For example: vary the sizes of any of the balls or any of the people; vary the color or intensity; vary a personage. The goal is to create a rhythm based on stronger variations than in the previous exercise. Take pix.
- F-4 Progressive Sequence Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! Create your own version of a progressive sequence through the medium of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Create a progressive arrangement of clouds. (Could be progression by size, color range, complex to simple, etc.) Add into your cloud layout, a flock of birds in a somewhat different progressive arrangement than with your clouds. Try at least three versions. Take pix.
- F-5 Altered-Progressive Sequence Exercise Completed
Altered-Progressive Sequences are everywhere. Cross your fingers. Watch water come to a boil. View clouds going by. This could be the stuff that dreams are made of – though the stranger the dream, perhaps the more altered the sequence. It’s all about the scrambling of an otherwise rational, gradual sequence of visual elements whether by one degree or by several.
It’s your turn! Create your own version of an altered–progressive sequence through the vehicle of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Using whichever media you prefer, arrange two right-angled triangles and one arc (as in a sliced off portion of a circle) to create a simple sailing ship. Create five of these simple sailing ships ranging from small to very large and in-between – even changing the proportionate sizes of triangles to arcs if so preferred. None of these sailing vessels need to be engineered to sail. Have some fun! Add patterns to the sails if you’d like. The key rhythm is the relationship amongst the primary objects – your sailing ships.
Arrange your sailing ships to create an altered-progressive arrangement. Try overlapping your sailing ships as well. Also consider the final cropping (aka, trimming) of your composition. Which cropping approach creates the best positive/negative results: tight trim or open? Think about color. Or not.
- F-6 Symmetrical Sequence: 2 Elements (advanced) Exercise Completed
Symmetry is a relatively precise form of balance. It typically involves a center axis, whether actual or implied. The left half looks like the right half; upper half like the lower half and so on. Think mirror-like. Multiple layers of symmetrical items may actually begin to form their own coordinated type of carefully crafted rhythms, potentially making compositions far more dynamic and interesting.
It’s your turn! Create your own version of a multi-symmetrical sequence through the vehicle of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Details: Fast food for the sake of experimentation. Buy a french fries and burger/sandwich combo. On a plate, disassemble the burger/sandwich and rearrange it’s contents into a symmetrical formation. Next, arrange your fries in a symmetrical formation, relative to the burger/sandwich arrangement.
Alternately, start with a symmetrical french fries arrangement and then add the symmetrical burger/sandwich arrangement. If you’re not that hungry, do both. In any case, take pix.
- F-7 Symmetrical Sequence: 2 Elements, 1 Altered (advanced) Exercise Completed
Opposing sequences working in harmony. This type of exercise relies on similar qualities such as combining individual symmetries getting contrasted, but to a slight degree. We’re talking about a slight degree of order vs. intuition, precision vs. chance, or chaos vs. stability – that kind of thing.
It’s your turn! Create your own version of a multi-symmetrical rhythm with one altered sequence in which one sequence is altered and a bit restless, while the other sequence is entirely rational. Details: Order a bagel (or a donut; English muffin) sliced in half and a cup of coffee to-go with a lid and a couple of stir sticks. ■ Place the bagel slices on a plate or on an unfolded napkin. ■ Take the coffee cup lid and add it to the bagel slices. Arrange the trio of circles symmetrically. ■ Next, arrange the stir sticks in a symmetrical manner. ■ Arrange with the cluster of circles you’ve just created to effect an overall composition. ■ Last step: take a bite out of one of your bagel slices. Return the newly bit bagel slice to your plate. Consider the bite as part of the composition. Take a photo. ■ Take more bites and after each bite, take another photo.
Look at your collective sequence of photos, from first bite to the last. As a result of this collective sequence, what other kind of rhythm has taken place?
- F-8 Symmetrical Altered Sequence of 2 Elements (advanced) Exercise Completed
Symmetrical sequences can act as a dominant sequence in a composition or it can act as a reclusive counterpoint and something to play off of. Opposing rhythms working in harmony, part 2. This type of engagement brings along its own kind of contrasting elements: an agitated orderliness vs. a whisper-quiet orderliness; excitedly precise vs. quietly daring; light-hearted chaos vs. bloated stability.
Below, left to right, Keep Your Head Above Your Heart; Pomposity; Mask (Northern Africa, 19th century); 5 Generaciones; DP101; Untitled (Dorothea Lange, LOC).
It’s your turn! Create your own version of a symmetrical altered sequence of 2 elements through the media of your choosing. Details: create a symmetrical mask from (1) images of auto parts arranged symmetrically, and (2) a symmetrical arrangement lines either created by you or ones that you’ve found.
Does it have a personality? Is the mask an extension of you, your alter-ego, or does it represent someone you know? Or is it the face of an animal? Take pix.
- F-9 Asymmetrical, altered sequence: 2 elements (advanced) Exercise Completed
Asymmetrical balance is all about achieving a felt sense of balance. Asymmetric arrangements can be chaotic, random and even playful. They certainly do not embrace an axis of any sort and have nothing to do with mirroring. In fact, just the opposite. Popcorn never pops symmetrically. Water never boils symmetrically. Asymmetrical balance becomes very reliant on an individual’s awareness and sensitivity to the role played by size, value (or color), and location.
It’s your turn! Create your own version of an asymmetrical altered sequence of two elements. Find 12 toothpicks or matchsticks. Drop them randomly onto a sheet of white paper placed on the ground. Take a photo or your arrangement. Crop into the image to the point where the negative space appears dynamic and interesting. Make a print if you’re working traditionally.
Take out another sheet of white tracing paper along with a bottle of ink or a cup of black coffee and an ink brush. Spontaneously lay down a pattern of splatters or marks within a short amount of time such as five seconds. (If you’re working digitally, create your pattern of splatters or marks with your eyes closed or where your vision is somehow obscured.)
Overlap your tracing paper splatters upon the toothpick arrangement. Find as many means of creating unity between the two elements as you can discover. Take pics. Which are the most effective ones and why? What adjustments would you make to either image in order to strengthen the results? Is there an opportunity for a repetition and variation between toothpicks and splatters to occur?
- F10 Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Sequences Combined (advanced) Exercise Completed
- Symmetrical and asymmetrical sequences can combine to form greater harmonies. Opposites can attract. Managing their similarities – or their point of interaction – is where design truly becomes an activity and not merely a noun. This is also a good time to review this course’s section on Unity > J1 (Exploring Unity & Composition) once again. The rational meets the dynamic. An explosion inspires a network. Chaos is modified by control.
It’s your turn! Make a pizza! Explore combining symmetrical grid with an asymmetrical arrangement of ingredients. Start with a 12” round pizza shell and coat it with tomato sauce, pesto, or olive oil. Cheese it up, optional. Cut half an onion into 1/8″ slices and separate into rings. Randomly arrange the onion rings on the pizza shell. Randomly arrange pepperoni and olive slices, capers or other round ingredients for a variety of round sizes. Bake at 450-500°F for fifteen minutes. Take Pix.
- Cut up your pizza into 8 or 12 slices. Rearrange the individual slices back into a circle, making sure no two slices end up in the same original sequence. Take pix. Post on your social media sites. Finally, enjoy your altered progressive, symmetrical and asymmetrical dinner pizza with your beverage of choice!
- F11 Focal Point (advanced) Exercise Completed
- A focal point can give rhythm a starting (or a culmination) point. A focal point can be created by some form of distinguishing event: contrast of color, size, value, texture, pattern, location, containment, and inference – just to name a few. Directing one’s attention to where the cascade of activity begins or to where it ends up – is a valuable way in which focal points support underlying compositional dynamics.
- F12 Rhythm & Pacing (advanced) Exercise Completed
Good rhythm has pacing. Pacing surrounds us. The tempo of a walk, the pulse of a dance, the movements found in nature; ■ the layering of a sunset. ■ Sometimes pacing is vertical. Sometimes it’s horizontal. Sometimes it spirals. Sometimes it meanders. ■ Sometimes chaos finds contrast and balance with symmetry, asymmetry or other forms of pacing. ■ Sometimes pacing is as seemingly innocent as a random counterpoint. ■ Sometimes pacing is progressive and predictable.
■ Sometimes pacing can sneak up on you while hiding in plain sight before quietly delivering a surprise. ■ Sometimes pacing can compress and recede inwardly. ■ Pacing can expand; it can recede; it can also do both at the same time! ■ Pacing can be serpentine, wandering, interrupted and resumed. ■ The pacing of an open space can replace a lot of words.
■ Pacing can be about how the eye travels around, within and throughout a frame. Does the viewer get abandoned or are they induced to continue? ■ Sometimes pacing grunts, squats and stumbles. ■ Sometimes pacing emerges boldly and gracefully. ■ Sometimes pacing is continually self-referencing. ■ Sometimes pacing fractures, interrupts, then reassembles. ■ And sometimes pacing reflects an open spirit, never conclusive, always evolving.
■ Pacing can be rollicking, frolicking, tumbling, and very much in motion – and sometimes pacing is layered from front to back to middle. ■ Sometimes pacing advances, sometimes it recedes, while sometimes displaying both qualities at the same time. ■ Pacing can complete a narrative. It can finish a statement; ■ it can set up ironies as well as the “punch line” at the end of a joke.
Rhythm 12.0: Rhythm & Pacing
- F13 Each sequence with it's own rhythm (advanced) Exercise Completed
Multiple rhythms can and do occupy art and design. Each sequence can produce it’s own pattern and pacing. When combined with other sequences that produce their own pattern and pacing, a layering of rhythms becomes the newly achieved net affect. Unity become a factor in how sequences engage with each other, whether intentionally or reflexively. Negative space or figure/ground may become even more robust or more of a challenge. (Tip: to get a better sense as to the movement or balance of figure/ground and whether rhythm is well-engaged, view your work upside down.)
Vermeer’s Lady in Blue Reading is broken down into two color sequences: blueish and brownish. An additional sequence reveals the resulting negative space when both sequences are combined.
Death of the Great Bull Market is broken down into two color sequences: red and black. An additional sequence reveals the resulting negative space when both sequences are combined.
- F14 Final Exercises in Rhythm | Exercises Exercise Completed
CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve read, you’ve viewed, and created quite a bit, but now it’s time to apply the results of what you’ve experienced to everyday living. View this video and do the exercises. Each exercise is designed to be created without elaborate set ups, etc. Easy does it. The video’s final exercise involves a pizza shell so buon appetito in advance!
Rhythm is all around you. Every time you choose the day’s clothing or arrange what’s on your dinner plate, you have a chance to create a rhythm. So why not take full advantage of what you’ve just experienced?
CULMINATING EXERCISE. After you’ve completed the exercises on the video, it’s time to bring all your experience together into one product. It’s your turn! Create a poster for a bicycle race. Repetition and Variation will be on full display in this culminating exercise. Using wheels, arcs, lines, bicycles and the placement of at least one person (or more), create a poster for the Tour de France. Media can be digital, traditional (photocopies; scissors; glue; pencil; paper; etc) or mixed. Text is optional. Any size format. Images can be a photo or an illustration. Optional text: Tour de France and the year. Additional text is up to you.
Your composition must express unity and rhythm through any of the types of rhythm and unity discussed and presented. Repetition and variation should be utilized. A line, a shape and/or a color must repeat at least once. Include a focal point (if need be, refer back to the sections on Proportion).
- F15 Rhythm: A Deeper Dive Exercise Completed
Growth comes from stretching your boundaries. Much of art and design becomes wrapped up in multiple layers of rhythm. In fact, it’s hard to NOT to find moving patterns. Even a blinking cursor represents an uninterrupted rhythm of sorts. The following video points to a range of representations–from the simplest forms to the more abstract. Rhythms exist at the farthest ends of the cosmos and within the landscape of a fingerprint.
- Beneath, Within and Around Us: a Universe of Rhythm Exercise Completed
- G_ DOMINANT/SUBORDINATE
- G1 Dominant/Subordinate Exercise Completed
Dominant and subordinate qualities create various levels of interest and emphasis among all visual elements. Think of the term dominant as meaning the same as primary and think of subordinate as meaning the same as secondary. This sensibility can apply to all of the design elements. How much intense red vs. how much muted red vs. how much white? How much movement vs. how much stability? How much order vs. how much randomness? Does a particular composition have a dominant direction (or movement), as well as a subordinate direction (or movement)?
From the upper left, few examples to illustrate the point: ■ Hammer Museum detail reveals a dominantly curvilinear direction, balanced by multiple subordinate directions – the curved shadow beneath it, the diagonal and horizontal edges framing the curve, and finally the slender, repeated horizontal shapes at both top and bottom; ■ the beef consumption poster’s composition has a dominantly diagonal direction of cattle and a subordinately horizontal direction reinforced by multiple horizon lines. The composition remains dominantly diagonal in it’s overall direction despite the horizontal nature of the format itself.
Shown below: ■ Figaro is Alive! is dominantly excited and subordinately benign; dominantly rational and subordinately chaotic; dominantly vertical and subordinately horizontal and subordinately random; dominantly red and subordinately black; ■ Elysian Park Morning has a dominantly red foreground and pinkish sky, subordinately green middle ground; and is dominantly horizontal and subordinately vertical in direction. ■ To Our Shareholders is dominantly vertical and subordinately horizontal in direction (but with a pinwheel’s promise of movement); dominantly black body text vs. subordinately green and other bits of color. ■ Los Descarbonadores has two diagonal axes but it’s most dominant diagonal direction is the one with the more vertical, upright axis. Blue and white dominate the color palette and are contrasted by subordinate accents of black, magenta and yellow.
Compositions that have multiple dominant directions or movements have a tendency to edge toward chaos or competitiveness. Having multiple subordinate directions or movements are fine as long as you have at least one direction or movement one that is clearly subordinate. Otherwise, competitive counterpoints at the alpha level tend to foster chaos – which is fine if that’s what you’ve intended.
It’s your turn! Exercise: view the examples on this page and ask yourself how each image exhibits one form of dominant/subordinate relationships; whether it be in terms of compositional directions, color or grayscale balance; order vs chaos; geometric vs organic; soft vs hard; etc. (For example: the beef consumption poster has a dominantly diagonal direction and subordinately horizontal direction. What happens to the compositional balance if the horizontal lines were made considerably heavier?)
- G1 Dominant/Subordinate Exercise Completed
- H_ ACTIVE/PASSIVE
- H1 Active/Passive Exercise Completed
Active/Passive relationships are relative. If a composition has a singularly powerful area of visual attention, it is typically considered a focal point. A focal point provides an entry point and a means to help navigate a composition. Active/passive relationships may either begin with a single focal point or with a much broader visual zone and then evolve .
Active/Passive relationships involve dynamic vs. far less dynamic elements in a composition. Loud vs quiet and perhaps even quieter. A bright red square against a light, neutral background evokes a dynamic contrast of active vs. passive areas. However, the same light, neutral background would instead become highly active if black were to consume 90% of this background.
Examples on display starting from the upper left: ■ The Love Letter by Vermeer presents a contrast between the two active figures in the background and the passive interior space that frames the space leading up to the figures. ■ 5 Reasons is comprised of an active cluster of torn paper and a large, dark numeral. The wine stain behind to numeral as well as the surrounding text, present a secondarily active level of interest, with the wood panel serving as the most passive component. The wine stain and the text also serve as an active/passive go-between (aka, transition) from foreground to background. ■ Figaro is Alive! contrasts a benignly appearing sheet of musical score with arcing, red lines to indicate the emphatic vibrance that explodes a few seconds following Mozart’s seductively quieter opening.
Examples shown below, ■ Unity & Rhythm in 50 Minutes presents a hierarchy from active to passive starting with the bright green Unity&Rhythm text commanding the most active attention, followed by “50”, the text at the very top, followed by the lighter word “minutes” that have been placed within the larger “0”. ■ 2020 Void has two or three active zones: the strip of blue sky and the traffic patterns before and after the interruption of normal traffic. The yellow sky represents the passive background of everyday, urban acceptance ■ Window Above the Water contrasts active and intense with passive and relatively quiet.
- H2 Active/Passive Exercise Completed
It’s your turn! Exercise in Active/Passive activity. Details: ■ Recreate the grayscale study shown here. This design depicts a single, active dot surrounded by a cluster of larger, passive circles. Next, ■ create a second study using the same design but now reverse the active/passive roles where the smaller dot becomes passive and the larger dots become the active component. ■ Finally, create a third study using the same design but this time around, the negative space becomes the active component, the large circles serve as the passive component and the small dot as an in-between component.
- H1 Active/Passive Exercise Completed
- I_ ADVANCING/RECEDING
- I1 Advancing/Receding Exercise Completed
Advancing/Receding qualities add depth and feed the illusion of three-dimension.
Advancing/Receding qualities add depth and feed the illusion of three-dimension. There exists a variety of modes for expressing this quality, include color temperature and saturation; atmospheric perspective; fore-, middle- and background delineation; size and location; physical perspective; overlapping; 3D vs. flat; and transparency.
Beginning in the first image, top row, ■ Claude Monet’s rapidly visualized sunset reinforces the notion that warm and brighter colors advance while cooler and muted colors recede (Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, in Winter, 1880, CC0 Paris Musées/Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais). ■ PAULA 2007 Annual Report’s spread featured advancing and receding typography through color variations. ■ Decarbonize L.A. poster uses a faded burst behind the key figure adding an inference of mystical powers. The caped luchero dominates the layout while the clouds in their diminishing widths lead the viewer towards the distant horizon. ■ DP101 Workshop’s poster expresses advancement by overlapping white text partially over a white background, which then introduces a figure/ground reversal whereby the white type acts as both foreground and background. ■ In Donuts, Aisle 5 the juxtaposition of a flat object against a three dimensional box is managed in a way to give the appearance of a sudden “dropping off”. ■ Learning From Twombly depicts smears, shapes and lines which tend to blur, leaving the harder-edged content more precise and as a result, more prominent.
Now it’s your turn! Create an applied example of advancing and receding through the vehicle of your choosing: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. It could be something you’ve already created, just newly realized!
- I1 Advancing/Receding Exercise Completed
- J_ Transition
- J1 Transition Exercise Completed
“Transitions and transformations allow the flow from one idea to another in an interesting but natural fashion” according to designer Leo Monahan. Transitions appear in a variety of modes and forms: linking; incremental change; overlapping; fragmentation; transparency; in-between stages, just to name few. It might help to think of transition as an in-between stage. Gray is the transition from white to black; medium is the transition between small and large; a continuing edge may link disparate images and so on.
From left to right, top to bottom, these transitions are taking place: ■ cattle descending/ascending in size; ■ a crowd of people emerging from out of the woods; ■ a half-circle adjacent to other circle/arc shapes creating an overall pattern of partial circles; ■ the mesas of southwestern US replace the notches that normally populate the top edge of a revolver in a transition of narrative; ■ chili peppers transitioning in terms of color; ■ the seated portrait contains an abrupt juxtaposition and a transition occurring through a horizontal physical continuance on both the top and bottom; ■ tight adjacencies and overlapping of the numeral 7, repeated, create a visual pathway from top to bottom.
Exercise #1: Create a transition among these three components in any medium or program:
A bar code | a fabric pattern | a large (in physical size) number.
The fabric pattern should appear quite different from the bar code pattern. The number’s font se
lection is up to you and will likely be influenced by both patterns. Arrange in these three elements in a pleasing way that creates a transition from the bar code to the necktie pattern by way of the numeral. The number will serve as the agent of transition. You may enlarge, reduce or repeat any item, bleed over the edge (but trim), rotate, modify, make transparent (traditional media people think: tracing paper), color or value modifications, etc.
Exercise #2: Create a transition where the subject matter and medium are up to you: photography, painting, drawing, digital tools, mixed media, etc. Use any of the following transitional/transformational techniques: linking; incremental change; in-between stages; fragmentation; overlapping or transparency.
Transition 1: a step between
- J1 Transition Exercise Completed
- K_ UNITY
- K1 Unity Exercise Completed
Unity is an essential sensibility for any artist or designer. Unity helps to create order. Typical modes of unity include: proximity; grouping; alignment; repetition; alignment; closure, containment; overlapping and grids.
From the upper left, ■ DP101 Workshops poster features the workshops.com text as an overlapping link between two letterforms. Closure appears when the white text “disappears” into the white background but with enough of it remaining easily readable against the brown letterforms. ■ Angel’s Hearts is comprised of a pattern of heart shapes in close proximity with one another which also align both vertically and horizontally. ■ Queen of Spades is an example of containment, alignment and overlapping. ■ DADADADA poster’s irregular pattern of repeating words calls attention to a tumbling arrangement while in detail, the words exhibit containment and alignment. ■ The visual elements in Oldsmobile 88 are in proximity with one another enough to appear contained at an off-center focal point. Their unity is further expressed by the repetition and variation of elongated shapes – specifically the Oldsmobile 88 letterforms and the similarly proportioned rocket. The bulbous mass of the yellow vehicle is repeated by the mass of the similarly proportioned body text in close proximity underneath it. ■ The document 5% Hierarchy utilizes a grid which controls type placement through underlying intervals of columns and rows. ■ Wayne Hunt’s Been Dancing utilizes a grid as a means for guiding placements as well as for enabling a well-paced and vibrant rhythm. A thick frame acts as both a virtual stage and a means for containment.
On the bottom left, ■ In Cielito Lindo, the color bands overlap the Frida Kahlo image and the black text overlaps the color bands, connecting the trumpeting angel to upper region by alignment from bottom of text to the top of the angel. This same black text also aligns flush right with the white text directly above it. The angel on the right is repeated and overlapped with its muted clone. ■ In We’re Back! the larger salmon is repeated and varied by its similar kind. Alignment connects headline and text to the key figures. ■ In Rose Parade 2023, the circular rose and palm tree elements repeat and vary from one to the other. They also align diagonally. They are also contained by the pattern of green vignettes. The cluster of three green circles are grouped. ■ Lastly, a comprehensive diagram depicting nine modes of unity is downloadable for quick reference.
- K2 Unity | Exercise Exercise Completed
Exercise: Create a composition from the following visual items:
a bird | an egg | hurricane fencing or chicken wire | a drawn line | a number or a word | a texture
Your theme is: Good morning! Working either digitally or traditionally (or both), create a composition (any size) in which you repeat any of these objects. However when you repeat an object, vary something about it such as changing its size, its texture, opacity, the amount of it , its location. its integrity, etc.
Composition can be representational or highly abstract or somewhere in between. Use any discussed form of unity or a combination of several modes: proximity; grouping; alignment; repetition; alignment; closure, containment; overlapping and grids.
- K1 Unity Exercise Completed
- L_ PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
- About putting it all together Exercise Completed
Putting it all together is one of the strongest means of arriving at honest, self-evaluation. Begin to make things. Gather your resources or those things that inspire you. Maybe it’s a word. Maybe a gesture. A flickering light in the corner of a photo that completely dazzles. Put these things together and then begin to add, remove, realign, enlarge, swap out, repeat, vary, revert but take two new steps forward. How strong of a relationship should your shapes, lines, colors and so on engage with one another? Is randomness with a spec of structure a good solution? Perhaps the complete opposite in which unity and order reign supreme. Or somewhere in between?
The following videos represent a sampling of how five particular projects evolved into their final forms.
- L1_ Unity & Rhythm 01: Putting it all together–To a Joyful 2023! Exercise Completed
- L2_ Unity & Rhythm 02: Putting it all together–Night Stream Exercise Completed
- L3_ Unity & Rhythm 03: Putting it all together–Decarbonize LA Exercise Completed
- L4_ Unity & Rhythm 04: Putting it all together–Late Night Litho Exercise Completed
- L5_ Unity & Rhythm 05: Putting it all together 5–Is "Less" Boring? Exercise Completed
- About putting it all together Exercise Completed