Notes and Reflections

Design Basics Notes



“Unity means that a congruity or agreement exists among the elements in a design; they look as though they belong together, as though some visual connection beyond mere chance has caused them to come together.”

“Another term for the same idea is harmony. If the various elements are not harmonious, if they appear separate or unrelated, your composition falls apart and lacks unity.”

“Unity of design is planned and controlled by the artist. Sometimes it stems naturally from the elements chosen.”

“Another term for design is composition, which implies the same feeling of organization. Just as a composition in a writing class is not merely a haphazard collection of words and punctuation marks, so too a visual composition is not a careless scattering of random items around a format.”


“An important aspect of visual unity is that the whole must predominate over the parts: you must first see the whole pattern before you notice the individual elements.”

“Each item may have a meaning and certainly add to the total effect, but if the viewer sees merely a collection of bits and pieces, then visual unity doesn’t exist.”

“Do not confuse intellectual unity with visual unity. Visual unity denotes some harmony or agreement between the items that is apparent to the eye.”

“To say that a scrapbook page is unified because of all the items have a common theme (your family, your wedding, your vacation at the beach) is unity of idea – that is, a conceptual unity not observable by the eye. A unifying idea will not necessarily produce a unified visual composition.”

“the need for visual unity does not deny that very often there is also an intellectual pleasure

Emphasis and focal point


“Large pine tree”

“the large pine tree might go unnoticed in a stroll through the neighbourhood.”

“several things contribute to the emphasis on this tree in the photograph: placement near the centre, large size, irregular shape, and dark value against the sky”

“there can be more than one focal point. Sometimes an artwork contains secondary points of emphasis that have less attention value than the focal point.”

“however, the designer must be careful. Several focal points of equal emphasis can turn the design into a three-ring circus in which the viewer does not know where to look first.”

interest is replaced by confusion: When everything is emphasised, nothing is emphasised.”


“Emphasis by contrast”

“the more complicated the pattern the more necessary or helpful a focal point may become in organising the design.”

as a rule, a focal point results when one element differs from the others. Whatever interrupts an overall feeling or pattern automatically attracts the eye by this difference.”


“the element that contrasts with, rather than continues, the prevailing design scheme becomes the focal point.”

“colour is often used to achieve emphasis by contrast. A change in colour or a change in brightness can immediately attract our attention.”


“Emphasis by isolation”

“This is contrast, of course, but it is contrast of placement, not form. In such a case the element need not be any different from the other elements in the work.”

“in neither of these examples is the focal point directly in the centre of the composition. This placement could appear too obvious and contrived. However, it is wise to remember that a focal point placed too close to an edge will tend to pull the viewer’s eye right out of the picture.”


“One element”

“A specific theme may, at times, call for a dominant, even visually overwhelming focal point. The use of a strong visual emphasis on one element is not unusual.”

“A focal point, however strong, should remain related to and a part of the overall design.”

“in general, the principle of unity and the creation of a harmonious pattern with related elements are more important than the injection of a focal point if this point would jeopardise the design’s unity.”


“Funeral under Umbrellas is a striking picture. What makes it unusual concerns the principle of balance or distribution of visual weight within a composition.”

“The diagonal sweep of the funeral procession is subtly balanced  by the driving rain that follows the other diagonal. The effect seems natural and unposed. The result looks like many of the photographs we might see in newspapers or magazines.”


Value Pattern

“In describing paintings or designs, we speak often of their value pattern. This term refers to the arrangement and the amount of variation in light and dark, independent of the colours used.”


“When value contrast is minimised and all the values are within a limited range with only small variation, the result is a restrained, subtle effect. The impression is one of understatement, whether the value range is dominated by lights or darks.”


“One of the most important uses of gradations of dark and light is to suggest volume or space.”

“A drawing using only line is very effective in showing shapes. By varying the weight of the line, an artist may imply dimension or solidity, but the effect is subtle. When areas of dark and light are added, we being to feel the three dimensional quality of forms.”

“On a two-dimensional piece of paper or canvas, an illusion of space is desired – and perhaps not just the roundness of a head but a whole scene receding far into the distance.”

“Here again the use of value can be an effective tool of the artist. High value contrast seems to come forward, to be actually closer, whereas areas of lesser contrast recede or stay back, suggesting distance.”

“An illusion of great depth is thus created by manipulating the various values. This technique does reproduce what our eyes see: Far off images visually become greyer and less distinct as the distance increases. In art, this called aerial, or atmospheric perspective.”

Notes and Reflections

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