Design Focus Friday – Shape

We’re off to our next design element, shape. So what can shape do for you? Or perhaps the better question is what can working through these design elements do for you? Are you ever dissatisfied with how a piece turned out but aren’t sure why? Do you ever wish that you had planned ahead a little more instead of just throwing more embellishments at it? Learn more about design now because you’ll really be able to use what you learn every time that you make something new. Yes, it’s work but I’ve found that it’s fun once you get started!

A shape is an area that is separate from other areas and/or its background. The separation can be by a boundary line or a change in value/color, texture or any other difference that lets you see that the shape is different. The boundary can be an outline or a distinct edge like cut paper, a rough edge like torn paper or a soft edge like a smear of charcoal.

Mechanical shapes are those made with straight lines, circles and/or parts of circles — the shapes you can make with a ruler and a compass. These are man made shapes sometimes called geometric shapes. They can be simple or complex. Think of the inside of a clock or other piece of machinery. The feeling mechanical shapes give is of control and order.

Organic shapes are shapes found in nature — the shapes you draw freehand. They are generally complex and have a natural, spontaneous feel to them. Think of the enormous variety and complexity of plant and animal life.

Forms and shapes can be thought of as positive or negative. In a two dimensional composition, the objects constitute the positive forms, while the background is the negative space. For beginner design students, effective use of negative space is often an especially important concept to be mastered.
Some artists play with the reversal of positive and negative space to create complex illusions. The prints of M. C. Escher often feature interlocking images that play with our perception of what is foreground and what is background. Other artists take these illusions of positive and negative images to even greater lengths, hiding images within images. Perception of form and shape are conditioned by our ingrained “instinct” to impute meaning and order to visual data. When we look at an image and initially form an impression, there is a tendency to latch on to that conclusion about its meaning, and then ignore other possible solutions. This may make it hard to see the other images. Training the eye to keep on looking beyond first impressions is a crucial step in developing true visual literacy. (photo from the M.C. Escher site).
A shape or form can be open or closed. An open form involves placing an element in the work so that it continues beyond the frame, either literally or figuratively. If the main subject of our piece is shown in its entirety within the frame, it is a closed form.
OK, so now you know a little more about shape. What can you do with shape in your work this month?
• How does the composition change if you emphasize the positive shapes? How about the negative shapes? 

• With one main shape in a composition, would your piece be more interesting if the main object was integrated into the background?

• What do you see when you look at abstract shapes? Does the shape represent or symbolize something to you? How does this affect your connection with the viewer of your work?

• How can you move the shapes around in your composition to affect the depth perception in a piece?

• How does the size of the shape change where it appears to your eye? Does a larger size bring the piece forward? Smaller size?

• What does overlapping shapes do to your composition?

• How does making a shape an open form change your composition? Closed form?

Let’s get started! Leave me a comment about shape and how you use it in your work. I’m meeting with my local group today and we’ll be making our own stamps and stencils. That should be perfect for thinking about various shapes. I’ll post photos of my new stamps and stencils next week, so stay tuned.


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