BY WESLEY BOSSMAN, ART DEPARTMENT CHAIR, JAMESTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Welcome to the fourth installment of the Elements of Design. We will discuss the final three Elements, which are quite easily understood.
We began with Lines, Shapes, and Colors, all of which refer us back to experiences we have had in our lives. Those elements, consciously, or unconsciously, remind us of things we have seen, or done.
Vertical lines remind us of stability, because things like telephone poles, towers, tree trunks, and the like, rarely fall down. Diagonals, on the other hand, seem to be perpetually falling down, so they seem restless, and in motion.
Geometric shapes make us think “man-made,” like cities, machinery, or buildings. Organic shapes remind us of natural, growing things.
The color orange prompts us to think “warm,” when it evokes experiences with the sun, fire, and warm, or hot things. The color blue reminds us of cool waters and sky.
Most of us have had tens of thousands of experiences in common with other people, and music, art, and literature draw on those experiences to tell us “stories,” and give us messages that nearly all of us can decipher, and understand.
The first of the last three Elements of Design, is Textures; how things feel, or look like they would feel.
Anything you have ever felt with your skin has added a “textures” reference into your experience repertoire.
In sculpture, and three dimensional art, actual texture is used; texture you can really feel. Another dimension of realism is achieved if one can not only see the art, but feel it as well.
In architecture, a white, glossy, smooth floor tile imparts an entirely different feeling than does a rippled, gray flagstone, for example. A hospital floor composed of the former implies, sterile, uniform, man-made, and efficient. A garden walk composed of the latter, emotes nature, creek beds, and individuality. A sculpture that was surfaced with shards of glass would prompt an entirely different response from us, than the same sculpture, covered with velvet.
Drawings and paintings employ “implied texture,” which is a texture that is only visual, and cannot be felt. There have been periods when artists have been judged on how real the objects in their drawings or paintings appeared, with some artists achieving a photographic perfection in their work.
When your child draws a dog, or cat, and adds whiskers, or fur, they are enhancing the realism of their work, with textures. (Sharp teeth are one of the favorite textures of elementary children drawing dogs, cats, sharks, dinosaurs, and so forth.)
Textures add interest, and add another means for the artist to reach the viewer, when skillfully executed.
Next, comes the Element of Space.
I profess that space is the least appreciated element of the lot. Because space “isn’t there,” it doesn’t really seem important, but it truly is.
When used in patterns, spaces are uniform, and are just as important as the shapes, lines, or colors used.
Spaces allow the other elements to be better seen, and appreciated. The difference between a complicated, “busy” pattern, and a straightforward, simple pattern, usually is a function of the spaces included in the two patterns.
In architecture, and in sculpture, the “negative,” or empty spaces are planned, and considered, equally as much as the solid, “positive” spaces. The negative spaces allow the viewer to see other objects through them, which helps relate the piece to its environment. The windows in our houses function as negative space, allowing us to see out, and view our surroundings from inside, making us feel we are part of a bigger area than just the inside of our house.
Objects in paintings can be close, and crowded, giving us an almost claustrophobic sensation, or they can each be surrounded by space, to be more easily seen, appreciated, and contemplated by the viewer.
A monumental battle scene, with hundreds of horsemen, and warriors on either side, requires a long, careful, scrutiny in order to find everything the artist wants us to see, because space has been minimized, to give the impression of the clamor of a pitched battle. Another artist may choose to illustrate the horror of war by showing us only two combatants, made much more personal by the lack of anything else surrounding their struggle that might distract us.
A good artist knows the power of the spaces he puts into his work, be it 2-dimensional, or 3-dimensional, and the different feelings the spaces trigger in the viewer. Space is thought about, and manipulated, fully as much as the other five elements when an artwork is planned out.
Our last Element of Design is Value.
Value, in elementary school, is simply how light, medium, or dark, a color is. Between the lightest shade of a certain blue, let’s say, and the darkest shade of that same blue, lie an almost limitless number of values of that blue. It could be light, or medium light, or medium, or medium dark, or dark, or very dark…but they would all be values of that particular blue, made by adding white,(the lightest value),to lighten it, or by adding black,(the darkest value), to make it darker.
As you might guess, the intensity of value is a very useful tool for the artist. A landscape painted in light values gives an atmospheric, misty, soft impression, while a landscape painted in vivid, intense values, gives a hard, immediate, bold impression.
Inside that red crayon your child is using, are many values, from the softest pink, to the brightest red the crayon is capable of. Encourage them to see how versatile a simple crayon can be.
To summarize, there are six Elements of Design we teach in elementary school: Lines, Shapes, Colors, Textures, Spaces, and Values. Each and every time your child begins to create art, those six elements provide her, or him, with the building blocks of an artwork.
The greatest artist of all time had those same six to use, and only the skill used to understand, combine, and employ them, separate the artistic genius from the three year old budding artist.
Next column I will introduce you to the Principles of Design.
Wes Bossman is an elementary Art teacher at C.C.Ring School, in Jamestown, NY, and chairs the Art Department for the district. Having graduated from Frewsburg High School in 1971, he attended J.C.C., Mercyhurst College, and Edinboro University to earn a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. He has taught for the Jamestown District since 1983.
In addition to teaching, he has painted many public building murals in the Jamestown area, illustrated several books, and paints in watercolors, his medium of choice. He has a strong belief in the value of art, and creative problem solving, for growing children.
He lives in Frewsburg with his wife, Michel.