Monday, February 4, 2019

Design Principles I Use and Recommend

The Elements and Principles of Design 

At a point in my travels pouring through books on making watercolors I encountered what I felt to be a gold mine of simplified, "down-to-brass-tacks", concepts on how to construct a good painting. It had the best tabulation of design theory I'd seen yet! It listed 7 elements and 8 principles to consider in designing a painting. The ambiguity was gone!

It was a book written by Ron Ranson called, "Learn Watercolor the Edgar Whitney Way".
In it he covers some personal accounts of Whitney's students while studying with him at
his paint-out workshops. He had quite a style of teaching and could instill his lessons with great flair!

I also have, "Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting", by Edgar A. Whitney himself.
Ed Whitney had what he called, "Elements and Principles of Design", and though these
are directed at watercolors, I believe they can be applied to other forms of art - dancing, cooking, living, etc!

The Elements are listed: Color, Value, Texture, Line, Shape, Size, Direction. In fact, you
can even chant them rhythmically in this order like you would in a protest. This allows me to remember them.

The Principles are listed: Conflict, Harmony, Unity, Dominance, Balance, Repetition,
Alternation, Gradation. ("CHUDBRAG") Again, this order helps me remember them.

The Principles are what you apply to the Elements to orchestrate a good design.
A flagrant example of Repetition where
 the circles are repeated in different Sizes.
Color is also repeated to give Unity,
  Harmony and Balance. 

("Suns and Moons" w/c)

For example, with Shapes, you'd want to Repeat them to help give the painting Unity. Repeating them with variety provides better entertainment. If they are similar in character you get Harmony.

You may have various colors in your painting but maybe one should Dominate, for Unity. Conflict in any of the Elements can create interest, as in complimentary colors.

Some might say, "Well, what about edges?" I'd put those under Shape. Temperature can go as a function of Color. And what about "Variety"? Can it be a Principle in its own right? Sure, if you want. But I think it mainly applies to Repetition. Let's keep it simple!
Here I used Conflict in Value to bring
out the brightness of the flowers. The
Line of the leaves change Direction,
Repeat and provide Harmony
 and interest.
("Light Bulbs" w/c)

I think these are distilled in the best form you'll find. I've seen other versions of them by his students in their own books, but I think Whitney had it the best and the students didn't quite understand how to use some of them.

So there you have it. I recommend getting these books on Amazon. Whitney's book is more in depth and he liked writing in a very scholarly fashion.

I like the simplicity of Ranson's book, the included Whitney-isms, the stories of his students and the samples of their work. Some of them were my early mentors by means of their books.