Monday, 12 August 2013


Today I am just going to say a few words about the UNDERLYING basic design principles that every artist can use.  Last week I talked about the fact that all too often, the subject rules.    Well, there are lots of "design tools" that you can use as an artist, to strengthen the visual power of your images beyond just the interest or power of the subject-matter, and I offer a few REALLY BASIC ONES here.

It might be helpful  to think about the fact that many design ideas are rooted in the way that we humans react to our environment.

  1. For example, we feel safe when lying flat surfaces and horizontal lines feel steady, secure and safe.
  2. Vertical lines represent right-angles to the ground beneath our feet...strong elements like trees are vertical;  telegraph poles are vertical, we stand vertically.  Vertical lines are uplifting and steady too.
  3. Diagonal lines take our eyes off in different directions, and add variety and interest.
  4. Sharp points and angles can feel uncomfortable - they can trigger anxiety in a subconscious way, as the human brain might relate these elements to sharp points such as knives, or broken shards of glass...things which can physically cause damage.
  5. Rolling, gentle curves are calming, reminiscent of gently moving water, the softness of a cushion perhaps,  or certainly the female human form and the comfort of a mother.
I know this is all very basic stuff.......but when we get caught up in the fascination of the SUBJECT, without taking these elements into account,  we are losing an opportunity to create a stronger, more emotionally powerful image.

So, the next time you create a painting, having been firmly seduced by your subject matter.......the red barn, the child playing at the water's edge, the misty mountains.......whatever........take another look at it using your "design" eyes.   What feeling do you want to convey?  If you want to convey tranquility, for example, you would do well to ensure that your image is not made up of sharp point and angles and loads of diagonals all over the place.  If you want to convey excitement, then make sure that you DO have marks which add to the feeling of tension.
Take a look at these images, and see what kind of feeling you get from them, and see if they conform to any of these very basic principles:

The poppy picture is full of diagonal lines, and strong contrasts, both in tone and colour.  As such, it has some of the drama and tension I wanted to achieve.

The Venice image is dominated by vertical and horizontal elements.Its colours and tones are soft with few strong contrasts.  It has a feeling of calm and tranquillity by comparison with the flower image.

Finally - off topic -  I have some concerns that whatever I write may well be hijacked and rewritten somehow.  This is exactly what is happening to my posts on WetCanvas........words I write disappear, and other words I have never written appear in their place.  I am not sure how this happens but this cannot be a random incidence of jumbled posts.  And what I do know is that there are some very mean-minded people out there with the ability to do these things, and it is rather disturbing.

Someone clearly feels that I "lecture" to my readers and cause offence.  My answer to that is that it is pretty hard to be a teacher without being a lecturer.  They kinda go hand in hand.  But the bottom line is that nobody is forced to read what I write, everyone has free will to go elsewhere on the internet, or to burn my books!

I hope that what I write is of use to some.


  1. Gosh, I really want to thank you for today's "lecture", some things I wasn't aware of. I am particularly interested right now as I've just finished a painting of some very peaked and angled rocks in Garden of the Gods, Colorado with a stormy sky. It turned out very edgy and exciting, and now I know why!

  2. I can think of some wonderful examples where these principles are put into use. I play Diablo III, third of a game series with extraordinary artwork.

    I had to smile at your characterization of jagged lines as menacing like broken glass. The mountains in the game are all very jagged and sharp, giving an impression of spikes or dangerous devil horns even when they're not. All sharp points and angles make the game environment look dangerous and therefore, exciting. The idea is to head into danger and be the baddest thing in the place so it sets that mood on purpose and raises excitement.

    Very cool things to think about.

  3. Jackie, I don't think it has anything to do with Wet Canvas, your blog isn't WC yet the images you obviously must have posted below your last sentence are missing. I'm sorry that it seems like a poltergeist is haunting you! Don't give up, your posts and blogs are great!

  4. I love your hints and lectures and information - keep it up please? What I find strange is that your pictures are fine when I go to your blog but are missing from your emails. That is ok - maybe that is just my emails - I just go to your page.


  5. Hi Jackie, wonderful information. It is very simple to understand, and a good thought when as you said, we are intrigued by whatever we are painting. Then we need to apply the principles you stated to help create the illusion we are putting on our surface.

    You do not lecture, you teach! I enjoy every post you write!

  6. Jackie, your paintings and your blog postings are continually interesting and engaging. Congratulations and thank you for sharing.

    I haven't seen anything from you in quite some time on Wet Canvas, but currently they are having some sort of huge technical problem with posts disappearing, comments erroneously attributed to the wrong people, and the like. The moderators are totally powerless and the WC sponsor has posted an apology message, saying efforts are underway to fix the problem.

    Hope you will become active on WC again.

    Best, Virgil

  7. thank you all for your comments and encouragement. Virgil ...I do contribute to WC fairly regularly, in both Pastel Studio and Pastel Talk. You are too right about the current mayhem at WC - my posts have not only been hijacked, they have been RE-WRITTEN!! It is difficult to believe it is just a glitch and not deliberate on the part of some clever hacker who enjoys making things difficult for others.

  8. I rarely comment, but feel I must tell you how much I enjoy your posts and how much I learn from them. Please banish the critics and malign interferers (is there such a word?) from your mind...not worth spending any time at all on them.
    I find your lessons not the least bit lecture-bound, and I return to them over and over, trying to incorporate them into my thinking. Incidentally, I have never worked in pastel, but paint with oil and watercolor and I find the priciples you explain apply perfectly well to any artistic endeavor.

  9. I've been a silent appreciator of your blog postings like Jeanette above and feel the need to express me appreciation. Time you could be painting, but you generously choose to stop and take your valuable time to share your artistic insights and experience with us. Thank you so very much!

  10. A really nice post, and something I will think about more regularly now. Thank you!

  11. Jackie, please don't let a few odd comments stop you from putting forth your crit's---we all learn so much from you! Folks really need to read, and study, and go out and paint and think, in order to learn, and to have comments from someone who is as experienced and as gifted as you are to help us is a blessing for us! Please don't stop, at least keep writing your blog its great!!!!

  12. I have continuously enjoyed your posts, and I did find your blog via WC. The world is full of unpleasant people, to put it mildly, and WC is no exception. I would hate to see your wonderful artistic voice stifled because of that.

  13. Jackie, like the above artists, I too appreciate your time & professionalism in your sharing. I have seen stuff similar to what you are writing about, but totally worse including unrelated info, etc, caused by someone hitting the wrong key or forgetting to clear something & sending the original mail to a program that "translated" it and it send the new email to the recipient!! It was supposedly unintentional. ???? just a thought But, I am proud of you for speaking out, Kudos!


please feel free to leave me a message