Whether your ambition is to find fulfillment as a designer or artist – or to help others find the same – understanding how visual things coordinate with other visual things is an essential skill set. This awareness is the most important gateway to clear if your goal is to achieve visual coherency in your creative work. History is littered with great ideas in search of a more lucid voice.
Professor Howard Schneider has been teaching art and design at various universities and colleges since 2001 and began teaching online design courses in 2010. Twelve design principle workshops have been conducted overall including three online.
This site is dedicated to the legacy of the Chouinard Art Institute (predecessor of CalArts in Valencia, Ca), as well as the guidance of legendary designer and professor Leo Monahan. The lessons and exercises contained in this site were developed as an extension of that legacy and were adapted to more appropriately fit into the current information matrix.
The narrative of Design Principles appears to be broad and diverse – even at times getting swapped out with Design Elements – and possibly trending away from any kind of comprehensive model.
The commonly-held assumption is that students will pick up Design Principles along their educational journey and find downstream reinforcement along the way. The promise of downstream reinforcement doesn’t always insure consistency. Cross-collegiate transfers notwithstanding, educational approaches vary as each educator attempts to uniquely fulfill their program’s goals. As an unintended result, one student’s reinforcement might be another student’s introduction.
Exploring Unity & Composition reflect a gathering and organization of Design Principles and as a result, reposition what would appear to be an educational diaspora, as more of a comprehensive landscape of ideas in regards to design principles.
Exploring Rhythm is a break-through learning engagement. Finding a dedicated course on Rhythm in the visual arts has been a journey akin to capturing a mythological creature. With repetition, variation and sequencing as our beginning notions, Rhythm is broken down into four basic types of sequences that can be juxtaposed, layered, and woven endlessly with one other to enable rhythmic sequences of deep engagement and complexity.
Just the Videos is exactly that. The above sections provide the basis, the pre-story, to the deep dive you will eventually take. Don’t skip the read! They’re loaded with easy to produce exercises which can be created through digital or analogue means.
It has been Prof. Schneider’s desire to provide an enjoyable yet challenging learning environment for individuals who could benefit from an introduction – or reintroduction – to Design Principles. This site is dedicated to beginners and those who may need specific help in a compositional area, as well as to those who could simply use a creative reboot or a tuneup.
The lessons are short and friendly. They can be enjoyed while waiting in line for your morning coffee! Binge watching the videos is not only fun – it’s encouraged!
[Except where noted, all of the images used in this site were created by designer, artist, and published educator Howard Schneider. The software used was largely Photoshop, supplemented by Illustrator and InDesign. NOTE: all digital images created for this site were designed to align with beginning level digital abilities. The point being: full-on, highly-articulated art and design is possible with a modest mastery of whichever creation tools you end up choosing. Sticks and wet sand are as acceptable as your favorite motion graphics applications. HS]
© Copyright 2023 Howard Schneider, all rights reserved.
Howard Schneider is owner/creative director of both DesignPrinciples101.com and Howard Schneider Design, receiving his MFA from California State University Los Angeles. Beginning in 2001, he has served as adjunct professor in both graphic design and foundation courses at California State University Northridge in addition to lecturing at Pasadena Community College, and has taught online for the Academy of Art University, San Francisco.
Beginning in November 2010, Prof. Schneider conducted numerous workshops on the topic of design principles at various Southern California colleges and universities. The workshop, entitled Design Principles Workshop, was developed originally as part of a research project, eventually leading to the online learning environment: DesignPrinciples101.com. His speculative inquiry and hypothesis on the dispersion of design principle narratives was published in 2022, soon to be posted at https://www.foundationsart.org/fate-in-review.
A few years after receiving my undergraduate degree, I decided to take a Basic Design course at USC Extension primarily because of the course’s instructor, highly regarded designer and illustrator, Leo Monahan.
Little did I know then that this course was an essential, condensed version of the basic design and color course that he and his instructor, Bill Moore, had been teaching at Chouinard Art Institute (predecessor to CalArts, Valencia), though presented in a somewhat condensed format. As it turned out, this became one of the final times that a basic design course with dedicated Chouinard roots would be taught institutionally. It is because of this legacy, that I have Leo Monahan to thank for what would later prove to be an ecosystem of growth for so many of my students.
After four weeks of instruction, critiques and demonstrations, a visual world of remarkable elegance and clarity became my new creative basis. Structure was quietly in the background of nearly every move I made. Rhythm began appearing in my work. By the course’s end, I could create and control a composition far more confidently and playful than ever experienced before. This one course, led by Leo Monahan changed the direction of my career. I was obviously ready for it.
Fast-forward to November 2010 and my ninth year of instruction at California State University Northridge when I began a research investigation through a series of workshops whose purpose was to identify whether a short-term, intensive immersion into design principles could affect any meaningful change with an average art or design student’s approach to layout and composition. The results were immediate and remarkable. The only questions that remained were how best to expand or refine the initial model and how best to implement a broader outreach. Five+ years later, the initial phase of this website became the result.
Today’s DesignPrinciples101 course has as its DNA core, the teachings not only from Leo’s class and also from his teacher, Bill Moore, but also from Bill Moore’s teacher, Rudolph Schaeffer, Rudolph Schaeffer’s primary influencer, Prof. Arthur Wesley Dow, Prof. Dow’s primary mentor, Prof. Ernest Fenollosa, and the Laszlo Moholy-Nagy era imprint upon the Bauhaus and the subsequent Bauhaus diaspora. Behind all of the above, float the centuries-old Japanese and Chinese approaches to space, form and gravity.
LEO MONAHAN is as busy as ever–doing, discovering, lecturing, and teaching, while having made a successful transition from design agency dynamics to the quieter world of galleried art.
BILL MOORE had seen more than his fair share of magnificent as well as challenging student work during a teaching career that spanned over four decades. The legendary Chouinard Art Institute instructor of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s–then briefly at CalArts–had a reputation for challenging the mediocrity out of his students while also turning out some of the best creative talent across multiple eras.
Those students inspired by his intensive methods include Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter; producer, director and animator Tim Burton; director Henry Selick; Emmy-winning fashion and costume designer Bob Mackie; Columbia Records creative director S. Neil Fujita; photographer and legendary Blue Note Records graphic designer Reid Miles; three times Oscar-nominated costume designer Theodora Van Runkle; and award-winning designer and illustrator Leo Monahan. Add to this list a cadre of all-star animators whose work has populated the ranks of the Disney Studios up through and including today. The list truly goes on.
Prof. Moore’s most enduring takeaway simply states, “Two principles underlie all forms of human expression…unity and rhythm”.
RUDOLPH SCHAEFFER had a profound impact on his student, Bill Moore. Professor Schaeffer, founder of the San Francisco-based Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design which ran from 1926-1983, is credited with expression, “Design is the structure of art” and was decidedly influenced by Ralph Johnot, a proponent of Arthur Wesley Dow’s design principles. This course’s Exercises in Rhythm and video On Rhythm are contemporary interpretations of Professor Schaeffer’s original foundation exercises.
Prof. Schaeffer was a student of Arthur Wesley Dow’s program at Pratt University. It was at that time, Schaeffer is introduced to the Japanese concept of notan (predecessor to positive/negative). Prof. Schaeffer in his oral biography states, “No-tan is merely composing. Instead of doing a design floating on a background, no-tan was a matter of making the background vital, the dark areas enclosed with light areas and vice versa, so the light spaces, the negative spaces were in an alternating balance, and to the eye the light spaces were visually as important as the dark in an abstract sense. For instance, there might be flowers or leaves, distributed over a surface but if they were designed over the surface dark against light, the light spaces, the light areas were meaningful. Not just a design floating on a background, but a design with a structure of dark and light areas. That is the spirit of no-tan and no-tan comes from the Japanese word merely meaning dark-light, as a hyphenated noun, not dark and light, but dark-light.”
Arthur Wesley Dow
ARTHUR WESLEY DOW, a leading figure of the Arts and Crafts revival, is generally credited with rethinking 19th century art education into more of the contemporary model we know it as today, and drew considerable inspiration from the Japanese concept of notan and master artisans of notan, including Hokusai and Hiroshige. Painting luminaries Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler were among his most notable students.
Prof. Dow was decidedly influenced by Prof. Ernest Fenollosa of whom he wrote: “The history of this structural system of art teaching (you are about to read) may be stated in a few words; and here I am given the opportunity to express my indebtedness to the one whose voice is now silent (Fenollosa) … An experience of five years in the French schools left me thoroughly dissatisfied with academic theory. In a search for something more vital I began a comparative study of the art of all nations and epochs. While pursuing an investigation of Oriental painting and design at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts I met the late Professor Ernest F. Fenollosa.”
Prof. Dow’s comprehensive ideas on composition and color were published in his 1899 text, Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers, and is highly recommend.
Ernest Fenollosa was an American-born educator, scholar and Japanese art historian who taught in Japan as well as the US, and is credited with significantly contributing to preservation of traditional Japanese art. What he may not have anticipated was the depth of influence that his study into Japanese aesthetic sensibilities would have had upon succeeding generations of artists and designers.
He lived much of his early adult years in Japan and while there, helped found both the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and the Tokyo Imperial Museum. He collected Japanese art extensively. Much of his collection was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Fenollosa curated the museum’s Chinese and Japanese collection as well as the Japanese art display for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Arthur Wesley Dow said of Fenollosa, ‘He was gifted with a brilliant mind of great analytical power, this with a rare appreciation gave him an insight into the nature of fine art such as few ever attain.” It is hard to imagine the development of modern art and design in the west without Fenollosa’s dedicated involvement.
The Bauhaus and Beforehand
A hemisphere away, the BAUHAUS school of Germany – which began in 1919 and lasted up through 1933 – revolutionized arts education to the same degree (or greater some believe) as the approach practiced by Prof. Dow and his disciples. Prof. Dow’s approach and that of the Bauhaus shared some of the same sensibilities – for example, the simplification of the two-dimensional picture surface, patterns that evoke rhythm, and the visual implication of structure. The Bauhaus went a step further by promoting a melding of art training with craft training into a synthesis now referred to as the Applied Arts. The Bauhaus is generally considered to be the first formal design school. Research suggests an intersection of the two educational models, branching backwards to the late 19th century Werkbund movement’s fascination with Far Eastern architecture and also in part to the Japonisme wave of artistic sensibilities that swept through Europe around the latter’s groundbreaking yet controversial exhibition at the Great Exhibition of 1851, London.
Within the Bauhaus epoch lay an early split between two contrasting sensibilities represented by Johannes Itten , the expressionist and Bauhaus co-founder, and László Moholy-Nagy the constructivist and Itten’s replacement as foundation course co-master. Itten was a student of Adolf Hölzel – an early convert to abstractionism and one of the founding members of the late 19th century Vienna Secession group, a virtual contemporary of the aforementioned breakout Werkbund movement. Itten resigned from the Bauhaus in 1923 and was replaced by Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian born painter, photographer and designer. Maholy-Nagy’s teacher was Robert Berèny, a painter whose primary influence was arguably (debatably?) the “founder of modernism”, Paul Cèzanne. Cèzanne, the Vienna Secessionists as well as the Werkbund have the mid-19th century Japonisme western awakening in painting and architecture to thank for the historic paths each would eventually carve out.
The legacy from Professors Fenollosa, Dow, Schaeffer, Moore and Monahan permeates this site. A very special thank you to all of those whose contributions made this learning environment possible: Professors Edie Pistolesi (she), Ken Sakatani (he), Wayne Hunt (he), Dr. Sharon Brown (she), Scott Hutchinson (he), Bonnie Barrett (she), Ann Mitchell (she), Jimmy Moss (he), Joe Bautista (he), Trevor Greenleaf (he), Diane Imori (she), Magdy Rizk (he), Catherine Clinch (she), Laurie Burruss (she), Eric La Brecque (he) of Applied Storytelling; and of course all of the students who participated in the various workshops conducted online and the workshops conducted onsite at UCLA/AIGA Student Group, California State University Northridge, Santa Ana College, Long Beach City College, and Cerritos College.