The Elements and Principle of Design

This past year, I have become quite interested in the elements and principle of design. Not having ever attended an art class (other than calligraphy class a gazillion years ago) or even having a clue as to what makes up a good piece of ART (I just know what I like and don’t like), my curiosity about this vast subject began to itch! When the itch didn’t go away, I decided it was high time to do something about it. Information was but a few keystrokes away… I fired up Firefox and began my Internet search.

Now I am not going to give you the last definitive words around this subject. That would certainly be out of my league. But, because for the most part, artists at all levels of talent visit my blog, I thought it would be interesting for you and them to share with you my learning and experiences so far.

It’s been more of an exciting journey than I ever expected with some surprises for me along the way. I think the one thing that has surprised me the most is how it has helped me be more spontaneous when creating art and answered some questions for me about why I do what I do when I create an art piece.

This week, I will tackle the elements of art and tell you a bit about the process I unexpectedly experienced recently creating the piece you will see in just a bit. Next week, I’ll share with you the seven principles of design.

First some “art” theory…

Elements in art can be thought of as the things that make up an art piece whether it is a drawing, a painting, or a digital piece. All works of art, I discovered, contain at the very least two but generally most of, if not all of the 7 elements.

The 7 Elements of Art

Line – the linear marks made with a pen, brush, etc. or the edge created when two shapes meet.
Shape – a positive shape automatically creates a negative space
Direction – Horizontal “arrangement” suggests calmness, stability, tranquility; Vertical suggests balance, formality, alertness and Diagonal suggests movement and action
Size – the relationship of the area occupied by one shape to another
Texture – self explanatory – texture can be rough, smooth, soft, matte, glossy, etc.
Color – sometimes referred to as hue
Value – lightness or darkness of a color. Also called Tone


Now another thing that has interested me for quite some time is the whole idea of creating simplicity in any piece of art.

For me, simplicity can be complex (sounds like an oxymoron huh?) but first and foremost it makes a statement and, as I have discovered, is often the “crux” of the story that the art piece tells. Uh huh… every piece of art I do, whether it’s a piece of jewelry, a digital collage or mixed media piece has to begin with a story that has somehow formulated itself in my mind!

Art Tells a Story

The “story” can be as simple as a word, quote or saying that pops into my mind. It can be as “complex” as the character in a story I have read or an experience I have had. The point here is that without the story, I don’t seem to be able to do anything… no matter how hard I try (and believe me I have bashed my head against the wall doing THAT… LOL ) Head bashing over “what am I going to create” is a lesson for me in how to get horribly frustrated in one easy lesson!

Another piece of simplicity I figured out was that it depends on the number of different “images” in a piece. As I looked at art pieces I really liked, I discovered that they had at the most five different “images” within it (not including the background). Ah, now THAT was a challenge for me to take on. Andy Warhol and soup cans here I come!

So now, if you are still with me. LOL, let’s take a BIG LEAP and get to the creation part ,,, the “good stuff”.

The "Back Story"

Here’s the story behind how the piece of art you will see below came into being.

Susie Ferguson of Bladerubber Stamps in London England decided to run an art contest (with some fab prizes) on one of her blogs (she has a couple) with the theme “How I Spent my Vacation (Summer)". By the way, let me give her site a plug. If you’ve never visited any of Susie’s sites, do so. She has a wealth of information and tutorials on them as well as some pretty cool art and stamps.

I was pretty busy at the time and didn’t think I had the time to enter her contest. As Susie and I correspond every now and again, I told her I would think about it but deep down I knew the chances were slim given my schedule.

A couple weeks ago, Saturday night came along. Hubby and I had decided to stay put for the evening in our abode. We had plans to go to our community garden plot and then on to the beach the next day and wanted to get an early start. An early bedtime was in order.

He was going to read, maybe watch some British crime shows he likes on T.V. and just generally chill. I decided I would mess around on the computer … maybe go surfing… maybe mess with some graphics… maybe clean up my email inbox which was pretty full (I don’t like to keep anymore than 20 emails in my inbox). I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. What I did know is that I wasn’t interested in television (I rarely am!). I had just finished a book I was reading earlier in the day and didn’t feel like reading.

Clean up always makes me feel good, so I decided to tackle that first. I came across the email from Susie. I started thinking about her prompt she had posted on her blog. Out of nowhere popped a tongue twister I loved challenging myself with as a kid: “Susie sells sea shells by the seashore.” Bet some of you also had fun with that one too!

I had a little chuckle to myself as the English Prof (yep, I was one of those way back when) in me starting thinking about how this English alliteration was also an onomatopoeia. Okay, okay, I know, an explanation of these terms is probably in order LOL:

an alliteration is a literary, rhetorical style that repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of several words in close succession (in this case “s”)

an onomatopoeia (man just spelling that is a challenge GRIN) is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound it describes. Words that follow each other have the same beginning letter also qualify.

For example common animal noises (oink, meow, woof) are onomatopoeia sounds for a pig, cat and dog. Donald Duck, busy as a bee, Marilyn Monroe and the Pittsburgh Penguins are also examples of words with the same beginning letters that follow each other. Bet you didn’t know that huh? BIG FAT JUICY GRIN

In “Susie sells sea shells at the seashore”, the s, sh and z sounds are alliterative but are also evocative of the sounds you hear at the beach… the sh of wind, the “z” of waves… at least that’s how I hear them… and this is what makes the saying an onomatopoeia as well.

End of English lesson!

One thing lead to another and I started thinking about how I had spent my summer. Well, if you have followed my blog with any regularity, you will know that my favourite spot is THE BEACH! In the next instant, this picture (more or less) along with the saying I came up with merged seamlessly into one in my mind.

There is a slight correction. The saying that popped into my mind really was: A sassy seahorse saw Susie sunning at the seashore. I don’t know why I changed it to smiling. All I can tell you is that when I was finished (it took me less than an hour to do this collage, creating it spontaneously without thinking about it very much), the thought that went through my mind was the look of lust the seahorse has plastered all over its face. LOL.

Upon Closer Examination...

After the collage was put together, I looked at what I had done. I have this “thing” lately that I will only include five “elements” (read images) in a piece (excluding the background). I counted them up. Sure enough there were only five.

I automatically started examining the art “elements” (and principles) I talked about earlier. That was a first. Up until now, I had never done this consciously. It was interesting to say the least! Here are just a few discoveries I made…

How I placed the words (diagonally) definitely denoted movement and action… which I wanted.

Plunking the woman on the sand in the bottom third of the collage, told me I had been paying attention to dividing my canvas up. Placing her horizontally on the sand evoked the sense of calmness and tranquility I experience when I am at the beach. Having her toe touch the umbrella pole and the sea horse (with its lusty look) created some excitement in an otherwise “bland” scene of sand and water.

I am not so sure about what the lighthouse is “saying” or how it contributes to the overall collage for the onlooker. But every beach scene for me has to have a lighthouse! Lighthouses have a lot of emotional significance for me. The beach I go to has one… actually it is one of the oldest lighthouses in B.C. having been built in 1860. Every time I look at that lighthouse or see it as I round the corner on the road to the beach, I experience a deep sense of connection and oneness.

Both the lighthouse and the seahorse create “stoppers” for the eye in wandering off the collage into never never land. The frame does it too!

I continued looking at the collage from the perspective of what I have learned over the past months. I was surprised at how interesting it was for me to discover what makes me tick when I create art!

It was a revelation for me that just five elements could evoke such different emotions. I am usually very critical of art that I do. This time I wasn’t (and haven’t been since). That, in itself, was a welcome change. All that really matters now seems to be whether I like the finished product. If I don’t, I just set it aside. Giving it some “breathing space” is often just what it needs to complete itself… on its timetable … when its ready!

Somehow, I am being gently guided by the “art” knowledge that I have acquired over these past months. I no longer seem to have the urge to “beat myself up” or drive myself “nuts” with that critical voice that makes “snap” (but likely unfair) judgments or even entertain the thought if anyone else will like (or let’s be really honest, in some cases, approve of) it.

At least for now, I can say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It’s the heart, the contemplation and the story at the core that really counts for me.

A Chuckle A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

I sent the collage to Susie so she would get it first thing in the morning. She has been having some health problems lately (like, don’t we all!) and I thought a good chuckle would be just the thing to cheer her up.

It did the trick. Her return email said she had laughed and got a big kick out of it. Much to my surprise, because I hadn’t been expecting it, she decided to include it in her contest entries.

If you like it, you can vote for it on her Blade Runner blog. It’s called Seahorse in the voting list. The contest closes October 17 (this coming weekend). I checked out her site this morning and there is some very wonderful art entered in the competition. Hmmm might be interesting to look at those pieces through the eyes of elements and principles to see what else I can discover!

So I have rambled enough for one day with these musings! I sincerely hope that you have found it interesting and worthwhile reading material.

Back to re-arranging my art room… a job I have been at for darn near a week but oh my it’s worth it! I like my space much better. I have discovered some wonderful surprises of stuff in my stashes I forgot I had. Now that everything is together and slowly but surely getting sorted, I am amazed at the sheer volume of stuff I have amassed over the past couple of years.

I can literally feel the fresh air being breathed into my creativity with this cleaning up and clearing out. It will be interesting for me to see what I create next!