To design is to plan. This course is about the organization of visual information -- what that means and how to do it. The course was designed to help you learn how to control what takes place in a composition.

Designing requires a climate that allows for creativity while consciously directing your efforts to effectively solve a visual problem and/or express and communicate your ideas with art. When you know all of the concepts you explored this semester, and where and when to use them, you will have come a long way toward being a designer.

These concepts are many (but not all) of the fundamental basics for organizing visual information. This is a beginning, an introduction. It will take years of experience to fully comprehend and use all of the ideas you have been exposed to.

Here is a rundown on what I think are the important things you should have learned from this course.



Art is one of the principle ways people communicate and express themselves. It is easier to understand art if you know the fundamental concepts used to make it. Throughout the course you explored these ideas while creating your own artwork.

If you continue to investigate art you will have many opportunities to use and improve your understanding of the ideas taught in this course. Even if you do not pursue art you will need to make aesthetic judgments about art, or at least about consumer goods, throughout your life.

While the information covered is basic it is not always simple. You may need more exposure to some of these ideas to fully understand them and be able to use them effectively. This will come easier if you enter every creative opportunity with an open mind and take the time and effort to recall what pertinent information you learned about what you are doing.

Art requires skill, knowledge of aesthetics and the ability to communicate.

Knowing what to do is only half the battle. You have to be willing to take the time and put out the effort to do a good job. You had ample opportunities to explore collage and related skills. The drawing lesson should whet your appetite to learn more (you can not know too much about drawing). The little bit of painting should indicate that it can be learned and make you more comfortable with color.

Remember that skill refers to using technique appropriately. Some art requires great precision and some is more effective when done "down and dirty."

Most of the class was dedicated to learning aesthetics. There is more to learn about aesthetics than can possibly be taught in one semester. Consider this one step in a life long learning journey. All aesthetic concepts do not apply in every case. Use those that are most appropriate in each situation.

It is easy to see how subject matter influences communication. The affect of form is less obvious. The course spent more effort on form meaning than on subject matter.

All art communicates. Every choice, about color, shape, placement, etc., makes a difference in the meaning of the finished product. Always keep your goal in mind.

The short form of concept, form and content is so fundamental that they are used every time you make a decision. Always continually make sure the content satisfies the concept.

The long form was taught so you would understand all of the possible steps. It is rarely necessary to use all of the steps (although sometimes even more are needed) but you do need to know the most productive route to take you from start to finish. The better you learn this lesson the quicker and easier all of your designing and creating will be in the future.

Research to learn as much as necessary about the project is fundamental.

It is impossible to over estimate the value of thumb nail sketches. This is where the visual parts of the design are invented.

Roughs can take many forms but they are where the details of the composition are worked out. Experience will help make you more efficient at using the design process.

These are the organizational tools available to the designer -- the ways the design elements are used.

Concentrate on the ground -- the figure will take care of itself. It is not necessary or desirable to make all figure/ground situations ambiguous. It is necessary to have the right amount of ground to make the figure function properly and to use the space in the format effectively.

While it is not necessary to fill all of the space you should use all of the space. Try to make everything that takes place in the format potentially interesting.

The important things about balance are when to use symmetry (not how -- that is easy) and how to balance with asymmetry. Your sense of balance is enough to allow you to notice when balance is not working. It is sometimes a bit trickier to get things back into balance without being too obvious.

It is not always desirable to achieve perfect balance. You can use balance concepts to direct attention.

It is vital for designers to be able to control the attention of viewer of their artwork. You should determine what is to be seen first, last and in between.

The concepts involved are extensions of the gestalt principles: contrast (similarity, placement (proximity) and isolation (proximity and continuance).

Size and scale relationships are what proportion is about. You should know how to make an item appear any scale by relating its size to other items.

The importance of understanding gestalt is to help you control unity and variety. Always remember that unity is what gives the composition cohesiveness but variety is what generates interest..

The gestalt concepts are the basis for grouping (achieving unity). The same concepts can be used to ungroup or separate items (the basis for variety). Variety is the spice of life. But variety out of control is chaos.

Closure is the basis for all abstract art. It describes how the mind fills in the missing information in an image.

We did not explore this classic gestalt concept very much except in passing. It states that the mind responds most positively to simple shapes and shape relationships -- especially those that are symmetrical.



These powerful tools will help you organize images. The easiest place to see these concepts in action is in graphic arts.

Color/value is the easiest and most productive kind of similarity in many cases.

Understanding close edge relationships will help you place items effectively.

Combining is the most powerful tool for both grouping and setting off information.

Alignment is primarily used in graphic arts. It is an excellent system for organizing rectangular forms.

Center (vertical) alignment is related to symmetry. Because of that it has great appeal.

These are the visual tools available to the designer (for two-dimensional art) -- the ways a blank page can be made into an image.

Color was the first design element studied but is put here to include it with the other design elements. The basic technique of painting was your starting point.

Color is a very complicated design element. Many facets of color were studied but the most important to understand were:

Value (light and dark relationships) is the most important concept for creating contrast -- controlling visibility. The hard part of the value scale project was learning to differentiate subtle value differences.

Hues are the colors of the spectrum. Learning the outside of the color wheel was the heart of this lesson.

Saturation is about intensity (bright and dull color relationships). Learning the inside of the color wheel was the point of this exercise.

You should be able to mix any color you want by combining what you learned about color. There was less (not enough) about where and how to use color. That will come with experience or in later art classes.

You explored shape in the figure/ground (the most important shape consideration) and balance projects.

Lines use to define contour (edge), divide space (make formats) and decorate were important issues. Perhaps the most important to understanding is how line quality operates to control the reading of drawing.

Two-dimensional space concepts included: picture plane and format.

The illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface using overlap, shading, linear perspective and atmospheric perspective were studied. It is possible to create and control spatial illusions ranging from flat space to deep space.

Texture is about surface -- visual and tactile. Texture adds interest to a composition.

Pattern was also studied in the texture lesson.

What a long strange trip itıs been. You have accomplished a lot, and I hope, learned a lot about art and design. I hope this web site has made that easier for you.

There was probably more content to this course than you could absorb (or thought possible). In the future you will possibly be exposed to these and similar ideas and find then easier to understand on second hearing.

What you did learn can not help but apply every time you think about art or make an aesthetic judgment.

The concepts you studied are, after all, the basics for all visual art.

Your Design Book is a valuable reference and record of the ideas you have explored and the skills you have learned -- treasure it.

Thank you for your interest and commitment.

Jim Saw



© 2000 James T. Saw
Do not copy or reuse these materials without permission.