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Elements of Design: How to Use the Right Kind of Shape in Art

Shape. After line, it is the first thing a child learns to draw. This second building block to the 7 elements of design can be seen in many artforms and throughout the realm of nature.

Shapes in art are made from Lines and are presented in 2D. As soon as the end of your line comes back to meet its beginning, you have a shape!

 


Geometric shapes in art include shapes that are “regular” and have a name. Square, triangle, circle, and so on. Designs and artworks that use geometric shapes have a tendency to look rigid and angular. Sometimes, specifically in photography, the objects within the photo create a shape. This is done to help the viewer’s eye move about the image.

Jason Naylor's digital art below nearly shouts "TRIANGLE!" The combination of the word ambition with this triangle seems to emanate strength. The triangle itself is a solid shape that is used to build structures meant to stand the test of time (in everything from art to massive bridges!).

Jason Naylor
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Elaine Ramos' set of book covers create very interesting geometric shapes through the use of line. I find it interesting that she used only black and white, yet because of the way that the lines are used, the shapes within the book covers seem to look grey at times.

Elaine Ramos
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Shapes found in photography are sometimes difficult to spot, but they are almost always there! Quentin Carpenter's flowers below are a perfect example of how to use shape in photography. Not only do the white flowers stand out from the blue background in a triangular shape, but the yellow middle parts of the flowers create a psychic triangle that allows your brain to connect the dots.

Quentin Carpenter
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Organic shapes in art are “irregular” and are often based on nature. Designs and artworks made with organic shapes are often made to emulate nature. Since nature is so filled with organic images, it is often very easy to photograph organic objects.

This fractal art created by Patty Talavera has very organic shapes within it along with some excellent use of pattern. It is essentially the same shape repeated throughout the artwork and it almost makes me feel like I am looking at some magnificent microorganism under a magnifying glass!

Patty
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Believe it or not, this is an album cover (that's right, that bit of cardboard that covered vinyl records back in the day). Designer Leroy Winbush decided to create more abstract birdlike shapes that change color when overlapped which helps the eye to see the shapes more clearly. These abstract organic shapes make for a very simple design that would be easy to remember.

Leroy Winbush
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While any photograph taken of nature would likely include organic shapes, I chose to display this expertly framed shot by Gordon Parks. The organic shapes in the frame (which is the archway above and around the woman) reflect the very feminine organic shape of the woman herself. I simply love the way that Parks composed his photographs!

Gordon Parks
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Pattern is a fun way to display different kinds of both geometric and organic shapes. This can be a way to add visual interest to the design, artwork, or photograph. It can also lead the eye across the image or to a specific spot.

Miko Ko said that she has been "addicted to patterns and what better way than to mix this skill with the best cartoon villains of the Powerpuff girls." Pattern can be made out of literally any shape. This pattern helps my eye to follow a slight diagonal line as  I find myself following the line of hats, and then the line of "Keep off the GRASS" signs, and then the money bags.

Miko Ko
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In some cases, even a partial shape can create repeated pattern that leads the eye. This is the case for the poster below by Ken Garland. The partial peace sign below repeats a slightly smaller shape to the right and lead the eye in that direction. I love this imagery and what it represents. It is as if the image is saying, "In peace we move forward, in peace we will stand."

Ken Garland
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In this last image, photographer Sabine lets nature make the pattern for her. There are shapes within shapes that repeat within this photo. Take a look at how the veins methodically trace themselves back to the central vein and into the stem, that's pattern!

Sabine
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And that ends our discussion on shape! You can download the FREE reflection worksheet that goes along with this article below. This reflection is available in both Word and Google Doc; click the button below and enter your email!

 

 

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