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10: Shape

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    The Visual Element of Shape can be natural or man-made, regular or irregular, flat (two-dimensional) or solid (three-dimensional), representational or abstract, geometric or organic, transparent or opaque, positive or negative, decorative or symbolic, colored, patterned or textured. Most of the art we see is two-dimensional: a drawing, a painting, a print, or a photograph which is usually viewed as a flat surface. Most two-dimensional art tries to create the illusion of three dimensions by combining the visual elements to a greater or lesser degree.

    In Escher's lithograph, the artist is playing with the illusion of two and three-dimensions in the same image. From an interlocking pattern drawn on a page of his sketchbook, the flat outlined shapes of the reptiles are brought to life by the addition of tone. They step out of their two-dimensional world into a three dimensional landscape of solidly rendered objects that have been selected for their variety of shapes and textures. After a short journey exploring this new environment they return to their original format by losing their tone and adopting their former position within the design - an illusion of a return trip between two and three dimensions.

    In general, when we look at shapes we categorize them into organic shapes and geometric shapes. Organic shapes will typically have curved edges or contours whereas geometric shapes will have planes, ellipses, or spherical shapes. When drawing or painting shapes with planes, knowledge of linear perspective is necessary to accurately draw the subject. The angles and curves of shapes appear to change depending on our viewpoint. Our viewpoint is our eye level which (with the exception of an aerial view) is equal to the horizon line used in drawing (linear/vanishing point) perspective.

    Shapes used in the visual field can invoke an aesthetic response such as calm, uneasy, or agitated. For example, a triangle has a solid base and planes that point upward. This is a very stable shape to use in a composition. Leonardo Da Vinci used this to great affect in his paintings and Raphael, ever the borrower of great artistic ideas, also begins to use this compositional technique in his paintings as well. Certain shapes have meanings depending upon where they are placed in the visual field. Placing a circle in the upper part of the field may appear to represent the sun or moon. Squares or rectangles may represent solid structures like houses or other buildings. They, too, appear stable and solid. Shapes can also be a form of visual communication as in the octagonal shape of a stop sign, or the inverted triangle used in a yield sign.

    Combining shapes into balanced compositions is a worthwhile exercise best started using simple geometric shapes. Even representational subjects can be reduced down to the most basic of shapes. This process is termed abstraction, with the subsequent art called abstract art. Many students feel they do not understand or appreciate abstract art. Think of it this way. When writing and publishing a scientific research article, the author writes a shortened summary of the main points of the paper. This is called an abstract. Artists do the same thing. They simplify and reduce the visual subject pulling connections they see and wish to include in the artwork. Of course there are other forms of abstract art, but looking at it this way may be helpful. Two nice early examples of the process of abstraction of representational subjects into more geometric shapes are found in the work of Theo Van Doseburg and Henri Matisse.


    Part 1:

    Use drawing, painting and/or cut paper to create a “legible, clean and harmonious” abstract geometric design. Use black and white with only one carefully chosen “spot” color. This “spot” color should be used in one area or several specific parts of the design for balance, emphasis or other design consideration.

    Part 2:

    On a separate sheet of paper list the design considerations incorporated into Part 1. The design elements are from previous chapters and should be typed and double spaced. Be prepared to defend during critique your list relative to your design.

    Part 3 (Optional):

    Add an organic shape to the design you created in Part 1 or a similar design. The organic shape should be in the form of a drawing, painting or original photograph. Such as the work by Georgia O’Keeffe.

    10: Shape is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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