I was beginning to wonder if my more serious approach to blogging with articles covering specific topics, such as exhibiting and dissecting the elements and principles of design would reduce the number of readers… The daily hits are a little lower compared to less serious content posts. However, judging by the number of personal emails I have received so far, and the comments left by readers show that my efforts are not in vain.
Let’s see where we left off on Thursday: I touched on the element of line which naturally leads to the element of shape or form. When we examine shape we must remember that it describes a visually perceived area created by either an enclosing line, color or value changes defining an outer edge. A shape can also be called form. Simply put: Design or composition is basically the arrangement of shapes. Shape is considered a two-dimensional element and the words volume and mass/form are applied to the three-dimensional equivalent. Here is an example that will help you remember the difference with ease: “Paintings have shape, sculptures have mass”.
To show how the elements and principles of design, in this scenario line and shape, are interconnected I want to point out that multiple shapes used in a linear arrangement create a broken line that leads the eye across a piece. For such an arrangement to be successful spaces between shape elements need to be small enough for the eye to make the necessary leap… or better yet… a connection!
This leads us to the consideration of positive and negative shapes (also referred to in art literature as figure and ground) which help us differentiate between the object and the background. We can locate positive and negative shapes and spaces all around us. Print media, architecture and visual art (including traditional and innovative quilting) provide us with countless examples.
It is important to keep in mind that when positive and negative spaces are too rigidly defined, the result can be rather uninteresting and predictable. An example for this outcome is a traditional quilt that incorporates a limited color palette. On the other hand, if the negative areas are made more interesting the positive–negative integration improves. Once again I am using the quilt example: Incorporating a greater variety of color value and texture will emphasize the primary and secondary pattern play, often leading to a tertiary design for greater depth, and possibly leading to the illusion of a third dimension.
It is important at this time to caution the reader by pointing out that sometimes the positive and negative shapes are integrated to such an extend that there is no visual distinction, resulting in positive-negative confusion.
The paragraphs above cover the topic of shape and form as the second design element. At this time a related fact enters the discussion: Naturalism and distortion. These terms are easily defined: Naturalism is synonymous with “realism”. In distortion the artist deliberately changes or exaggerates the forms of nature. Abstraction implies a simplification of natural shapes to their essential, basic character. Details are ignored as the shapes are reduced to their simplest terms.
Non-objective shapes are shapes with no object reference and no subject matter suggestion. Sometimes these are described as “organic shapes” or “ink blots” floating in space or on the canvas. Rectilinear and curvilinear shapes are objects that utilize lines at right angles compared to lines that are natural, or organic.
That’s it for today and the element of shape/form. Tuesday’s post will focus on color – a topic that is multifaceted and will possibly bring on much discussion.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and check out the images I have posted that will bring the element of shape closer to reality! As always: Free feel to weigh in with a comment! I will get to them once I return home from teaching this weekend.