Part 4 in the series of articles on the Art of Design
At a past conference an artist friend asked me for advice. She was at a complete loss and frustrated! A piece she had submitted to a jury of evaluators had been criticized and had failed to pass the criteria in a credential program. The artist didn't understand why and was desperately seeking an answer.
As I describe it, see if you can begin to realize the design issues. It was Art Nouveau in style with a beautiful floral pattern around the oval box. The feet on the bottom of the box were 4 square cubes. The lid had a dichroic glass cabochon, which was bezel set. It was beautifully finished, antiqued and technically well constructed.
What was the problem? It seemed pretty…
Elements are components of a design that can be identified or isolated. They help to tell the story. They communicate the purpose, idea, or meaning of the piece. The elements and its cumulative design allow the observer/wearer to connect to the piece in their own way. It brings their personal truth to it. It synthesizes their past, their thoughts, and their future. It speaks to the viewer!
Eclectic design is when you mix up a bunch of different elements from different designs or styles. Sometimes it happens to work but more often than not, it’s just a hot mess. So you have to be careful when adding elements to your designs.
Let’s examine three principals that should have been questioned in this design:
Shape, Materials, Emotion …and how that emotion ties into style or the theme.
The shape of the oval box should be repeated in the shape of the feet. If you are doing a geometric piece where the pieces are meant to oppose one another then that’s fine, but for this piece it didn’t work. The feet were not supposed to be a focal point, yet because they opposed the shape of the box they became a strong element.
The artist was dead-on spot with the oval shape as one of the key indicators of Art Nouveau style is its curvilinear, flowing forms. Next the style needs to be considered. When picking a pattern, consider its history, and what that imparts as part of the information. The Art Nouveau period was from 1883-1890’s. Characteristically it has florals, elements of nature, a certain color palette, etc. It evokes an emotion.
A modern piece of dichroic glass doesn’t suit this style. Instead this was a time in jewelry history where fine stone setting was being replaced by the use of enameling, opals and semi-precious stones. An enameled lid would have been perfect. Setting a semi-precious stone instead, in the color of one of the flowers would have been also suitable. So the artist was on the right path with the design but the components selected didn’t convey the right information. She had skillfully accomplished the piece, but design-wise it had issues.
The 10 elements to consider in your work are:
point, shape, form, texture, color, the five senses, emotion, function, materials and processes.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your design elements:
- What is your design telling the observer/wearer?
- What elements engage them immediately and why?
- Is the shape intentional and does it convey information about the story of the piece?
- Consider the texture as it shouldn’t be arbitrary. It imparts great amounts of information. Will it wear well? Will the finish change due to wear, encouraging you to consider protection?
- Consider how the color works with the texture. Is the intensity and amount of color suitable?
- Does your piece engage the five senses? Is there one sense it engages more than the other and why?
- Consider whether your material is natural or symbolic. Is that imparting more knowledge about the piece that you desire?
- Consider the number of items on the piece. Is it 2, 3, 4, etc. For example, a triad or three often represents controversy or opposition. Is this the message you are sending?
- Is the process unique to you or will it be compared to another master as his or her work?
- Does this process lend to the design or distract from it?
- Most importantly, what elements do you need to edit, revise or adapt?
I encourage you to copy this list of questions and ask yourself these questions as you make your pieces. There are many others you can add. This will perhaps spark other questions to be asked or answered to add to the list. It’s a good place to start!
I also recommend a little art history to consider when you pick a pattern or copy an image to use as a tear-away texture or PhotoPolymerPlates. Even the selection of type-font imparts information to the viewer. These are all things to contemplate and not select arbitrarily. Good design begins with these basic concepts.
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