The title of this course is Design and Composition. These two terms take on special meaning as used here. A dictionary gives as the first definition for design: to plan. That is how the term will be used here. The process of planning will be explored along with guidelines for doing so in the creation of two-dimensional art work.

The dictionary also defines composition as: putting together of a whole by the combination of parts. The composition is the product of the design. One is no good without the other. This course explores the various elements and principles of design and how they fit together to make good compositions.


Designing is the art of planning.

Design can also be described as the organization of visual information.

We are all designers. To design means to plan. Almost everything we come in contact with has been designed by someone. This is most obvious in manufactured items (although good design is rare). Most of the living things we see have also been designed. Sheep dogs and American Beauty roses are not the product of natural selection. They were designed. The people that designed these, and all other, things used a surprisingly similar process.

All designing has a common set of components that will be explored in Part III: the design process.

can mean the physical image that is the result of the design or it can refer to the arrangement of visual elements in the image.

The products of design are compositions -- arrangements of the visual elements. They are as varied as the objects you see around you. This course will specialize in the design and composition of two-dimensional artwork. Much of the text will be spent investigating the design principles, the organizational tools used by designers. Readers will also learn about the design elements, the visual building blocks of design.

The course is about the organization of visual information. You will learn the basics of how to control what people see when they look at your artwork. Basic in that they are fundamental, not that they are simple. These basics are the foundation upon which all of the subtleties of visual art are based. They are extensive, complex and surprisingly specific. It is important to learn these fundamentals before attempting more advanced design. Like any thing, the stronger the foundation, the better the structure that can be built upon it.

The design principles are the concepts used to organize visual information -- the design elements. You will study the design principles in Part IV. They are used to create balance and harmony, direct attention and control the unity and variety in a composition.

The elements of design are the visual tools at the disposal of a designer. They are the various ways that a blank page can be altered to create a two-dimensional image. You will study the design elements in Part II and Part V. The elements of design are: shape, line, value, color, texture and space(the illusion of depth).


For many of us the world is flat -- it just looks round. These people are painters and graphic artists. For others the world is round. These people are sculptors and architects. Try both to see what you are.


The two dimensions referred to are height and width and that means flat, as in painting. The third dimension is depth, as in sculpture (Art 105 - Three-Dimensional Form and Design). This class restricts itself to two-dimensional art. A variety of media will be used, primarily cut paper and glue. The basic technique used is collage. Drawing and painting are also introduced.

Medium: (singular) refers to a material, media (plural) to various materials.

Technique: refers to the way the medium is used. It is possible for a medium, like acrylic paint, to be used for several different techniques.

Collage: from the French word for pasting means to glue materials together (cut and paste). If the composition is flat it is called collage, if sculptural it is called assemblage.







The material in this course is fundimental to the understanding of art. Art can mean many things. Put visually:
ART the highest level communication
Art common meaning aesthetics
art basic meaning skill

All artwork requires skill, but so does surgery. Art can be made with modest skills but the best art is very skillfully made.


is a difficult concept to define. One short definition is: something that is enjoyed for itself -- what it is, not what it can do.

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
Albert Einstein


are concerned with what the art looks like. It is the philosophy of beauty. Most artwork stops at this level, content to look good and perhaps to tell a simple story. Wallpaper and greeting cards do this.

The communication that is referred to in the highest level of ART is the profound message of the masters -- emotion. Art can move us to laughter or tears and that speaks of it's power. The art in museums has a high degree of all three levels. It is skillfully crafted, aesthetically realized and communicates both facts and feelings.

This course is primarily involved with the first two levels. Certainly you will need to develop your skill level -- craft. Most of the course deals with various aesthetic issues related to designing. There will, however, be ample opportunity to express yourself and to communicate with your projects.


The fine in fine art refers to it's quality. This is art at the highest level.


Art is a very competitive field and difficult to make a living at. The applied arts are more directly oriented toward commercial success.

All of the fine arts have in common their ability to communicate. They are the means we use to illustrate life as we know it. As long as we have been human we have made music, danced, told stories and decorated ourselves and our objects. These are the bases of the fine arts: music, dance, literature, theater, painting, sculpture and architecture. Every time and culture has different forms of these activities, but all have in common their ability to communicate the values and concerns of the people that create them. They represent us at our finest.

Fine arts are sometimes referred to as being "art for art's sake." This implies that they are made for no other reason than for the artists to express themselves. This is only partially true. Artists do express themselves. But artists do not live in a vacuum, and the products of their expression communicate to us their concerns and feelings. In the best art these have a universal appeal and let us cross time and space to join the artist in celebrating (or lamenting) life.
While most of us can enjoy art as an avocation, a career in art should only be chosen by those who have no other choice -- it is art or nothing.

Art that is made for a specific purpose, sometimes called commercial art, is also important to us. Even Rembrandt made his art to sell, so he was a commercial artist in a sense. Applied arts include product, fashion, graphic (printed materials) and advertising design and decorative arts. Crafts are generally an applied art, but can approach fine art -- depending on quality and the artist's intent.

What is generally called art usually refers to visual art -- art that is made to be seen. There are many different types of visual art. The fine art areas include: design, drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture. In the applied art area they include: graphic design, lettering, illustration, computer art and crafts including jewelry, glass and ceramics. Within these general headings are many specialized courses.


Creativity is not a matter of being different to be different. We are all different already. Being creative means being true to yourself and not yielding to what others would have you be or do.


Keep your eyes open and see what others have done. Learn from everyone.


To create means to make -- to make something new. Creativity can be as simple as discovering something for the first time (that everyone else already knows) or it can be as profound as discovering something that has never been known before. Most of us only create in the first way. But we dream of one day discovering something unique -- of putting our personal mark on the universe.

There is great potential for enjoyment in discovery and growth. There is also potential for frustration. Being creative means allowing yourself to change and seeing new possibilities in old situations.

It is important to distinguish between creating and exploiting. When you are making artwork you are usually making new discoveries on a continuous basis. It sometimes happens, however, that an artist quits growing and begins to use ideas and images that are not new -- this is exploitation. If the ideas are someone else's it is plagiarism. If they are the artists own it is worse, creative death.

You will do a lot of creating in this course. It is all right to use someone else's ideas as long as they are changed into your own in the process. It is unlikely that you will discover anything truly new to art, but everything you do should be new to you. It is important that you not copy other artwork -- that is stealing. If you must use someone else's ideas it is better to reinterpret and personalize them to make them into your own images.


© 2006 James T. Saw
Do not copy or reuse these materials without permission.