Why I Created This Course

Preliminary illustration; Philip Schneider, 1946

This course was created for three reasons:
 ■ To give everybody an equal opportunity and a better chance at developing their dream of thriving and succeeding within a creative space.
 ■ Sometimes the best way to support an institution is to think outside of it.
 ■ To fulfill a frequently-made student request that had taken years to formulate and deploy. Here’s the details:

Everyone should have the same chance.
My father was a very talented man but never got to see his dream of a successful career in the creative arts materialize. Succeeding in the creative arena at that time was frequently based on whom you knew as well as how and where your education or training took place. Education is far more available these days, but it’s grown prohibitively expensive – especially for many blue collar folks like my dad with larger dreams than resources.

A deeply etched memory involves riding along with mom and dad to the mid-Wilshire district area in Los Angeles. Dad, with portfolio in hand, had an important interview at a prestigious private art and design college for the purpose of elevating his abilities and career potential. He emerged from the admin building a while later, clearly disappointed. It was a very quiet ride home. Took me years to realize how much that morning and the events leading up to it would affect my family’s future.

That event flavored much of my father’s thoughts on art or design as a profession. As the sole bread-winner with a physically demanding job, dad’s vocational options amounted to continuing as a skilled laborer with a scenic artist’s paint can and a variety of brushes, though years later he was finally able to take a commercial art/airbrush course at a technical school.

None of this would stop him from sharing some of his skills with his only son. Drawing a perfect circle without benefit of a compass. The principles of perspective drawing. Creating straight guidelines across a long surface using string and chalk. Creating the illusion of brick using tape, sawdust and paint. In his view of aesthetic practice, “the strongest element is the element of surprise”.

Despite the joy he received from sharing what he knew, he would later lament and advise that I not seek a career in the arts, obviously tinged by his own career’s frustrations. Aside from the ubiquitous advice of seeking a career in law or medicine, what other options could he knowingly, wholeheartedly endorse?

That ambivalence had a lingering affect. For the longest time, I felt as if I could never firmly plant my feet in the creative arts. My dad’s experience was a deep and searing one. It was experienced just at the age when a father hands along those things that drive his interests and his passions. It took years to finally understand some of the demons at play in his life and in mine.

Summer 2014, Santa Ana City College; our 2nd workshop as part of Dr. Sharon Brown’s course, “Introduction to Digital Media”.

The secrets of art and design do not exist behind a velvet curtain waiting to be revealed by a reclusive genius. You the reader, no matter your location, culture, gender, beliefs or economic circumstances should be able to enjoy a future without having to mortgage it in advance.

This foundational course is not a goal in-and-of-itself, but rather a key step. Education never stops. This isn’t about following a set of instructions, and it isn’t far-flung and formulaic. This course exits as an important foundation underneath a very exciting portal. I’ve tried to take the most crucial part of the all-important freshman, two-dimensional design that everyone’s required to take, and make it as accessible and relatable as heavenly possible. It’s far simpler than you might imagine, and somewhat different than you might expect.

Some might call this a passion project. No disagreement, but this is also about sharing a passion that began centuries before my generation ever showed up. Think about it – you’ll be dealing with many of the same principles that painting legends such as Georgia O’Keefe and design luminaries such as El Lissitzky would either effect of become affected by.

This is about creative independence for you and for those of you who – possibly like my dad and those folks in similar circumstances – could truly have benefitted from some help at the foundational level. A strongly-held sense of two-dimensional design principles is the crucial foundation – the “secret sauce” – for a myriad of art and design disciplines and sensibilities.

This can be the portal for a good many who seek to ignite or invigorate their career pathways. This space is also about creating your own joy and intrinsic sense of reward. This course’s existence serves as a thank you and an acknowledgment not just to my father, but to those countless parents, educators and other influencers who possess and continue to demonstrate the day-to-day courage and trust in that vision that drives their artistic passions and spirit.

Thriving outside the concrete box.
In education, scaffolding is where it’s at. Scaffolding is a fanciful, allegorical kind of word. One can readily see scaffolds on construction sites. The ground level of a scaffold transitions into a second level built directly on top of it, then a third level, and so on until the project is finished. Transition is the key to a successful scaffold. If a scaffold’s fourth level were constructed in a way that had little to do with what preceded it, the net results would be shaky at the very least.

Design principles are an important set of learning tools within the area of art and design. Legendary art and design educator Rudolph Schaeffer asserted that “Design is the structure of art”. You don’t always need tools to make art. However, if you wish to coordinate those things you’ve created – such as lines with other lines or shapes with other shapes, that’s where tools such as these become important.

In terms of my own art and design education, the scaffolds didn’t line up upon graduation. There were huge gaps. The notions of balance and rhythm became a functional thing for me but only years after earning my BA degree. Perhaps this was the luck of the institutional draw. Perhaps it was myself just not being ready to adopt a new set of abstract concepts. Maybe both. Who knows?

Bottom-line, there I was out of the institutional nest and competing. Or at least trying to. A sensibility of sorts was missing but I had no clue what that was. Turned out the issue for me was all about design principles and their absence. I hunted and gathered at various institutions until I hit gold at USC and ended up taking a shortened version of the beginning design class previously offered at the late, great Chouinard Art Institute.

Persistence eventually enables luck. USC discontinued the course after one term, but the torch had already been passed. Years after I began teaching Intro 2D Design at CSUN, my instructor for the USC course, Leo Monahan would later remind me, “You’re the last one” in terms of teaching the Chouinard course (or at least his evolved version of it) to succeeding generations. It was an honor to hear but a weighted mantle of responsibility for sure. Now the education ball was squarely in my court.

Dial ahead decades later. The typical, traditional, and required Introduction 2D Design course whgich has changed so many lives – has been sliced, diced, retold, reinterpreted, gone absent, been replaced – all the while within range of institutional certification. In an ideal world, design principles have an universal acceptance but do not have a universally-held framework regarding dissemination. The reason being, various educators bring their own insights to the educational mix and students will benefit from a virtual smorgasbord of input and that is terrific. However.

University transfers arrive with a variety of knowledge bases that don’t always effectively match up with what’s being scaffolded upon them, despite various coursework criteria being met. Some criteria do align but design principles possess an inherent problem. They’re randomly held. Some educators embrace only one design principle, others embrace five or six, or even 10. Principles also shift among different disciplines. Reinforcement of a given principle for one student might be an introduction of the same principle for another, all within the same classroom.

Not all educators are schooled from an identical batch of tools enjoyed by other educators. The advantage being that each educator has a wealth of experience and unique insights to share. Over time, you will eventually have assembled an overflowing tool chest of principles with which you’ll know exactly what to do, and even when to use or when not to use them. This course provides a unique experience: an immersion into the wealth of design principles that exist, each awaiting your discovery.

The secret sauce, revealed.
For those of you who’ve wondered, “Is there a secret sauce here? How does design work? What the heck is rhythm and why should I care?”, you’re about to discover some significant answers to your significant questions. Indeed, this course was created for you. After 20 years of working within some legendary educational institutions, I can finally say to all my students both former and future, here’s the secret sauce, as requested:

Read the text. View the videos. Make stuff. Repeat any portion as needed.

And with that my friend, please enjoy a spectacular time!

Best regards,




© Copyright 2024 Howard Schneider, all rights reserved.

  • Howard Schneider

    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.

    Howard Schneider-CV-2023

  • Leo Monahan

    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.

    Leo Monahan in his studio

    Leo Monahan, award-winning artist and designer in his North Carolina studio.

    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

    Bill Moore, legendary Chinouard instructor.

    Bill Moore, highly influential Chouinard design instructor and student of Rudolph Schaeffer.

    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

    Rudolph Schaeffer, image by Cunningham. Bill Moore's instructor and a student of Arthur Wesley Dow's program at Pratt.

    Rudolph Schaeffer, founder of the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, Bill Moore’s instructor and a student of Arthur Wesley Dow’s program at Pratt.

    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, revolutionary art educator.

    Arthur Wesley Dow; innovative, pioneering art educator who emphasized Japonesque sensibilities regarding space and pattern, or notan. The concept of notan confronted all previously held artistic notions about form, space and even gravity.

    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

    Ernest Fenollosa, was a pioneering Orientalist scholar who did much to preserve traditional Japanese art and expand its popularity into the west.

    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

    24Bauhaus_Basle, Bauhaus, Dessau, design history, art historyA 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’s legacy was decidedly intuitive and expressive. Moholy-Nagy’s legacy was decidedly constructivist and structural. 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.

  • Acknowledgements

    Jared Millar (he); UCLA/AIGA co-sponsored Design Principles 101 Workshop

    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.

    Howard Schneider
    May 2023

    Summer 2014, SACC, Dr. Sharon Brown’s (she; center right) digital media class: 2nd workshop.