Working with Expressive Shapes & Forms

Terms you Should Know

  • Major Flow  When discussing the flow of a design, painting, sculpture, etc. we are talking about the strongest major direction is dominating the all-over design. For example, the all-over flow in a design may be diagonal or vertical, etc.
  • Line Quality refers to how a line is drawn. That is, smooth, soft, broken, thick, thin, etc.

Why is this concept important?  You have worked with shapes such as triangles, squares, and circles since you were a kid so it’s easy to take shapes for granted. On an unconscious level, forms, shapes, and lines express different feelings and energy levels. When conceptualizing a design, consider the words your clients ask to have embodied in the final design. Think about the type of energy level associated with these words.  Once you establish the energy then apply the following knowledge about shapes/forms energy levels.

Why is this concept important?  You have worked with shapes such as triangles, squares, and circles since you were a kid so it’s easy to take shapes for granted. On an unconscious level, forms, shapes, and lines express different feelings and energy levels. Understanding how shapes, forms, and lines interact will arm you with additional compositional elements that can help you create a specific mood/feeling in your designs.

Forms & Shapes  We see shapes as being flat, and 2-dimensional (squares, triangles, etc.). Forms are a shape that appears 3-dimensional (cubes, cones, etc.).

NOTE: Throughout this presentation, I will use the term shape, but the information applies to both shapes and forms.

Geometric shapes & forms are precise and can imply a man-made quality to the viewer.

Man-made means; not resulting from natural processes; artificial; manufactured; plastic; or synthetic. The following shapes/forms are geometric.

Circles can imply passiveness, stability. Some consider it symbolic of the feminine. Unlike the triangle or square, the circle has no angle, so feeds its own energy back into itself. The energy level of the circle is the lowest of the 4 shapes we will discuss.

Triangles create movement through its three corners. The movement is pushed through the three corners. The corners can be used to push the viewer’s eye towards or away from other objects on the picture plane. The energy level of the triangle is the highest of the four shapes we will discuss. The Rule of Odds (see Rule of Odds post) applies to the triangle.

Squares are a stable shape that gathers strength from its absolute symmetry. The symmetry comes from each side of the square having the same size on all 4 sides. When viewed as a square, the energy is slightly more energetic than the circle, a lower energy level. When the square is placed on its side it becomes much more energetic. When on its side, the square acts more like a triangle, whose corners start a push-pull energy. This origination of the square often has medium energy.

Rectangles are almost as stable as the square, with two sets of sides being
the same size. The energy level of the rectangle changes depending on
its orientation.

Horizontal rectangles add tranquility to compositions due to their restful attitude. The energy level is lower than medium in this orientation.

Vertical rectangles add energy to compositions due to their upright position. This is around medium energy orientation for the rectangle. Think of picket fences!

Diagonal rectangles have the highest energy of the three orientations. Whenever anything is placed on a diagonal flow, it has more energy.

Organic shapes and forms, and the book Point and Line to Plane.

Most of this information on shapes and forms comes from the book Point and Line to Plane, by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, written in 1926.

Currently, we know that that organic objects can have a very man-made look. The ability to take photos through a microscope didn’t make huge advancements until 1933, seven years after the book was written.

Although we can find examples of things found in nature that look very man-made, see photos of algae, in this discussion we will follow this description of organic shapes and forms as described by Kandinsky.

Organic shapes and forms are often are irregular and spontaneous. Their twists and curves don’t conform to a set structure as you would expect to find in symmetrical, geometrical shapes and forms. Forms and shapes found in nature are often organic. The circle is considered both geometric and organic.

Make sure to read the blogs Working with Expressive Lines and Expressive Lines, Shapes, and Forms, Putting it all Together.

Credits: Point and Line to Plane, by Wassily Kandinsky.

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