Any quilter who hasn’t followed the exact fabrics and instructions in a quilt pattern has made design decisions. They could have been to change the size or borders, or use a different color scheme; but they were conscious decisions to alter the original in some fashion. I say because even if you don’t design all original work you may benefit from Molly Bang’s “Picture This: How Pictures Work.”
Bang, a children’s book author and illustrator, wanted to explore how certain elements in pictures affect our feelings. After all, in children’s books the illustrations are very much in service to the story. She wanted to ask, “How does the structure of a picture – or any visual art form – affect our emotional response?”
To work through that question Bang told the story of Little Red Riding Hood with very simple geometric shapes, beginning with Red as a bright red triangle.
Using colored paper, Bang created several versions of the scene in the woods with Red and the Wolf. Her goal was to maximize fear on Red’s part and menace on the Wolf’s. The pictures of her changes and the reasons behind them are a master class in design by themselves. The examples below are just two steps of the changes. The final version is on the right.
The books’ second part enumerates 12 design principles and illustrates them with more colored paper images. Now, you’ve probably already read/heard of most of the principles, though I’d never come across “We feel more scared looking at pointed shapes; we feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves.” before. However, it’s those simple illustrations that made all the difference for me.
I realize that Bang has a story teller’s perspective, but isn’t a primary purpose of art to evoke emotions? I don’t want to get tangled in the thickets of the “purpose of art” here. I do want to share a possibly useful resource with you.
Like many quilters with design aspirations I own Elizabeth Barton’s “Inspired To Design,” Joen Wolfrom’s “Adventures In Design,” Sandra Meech’s “Connecting Design To Stitch,” and Jean Wells’ “Intuitive Color & Design.” All these contain valuable insights and copious visual examples. Yet it took a red triangle to make it real for me.
This book was originally published in 1991, but has been recently reissued and expanded. Your library may have a copy.You can read a PDF of the 1991 version. It will take you an hour (at most) to look through it. Sometimes simpler is better.