I still remember being a kid and spending hot summer days at my Grandma’s non air-conditioned house sketching away. Drawing cars that looked like houses and horses that looked like aliens. I was just stoked to have a pencil and paper. She was a pastel artist and specialized in landscapes and portraits. I learned a lot from her. I learned how to use my “artistic license”, how to spray a pastel painting with fixatif so the chalk didn’t end up on your hands, your parents furniture, your cat etc. How there was never any TRUE black in a painting because subtle dark colors gave the piece so much more life, and to always treat compositions as if your eye was walking around the page. Hmm. For some reason this last tip always has stuck with me as one of my most important criteria for creating art.
**Doesn’t it seem like art and design is full of a lot of rules? When I was in high school it was the rule of not letting out-of-control classmates trash your art projects. In college, it was a collection of principles that form almost everything I know about design now: complimentary colors, spatial tension, the delicate balance of positive and negative space, (and NOT farting in confined spaces like the computer lab). It’s important to know the rules, that way you know which ones to follow, which ones to bend and which ones to break effectively.
Well boys and girls, let’s take a look at a practical example. We will use the Kipahulu Bamboo Forest Print…
“That’s a pretty rad poster.” you say. Well thank you, but let’s study it. Take a minute to look at the composition and make notes of where you first look when you view the print and which direction your eye moves. Does it stop in any places? Does it get stuck, or does your eye smoothly walk around the page until you are back to where you started? I hope the answer to last part of the last question is “yes.” Now look below for my intention of the composition and we’ll compare…
Get the idea? So in my mind the beginning of the composition is the titling at the top left of the print. Sometimes I look at it and I see the bottom of the large bamboo piece first, and I am okay with that. You can see the circular nature of the composition and how the bamboo leaves subtly take your eye around the page. I also included the little retro hiker dude for the sake of bringing your eye BACK to the title after you’ve viewed the print. (Along with the secondary achievement of having him abstractly hiking “out” of the bamboo forest. What do you think?
We’ll look at a second example here… one of my favorites: the Haleiwa Town print from the Highway-99 series. Take a minute to look at the print and develop you own conclusions as to the main focal point of the print and where your eye is drawn from there. Are there certain design elements that appear to have their own purpose in the print? And… scroll down to see my take on it.
Wow. Looks complicated, huh? Really, if you look closer, it’s very similar to the last example. My eye is initially drawn to the bold type in the center of the print, partially because of the bright orange shave ice ball behind it. Now walk your eye up the wooden spoon, hop across the Anahulu stream bridge, up and over following the ‘Iwa bird (of which Hale’iwa was named) and up to the Haleiwa Town text. Now, while I was designing this, a concern was that your eye would stop there thus creating less visual interest in the overall design. If you take a look at the arrows on each side, I added in a couple stylized palm trees along with a vertical stripe pattern that leads your eye down to the footer text North Shore Travel Authority.
So what’s my point? Besides always listen to your Grandma? My point is learning these basic design principles train and develop your eye for design. Then, more and more you will know what is pleasing to the eye and consistent with good design. AND, maybe after having jobs mowing grass, cleaning golf clubs, shoveling dirt, parking cars, working at surf shops, waiting tables, and tending bar, YOU could become an artist… But, on the other hand, maybe you were an artist all along.