Feature: Composition and Creativity - Composition Skills
Something I spend time on when teaching a gourd class is composition skills. In my classes, students have the use of patterns and reference material, but they are encouraged and shown how to modify and change designs to make them their own. It's always more satisfying to go home with a project with a bit of your own creativity in place instead of looking exactly like the one the teacher made.
There are many art textbooks that will explain composition rules and formulas for painters; gourd artists have the additional concern of working with a three dimensional item. No matter which medium is used, an artist will strive to create works that draw the eye to focal points of interest. A successful piece will unconsciously direct the eye from one interesting area to another, so that the entire piece is seen as a cohesive and pleasing whole.
There are decisions that need to be made at the beginning of any project. How will the finished piece be displayed, and will it be designed with one or more points of interest? A gourd vessel or sculpture that will be placed in a niche or corner can be designed with only one main focal area of interest, and the decoration of less exposed areas can be kept to a minimum. Conversely, other gourds are more effective when decorated with a series of patterns and focal points that allow the gourd to be turned or viewed from all sides. Will the gourd have cutouts, filigree, or other other carving techniques that will make the gourd more fragile? How can the design be composed to render the finished project as structurally sound as possible?
Tools such as changes in rhythm, contrast, color, or depth can capture the viewer’s attention and lead the eye from one area of the gourd to another. A composition that is created in the round can be unified by balancing focal points with areas of repetition.
The rhythm of a piece provides continuity, and can be established by the use of intervals of recurring or related elements. The repeated use of patterns, color, shapes or textures, when combined with a judicious use of dissimilar elements or embellishments, can be used to accent some areas and shift the eye from place to place.
Contrast is used to attract the eye and emphasize focal points. Contrast is achieved by adding areas of differences, such as light against dark, dissimilar textures, lines that change directions or cross, or varying sizes. Areas where contrast is minimized will be de-emphasized, helping the design to flow and allowing the eye to move towards the next focal area.
Color can be used to emphasize or minimize attention. Bold colors will attract the eye, while muted or pale colors will recede into the distance. Complex compositions will often look better with a limited palette of colors; use similar hues throughout to sooth the eye and allow for compatibility between the areas of emphasis.
Depth changes provide additional areas of contrast that can emphasize design elements. Negative space can be utilized by cutting out portions of the gourd surface or by adding irregularly shaped openings. Dimensional additives such as embellishments, built up areas or added gourd pieces can draw attention and provide eye-catching focal areas.
Generally, art will look more pleasing to the eye when the focal points are not placed at the exact center of the piece. Often, moving the design slightly above or below center will be more attractive. Off centered areas can be balanced with other areas of dominance. Symmetry is a useful tool in design, but asymmetrical patterns or unexpected line directions can add a fresh element to the overall composition.
There are no hard and fast rules that govern the way an artist should interpret a subject. With some experimentation and some practice, a person’s own style will emerge. Placing elements of design together into pleasing compositions is only one step along the road to creativity. The true creative process should combine composition with a meaningful statement and the use of innovation and experimentation.