Hands On: Leaf Composition


Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application


Lesson Info

Hands On: Leaf Composition

These photographs were sent to me by my friend paul from new york on thank you for those um some photographs he shot I think in hiss courtyard couple of leaves and we have piles of leaves that have come to us from new hampshire the home of the leaves home of all good leaves and leave compositions again we go back to josef albers uh he originated this idea at least in in terms of how I think about leave compositions they're so playful and they are organic shapes, right? So you've been dealing with geometric shapes so now you start to deal with organic shapes the same rules apply you're going to be thinking about figuring ground you're going to be thinking about structure movement, perhaps ideas based on abstract symbolism expressions that way you're working with colored grounds perhaps black, perhaps white but also you khun maybe pick up some of these pieces of color, integrate those into the composition as well. Another thing to think about is, um well here we have a pattern a repeatin...

g form of our very similar leaves in the background and then one leaf that stands out its second anomaly so it really creates a sense of visual hierarchy your eye goes straight to that point because it's different we have a grid something like this is not going to be possible constructed a so it's so precise and you guys aren't going to be gluing anything down again you just kind of moving things around but feel free to work with other kinds of shapes that you make out of paper. You might even integrate some of these geometric shapes into the competition so you have a combination of geometric and organic which is a beautiful kind of contrast when we're talking about composition you can take a leaf and shatter it, crumple it up and make a texture a little pile of leaves tauron paper edge very similar to the edge of a leaf right? So organic shapes here real organic shapes now there's we talk about our gang shapes but look at how kind of geometric that leaf is. What do we have here? A triangle, another triangle here in here similar to the tang graham triangles so we have a little bit of geometry and structure perfectly centered these angles kind of go here and here. So various very structural and then this beautiful wave form in the background and this is work from my students at s p a and thanks to them for providing these great examples contrasts of texture something we haven't really talked about very important when we get into something like leave compositions because leaves have textures so take a piece paper, crumple it up right and then the background paper which is very smooth so composition contrast contrasts large and small contrast of size contrast of direction horizontal vertical contrasts of texture feel free to cut the leaves up you don't have to use them whole you can also just use the leaves themselves to making composition on lee leaves put the leaves in some kind of interesting order and there they were thinking about the colors of the leaves and how they contrast each other and I showed you this yesterday I actually have the real thing with me right here this is good. Okay? I don't know if we can see this or not if there's too much glare on it um as I let this all the way from new york here it is uh in this leaf again. It looked very, very, very different when I made the composition uh, ten years ago now, but look, I was changed so again, if you're putting together leave compositions you khun glue them down just like you blew everything. Actually thes pieces in here are not even glued in place. They're pressed in place with the glass so they're held in place just by pressure and these leads will change over time and it's super fun to watch them change and the best treatment is on may for those of you at home, if you don't have them, the best idea is to take the leaves ultimately, if you're going to use him in a composition, you wantto last flatten him out in a book it's like we're taught when your kids how to save lee's put them inside of book you happen to have an old copy of yellow pages or something like that? I know that's not something we have a lot of around anymore but a thick book slip them inside they won't damage the pages it's funny I go through books at home and I'll find leaves that put in books years ago that's a nice one and the nice thing is that once they're inside a book, they're not exposed to light and they're actually exposed to very little air so they don't change very much they'll lose a little bit of their color, but they stay very intact. The thing that tends to deplete leaves of their color is light, so if you have it in the bright light like this thing has been sitting out on my desk for years and years has changed dramatically, but you can keep the leaves very stable in color by putting them in books and then when you do put them into your compositions again, if you want them to last you khun coat them with some kind of a sealant like much bajaj or a varnish of some kind and that will protect them, which you don't have to do that okay, so you all have piles of leaves in front of you? This is just a grey board it's kind of a nice more of a natural board and I'm going to take a piece of the coloring that we happen to have here and it's going to slip it behind look at that contrast that happens as soon as I put this in back changed dramatically if I take the contrast in color we know know that blue is the complement of orange soul slipped out and back a little bit of transparency here with this leaf as well everyone's going oh no don't cut it e feel free to grab anything you want splitting the colors are has integrated yeah like little cranium so here you're working with organic shapes very different from geometric shapes so that's a great compositional exercise contrast of organic and geometric since leaves are generally red and orange at this time of year there's a couple of green leaves out here is, well there's that complimentary contrast of red and green that's possible so maybe that's something to play off contrast of light and dark with dark variants of leaves. Late leaves even leaves that have variations as christine was saying variations within the leaf but what you just did what is it really kind of interesting so a leaf has two sides right there has a vivid side and dull side we have contrasts of saturation vivid and dull so feel free to play with that this leaf I cut up here when this has I don't know if this has much variety between the front and the back oh yes it does a little bit oh this is really a lot e so you see the front in the back of a leaf contrast of light and dark contrast of saturation vivid very rich color versus very very dull color yes so you're thinking about the different kinds of contrasts so like dark vidal do you are there any rules around how many different contrasts you wantto have in one composition before it starts look a attic do you want to just focus on one pick one contrast er can you have a whole bunch of them you can have multiple contrasts of course the more limited you are the more your decisions are going to be I guess also limited so the fewer decisions you have, the more precise those decisions have to be. So if you only have three elements in a competition as opposed to twenty uh if you have twenty elements in a composition maybe one or two things can be off it's not really going to matter very much if you have three elements the position and the arrangement has to be perfect and so you have to be very precise about it so I'm always into this idea of reduction and there's a philosophy of design is totally rooted in this right? So you add and add an ad until you're satisfied that ive added enough and then you take away and you take away and you take away until you can't take anything more a way you've taken away as much as you can and then you've lost if you take away too much, you lose thie interest, you lose the energy of the piece so that's a good idea to employ when you're thinking about contrast a lot of contrast, tons and tons and tons of contrast kind of yield no contrast it all right? You don't even see the contrast anymore you limit the number of contrasts and elements and you start to really see that contrast so it comes alive so you can use that to your advantage. If you want to hide the idea of contrast, you can put in a lot which seems kind of backwards, right? Like you're adding contrast to actually, uh, deactivate the effect of it um, like lots and lots and lots of contrast, but if you have just two elements right light and dark, large and small, vivid and all you're really going to see those contrast dramatically, even if they're very subtle contrast, you'll see it that's beautiful look at the contrast here from here to here, very nice a lot of contrast gorgeous color, yeah feel free to overlap the leaves used the front of the leaf used tobacco leaf don't get too hung up on the former will always be thinking about the figure in the ground integrate the grounded of this experience as well and feel free to use colored paper in addition believes and you're doing that flipping so you have dark on top blade on the bottom laid on the bottom dark on the top and look at that beautiful space there, right? Once you clue into this idea of figuring ground and destructive design those spaces, it changes the way you think about composition and you'll see this when you go to museums and galleries, you'll see artists they're always aware of these ideas, they're not just thinking about the shapes in the forms there, always thinking about the ground and how the two things work together. Some of the leaves are very dramatic in terms of their contrast, that is one of the small little things of life that you miss being on the west coast, we don't get this kind of really moral is where we do, but not to the same degree in any stretch you know autumn is or fall is very, very quick and most of the trees here are evergreens, so we don't get this wonderful color I've had students who, uh who for whatever reason they don't get a chance to go to the woods they don't have access believes they're too lazy to go to central park whatever they will use dried up parts of cut flowers you can do the same exact thing you can press those petals from a rose and two pages in a book and no flatten out very nicely leaves from cut flowers, various parts of things so it's all organic materials you can use all of these things they're all part of that see it's always at the experiment with different kinds of glues to so if you're gluing leaves down obviously a glue stick is not going to be great because you'll probably end up crushing the leaf you want a liquid glue something you khun pace uh brush on perhaps like rubber cement works really well for gluing things down maybe ah fabric glue like sober glue or jake lou no it's a book binders glue that will work also uh elmer's glue will work just fine but some kind of a liquid blue that's not going to destroy the leaf in the process of actually doing it. Um now what are the natural materials do you like working with natural materials? Definitely would uh yeah uh this summer of my wife and I were spent a couple weeks on north end of the north shore of long island and there I was, looking for pieces of wood on the beach. You know that I could bring home nice pieces of weathered wood. I love that stuff. Uh, my wife collects shells, cockle shells. We have big jars of these things around the house and their beautiful orange. I love that. Just looking at these cockle shells in charge is lovely. Um, would that shells are beautiful shells, a beautiful discover so many wonderful shapes, absolutely. And color. If you have the means to take ever take, like a paper making workshop, you can integrate a lot of these materials natural materials into the papers you make, which is kind of a nice experience because you end up with something that is three. Tangible is an element in a collage, a piece of paper. It has natural materials embedded into it. I also like more natural kinds of paper. Know where some of the students are using chipboard, which is just kind of unfinished paper. It hasn't been bleached. It hasn't been colored. It's been cleaned up a little bit. Uh, cardboard is great. You know, just pieces of cardboard that you might get in a package has been delivered to you rather than recycling it. Cut out the flat panels you might use them in a competition someday I'm very interested to ask christine who's our teaching system today christine yesterday when we were working with the squares you were very, very precise and you like things very need to knew elsie you're very familiar with illustrates how does working less structured medium works for you well, it I was telling richard I love how uneven the color is like it's so it's so nice to look at but of course I'm still lining every thing's no good taking symmetrical these background colors perfectly split down the middle and I have to find the leaf that was of similar side cut in half and so so you could still be dedicated to structure yeah and kind of a disciplined response to design yeah, but bringing these elements into it and you're dealing with contrast organic and geometric yeah, the unpredictability of the shapes of fun there's kind of ah natural order to these leaves to you they are pretty symmetrical mean there's light variations to them but you see they have a center axis there kind of try and get there the figure ground relationship they're very very clear so using them in a symmetrical competition like this is almost like a natural results so when you te really if it actually looks like a leaf like another leaf yeah do you ever do that thing when you're making a composition and you use your hand to your thumb to cover up parts? Yeah, you do this and you could do that, right? So you have you can put something down and then covered up with your thumb and immediately you don't integrated into the competition anymore and you can kind of see without disrupting what you've done, what it would look like without it and then you go in and so one of the directives that albert's gives us when he's thinking about leaves is not just settle for the leaf itself but also maybe manipulations of the leaf so you could paint the surface and press it onto a piece of paper and get an impression of belief. I put a little bit of ink on it or maybe just some house paint you can also paint the leaf itself and use that in a composition. So look at these spaces. Yeah, perhaps you can think about that arrangement in those shapes on the inside, relating in someway to the shapes of the leaves. I love the complimentary relationship of these two so yellow green and red violet are natural compliments, which either and that's kind of what you have expressed right there as long as the leaves don't change that's what they're gonna look like he's got a nice then contrasts of vivid and dull so here is very vivid colors here, doll clothes here with the backs of the leaves and then the stems of the leaves. Look at how that actually brings in a line element, something we really haven't talked about, this concept of, uh, point line in claim so many compositions, many drawings, photographs, uh, things that we see in everyday life are composed of points, which is really just a dot, a line which is, some people will say, I think was publicly who originally I idiot in this idea original, while also the director of my program and today I was talking about this is that, um, line is a dot that went for a walk. I like that idea, right? This like this and then a plane, which is basically a a surface that is bounded by lines. So if we think of our compositions as being about that idea of points and lines and planes, it really gives us a lot of things to work with a lot of things to think about, and those stems on the lease act as natural lines. So we have planes, we have lines we might even have points within and appoint is not really a it's a dot, a small dot a point can also be a big dot, the singular element that attracts our attention so when I talk about this we we can think of playing with color yes, we're definitely playing with color but we're also playing with form playing with form and color which is most often the case when we're making designs so you're actually developing complimentary relationships yeah so purple and yellow red and green orange and blue it's a nice idea using uh those complimentary contrast to create your composition sort of to have dr the concept of strategy of your composition do you like the geometric shapes amazing that's one leaf right right wow so sometimes the leaf itself is just so good that itself it's just all by itself but I love what you've done with it too an interplay of green and green and magenta and purple and then these ground spaces in between very beautiful so as an app designer keep going back to this I mean used way think about computers and I've talked about how the precision is so possible and I know the idea of imprecision is something you really have to try hard on the computer to get do you think there's room for that in computer design and and at designed to bring in organic shapes you know well it's interesting news there's definitely both kinds of styles I think recently in the past couple years has been a push towards mohr simple shaves simple simple shades and things like that especially on mobile specifically but then so you see a lot of like if you take one area it's a specific example like icons, just that icon that you tapping open something there's, kind of a two main families that I could think of one is just the very simple colors. Maybe it will be two or three colors and it's just looks very flat and it's kind of all the same tent and that's just kind of the icon for but then there's, others that are overly stylized, overly organic and almost looks like they you want to kind of make it look like some other kind of objects like you wanted to look like a little like a like a baseball field that's been turned into a icon or, like a safer a volt or something that's been that's very painted and lots of colors and looks like he took some kind of were real world object and shoved it into that little shapes you definitely do. You kind of see both of those I like that idea you think about, like a mobile phone on iphone or something like that so you have your hand, which is an organic shape and the rectangle is sitting on top of it and then what's on the screen is another perhaps an organic shape, so you go from organic to geometric vector organic, kind of interesting

Class Description

Our response to color comes from the place in our brain where trust, loyalty, behavior, and decision occur – every successful project relies on a designer making smart choices about color.

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application, Richard Mehl will give you a foundational understanding of color theory principles and demonstrate how to apply them. Richard has studied alongside design legends, Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson and Herbert Matter and in this class he’ll share insights gleaned from 12 years of teaching and writing about color in design.

Richard takes an accessible approach to the serious study of color theory for designers. You’ll be exposed to a relevant series of ideas and skills by exploring a range of analog and digital projects. Richard will discuss:

  • Color terminology and meaning
  • How to view color in context
  • Contrast grids and color illusion
  • Tips for creating harmonious color palettes

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application you’ll develop a new awareness and sensitivity to color that will bolster your confidence in your personal and professional design work.



How wonderful to have such an experienced, thoughtful teacher, who takes educating others so seriously. The depth and breadth of his teaching skill is matched by his knowledge of the subject. I studied art in school, own some of the color books he recommends, and learned far more than I thought possible. And he does it all in such a kind, affirming, supportive way. What a calm guide. How lucky are we to have access to a class with him!