Friday, May 3, 2013

Why Handmade? The Seven Elements of Design

by Lynn Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

Whether consciously or unconsciously, every artist, artisan, or craftsperson considers the Seven Elements of Design in their work. It is an important lesson one learns in class in art school, usually towards the beginning of their journey. Using these elements can be instinctual, but the more we are aware of them, the easier it is for us to manipulate them in our craft. Being able to identify the different elements can also help a potential buyer better appreciate the difference between a good design and a bad design.

We have all looked at something and said to ourselves, “that isn’t quite right, but I can’t figure out why?” Utilizing knowledge of Line, Color, Shape, Texture, Form, Value, and Space can help us better evaluate our visual field and determine why something works or flat out does not.

Customized hand embroidery hoop by Stray Notions
Line is perhaps the most basic of the Elements, and one we are all the most familiar with. We consider whether we can draw a straight line or a stick figure. Lines do not actually exist in nature. Look around you. The world does not look like an old cartoon with dark lines outlining everything. However, drawing with lines helps define the other six elements. Line can produce space, movement, and feelings. A soft curving line can be calming and soothing, where as a very jagged line can give a feeling of anxiety. Lines can be very geometric and clean, or very organic and free flowing.

Lines give a sense of order to our world. Look around you. The very letters we write are a series of lines placed together to take on meaning. We drive in lines of cars. We wait in lines for our turn.

Lamps, Baden Baden, Germany, by Kerry Hawkins Photography
Unless if you have the misfortune of being color blind (and I cannot think of a sadder disability to befall an artist!) you are familiar with the joy of color or lack thereof. A piece of work may be black and white, a very powerful contrast, or it can be bursting with color. Some artists choose to work with a very monochromatic color variation (several shads of the same color) with one bust of color to catch the eye. One can work with light tints of colors (white or light added) to give an airy feeling to the work, or they may use shades to give a more robust feel. Colors may be pleasing to the eye, or intentionally garish.

Color gives life to our world. Picture a flower garden with no color. Colors can be playful and child-like. Why else would coloring be a favorite activity by so many children?

Halloween Ball Ornament by Lush Beads
When discussing shapes on terms of design we are not only limited to geometric shapes such as squares, circles, and hexagons, though they are included. We are talking about the closed area created by our lines. Shapes can be very organic and free flowing or they can be very rigid. Both will bring on a very different feel to a final design.

We are always talking about how we want to get into shape. We want to change the organic outline of out bodies to take a different form or feel, one that we believe is more pleasing to the eye. Of course, getting into shape has health benefits too!

Crochet Button Brooch by Lady Dye Fiber Arts
Even when creating a two dimensional image, we as artists try to give the illusion of a surface. Regardless of whether the work is flat or a three dimensional object, the surface is a consideration. A surface could be soft, smooth, rough, wet, dry, fuzzy, etc. The texture of a piece draws the viewer in, allowing them to experience it through their sense of touch, even if they are not actually able to touch it.

In an art museum there is an overwhelming desire to touch certain pieces we see. A cold hard marble statue can appear so lifelike that we swear if we touched it we would be able to feel warm blood coursing through it’s veins. Oil painters use layer upon layer of paint, one could feel the coarse canvas with their eyes closed, marveling that the image itself appears perfectly smooth.

Raku vase by City by the Sea Ceramics
Form is the combination of line, shape and texture as they are brought together, but it is more than that. Will the creation be a flat surface? Or will it be three dimensional, such as a sculpture, a pot, or a piece of jewelry. What size will the piece be? An artist or craftsperson will try many different forms over their lifetime as they find the one that works best for them.

We fill out paper forms almost every day. A form is a way of acknowledging that there is an infinite amount of information available, and constrains us to just what is needed. In the same way, the form of a piece of art does the same thing.

Original Encaustic Collage with Recycled Materials by Jessica Burko
The contrast between light and dark can be very dramatic or it can be gently subtle. The value sets the tone for the piece. Will it be dark and moody? Is it light and cheery? Does it make you think deep thoughts, or does it just bring a smile to your face? An artist can greatly play with these contrasts, which affect the overall appearance.

We are always speaking of someone’s values. Are they a moral good person? Or are they always doing horrid things? Good advice is no one’s values are black or white, but many shades of grey.

Sunflower necklace in sterling silver by Cristina Hurley
Consider the depth and volume of a piece. Even a two dimensional picture can give the feeling of depth through the play of the negative and positive spaces. Landscape photographs can appear to go on for miles through the use of all of the other elements. A necklace can be grand and elaborate, or it can be minute drawing attention to one small focal point. A silk scarf can cascade around one’s body, playing with light, texture, and color though it is a thin sheet of fabric.

We are always identifying the amount of space something takes up. Will there be enough room for my furniture? Is there too much empty space? Are you taking up too much space in my life?

One could easily argue that the elements of design are also important elements in our lives. Through them, we bring meaning and balance to our work as well as to our life. Similarly, our completed work can bring balance and harmony to the lives of others who purchase our work.

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