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Form & Image Toolbox

Lesson 19 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

Form & Image Toolbox

Lesson 19 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

19. Form & Image Toolbox

Lesson Info

Form & Image Toolbox

We're beginning with form and image, which is kind of the underpinning of visual communication. That is, using signs of different kinds. Whether they are pictorial or non-pictorial, very, very illustrative, reductive, very abstract, to give a kind of distilled visualization for complex ideas. So, the first thing that we want to be able to do is to be aware of the basic identity of different kinds of form. And to appreciate all those different possibilities for their potential, in any kind of a given context. After that, we want to be able to understand the effects of the medium that's used to actually make those forms. Whether it's painting, or drawing, photography, print-making, collage, and so on. And then, we also want to be able to understand how stylizing an image, moves it from being a kind of neutral, descriptive piece of information to become something that expresses higher-level concepts that alters its meaning and the perception of its understanding. After that, we're going t...

o see how to alter interpretation through juxtaposition of images together, sequencing them, and then we'll be able to look at how that works to build narrative, tell stories, and to create visual metaphor. So the first thing we're gonna do, is were gonna open up the toolbox and check out what's inside. And first, we have to understand what the basic identities of forms are. When I use the word form, what I'm talking about is any kind of visual material which can include things like photography, illustrative drawing elements, painting, but any kind of abstract element, like a dot or a line, some kind of wacky squiggle, as well as even type forms, all constitute form. That is, it's the stuff. And so, we have to talk a little bit about how each of those kinds of forms is generated and sort of, what their special attributes are. You can really divide every kind of image element into a kind of a category. It's either made up of, or has the quality of, or may literally be either a dot, a line, or a plane. A dot is a focal point. It produces actually no sense of movement, it draws attention to itself. It marks position. Sometimes a dot can be used to kind of anchor other elements by being in alignment with them. But it has really no mass to speak of. A dot is an element that is relatively small. Doesn't really have a particular kind of shape within the space of a format, that's really perceptible. A line, on the other hand, is all about movement. It has a beginning and an ending point, and our eyes track that, that line from end to end over and over again. So the line produces this kind of rhythmic sensation within the format. Unlike the dot, it leads our eyes from one place to another, and the line can also serve to function as either a separator that is dividing spaces from each other, or other elements from each other, and a line can also function as a, something that connects things. That brings dispert elements together, that joins them across spaces. The plane is all about mass and its shape is its fundamental identity. If a dot is, or if a shape is small enough within a large format, relative to the size of that format, where its, its shape is kind of imperceptible, it's still a dot. But as soon as that shape grows in size to the point where you can really kind of appreciate the fact that it is a particular kind of shape. It has certain kind of contours or angles, at that point it registers in our perception as a plane. A square is a very, very simple kind of a plane, four sided. And its proportions are even. The proportions of the sides of planes, or whether those contours are even, regular or irregular, or geometric, or organic, all give greater specificity to the quality or the nature of that plane. So, dots can do things. They can create lines by being positioned next to each other, any two dots within a composition no matter how far apart they are will create an invisible optical line between them. And they can also begin to create more clustered or dense kind of shapes. As the dots aggregate, they actually take on a kind of a solidity, or a unity, where you can appreciate the individual sort of focal moments of the dot. As well as, the overall shape that they kind of appear to enclose. Lines, as I noted before, are really about movement and rhythm. And that rhythm can happen in a couple of different ways. In terms of, sort of, rhythm from left to right or along a string of parallel lines. Rhythm has to do with the interval that occurs between each one. As the lines get closer they create more of a solid tone. With the, and also the perception that one is moving very rapidly between them. As the distance between lines increases, time slows down. So that kind of, that kind of slowing and speeding up is compressing and opening, is very much a part of the intrinsic quality of composition that lines bring into any kind of a space. You also see here, that these lines are of different weight. Whereas a dot really kind of increases in size to create contrast, the line can not only change its shape, as you can see, but it can also change its density. That is, how thick is the line relative to its width, to its length rather. So here you see that some of these lines are much thinner, or lighter in weight. And two of them are bolder, or heavier in weight. And those two elements which are bolder, or heavier, also appear to come forward in space. We perceive them as advancing. Whereas the lighter line elements in contrast, appear to be receding in space, or moving away from us. Lines can change direction, and they can change direction very, very rapidly, or in a kind of a slower progression as the, as the line comes to each corner the wider the angle is of kind of the attack around that, that joint, kind of the slower our perception of movement is. As the angle of a joint becomes more acute, or if this were a curved line, is that the radius of those curves as they became more acute and tighter, we would feel a kind of a speeding up. As the curve becomes more generous, we feel a kind of a slowing down. Lines can also move in a very, very strict kind of ordered, a grid-based way. And those kind of different qualities of movement in the line are all very, very useful and how you would make choices about those really depends on what you're trying to accomplish in terms of the feeling of a composition where those lines are appearing. So here's a, kind of an example, a comparison of the dot to mass relationship, or the dot to plane relationship. On the left you see a very, very small shape situated within a vast amount of negative space. And, even though these are both the same shapes, because the element is so small, even though you can really tell that it's a triangle, it, the quality of that triangularity, its identity as a triangle is really almost unimportant. Given that it's size is so small. So what's really happening here, is that it's about how small this thing is, how it draws the eye to it, relative to this tremendous amount of space in the format, in which it exists. Now, when that same shape enlarges, to the point where we can actually tell that it's a, that it's a triangle, that's at the point where it becomes a plane. And we're now conscience not only of its overall height to width proportion, we're conscience of the fact of its three angles. We're also conscience of the fact that the sides are different lengths. And we become able to recognize and perceive, that the interval between its outer edges and the format in this case, are actually different from each other. So, there are a variety of different kinds of plane forms. You're probably all familiar with the simple things like the square, the triangle, the hexagon, the circle, the semi-circle, and the ellipse. Planes on the other hand can be, can take on different qualities. Now, they can be very, very simple. Kind of like the ones we just looked at. And they can become rather complicated. As the contour increases in complexity and as the contour also moves from an outward, or joined sort of external appearance, or movement, or tracking, and begins to kind of cut back into the mass, you get some interesting kind of situations, where this triangular form of the space actually now appears to be a solid object on top of the surrounding black form. And that's a kind of an optical illusion that's called figure-ground reversal. We're gonna talk about figure-ground reversal and the relationship between positive form and negative space in much greater depth when we get to layout later in the afternoon. Now, these two planar forms are very, very different from each other. The one on the left is entirely geometric in character. That is, it is made entirely of square or angle based configurations of planar material. And even if we were looking at a form in comparison to the one on the right, such as a circle, the circle being, or the dot, the dot being absolutely perfect in terms of the relationship of the distance of its contour away from its central locus, or focal point, would also cause this to be interpreted as geo, as geometric. In contrast, the form on the right, we would refer to as organic. An organic plane, or an organic shape, or form. And organicism generally has to do irregularity. Sometimes with curve linearity, and with a great deal of difference occurring between the sort of the masses of its areas, within its contours, as well as changes in the kind of the simplicity or complexity of its contour. And these are kinds of qualities that we find in objects that come from a natural source. Irregularity, disorder, and complexity are all intrinsically related to the natural world, whereas geometry tends to be very, very regular, ordered, precise, and repetitive in its characteristics. Which speaks about something that's artificial or made by humans. There's yet another kind of a form element that is a sort of, not anything in particular at all, and that is surface activity. That is, within a plane, or behind a plane, within an image, or behind an image, there can be a kind of a disturbance to the surface, in which, a number of very, very small elements, too small to really appreciate for their individual sort of shape characteristics. Are aggregated together, or disbursed through the space in kind of a field relationship. And, so the simpler way of talking about that, is that its texture. The word is texture. But, we have to be really specific when we're talking about texture, because there are kind of two kinds. In these top three examples, we would refer to these as textural, simply because they appear to be somewhat, the texture, the form elements that make those fields appear to us to be relatively random, irregular, or organically dispersed. As though they've kind of occurred in nature, or just sort of happened to be. There's no regular sort of rhyme or reason to their pattern. The intervals between the actual form elements that create the texture are irregular themselves, and where the textural elements kind of mass and separate from each other, are also kind of happening in a more or less random way. In contrast, the bottom, we have a different kind of a surface activity that we would characterize more particularly as pattern. And that means simply that the graphical elements that are creating the surface activity, are arranged in regular and repeating intervals. As though on purpose, or by design. Very often those form elements also share a similar kind of shape characteristic. That, the form element itself doesn't happen to vary in its size or its weight. And that it is arranged in a recognizably repetitive pattern. That can happen in both cases with either actual graphical elements, in these cases, in the case up at the top, these are really dots. And sometimes, kind of linear elements or strings of dots together. As this is also a pattern of lines, of graphical lines. But it can also happen photographically. That that kind of fundamental activity on the surface of planar objects, in space, on top of volumes, is something that we can find in photographic material as well. So regardless of whether or not a photographic image consists of a subject matter that happens to be a building, or an automobile, or a sweater, in addition to its overall identity being build out of some kind of planar forms, it will very often exhibit some kind of surface activity. There's something that's also kind of filling that planar shape area. So, those are the kind of the basic building blocks. Every form element, every kind of image, no matter how complex, or how realistic a depiction it happens to be, of something that you can actually recognize from the real world is made up of those kinds of form elements. Sometimes in a very, very simple way, and sometimes in a very, very complex way. And so, we can move along to a discussion of different kinds of image content and to talk about depiction in general. So, images exist on a kind of a spectrum. At one end of that spectrum, they are kind of journalistic, or descriptive, or literal, in their depiction of objects, and scenes, and figures, that we see in the environment. That we encounter as part of the natural world. And at the other end of the spectrum, images are completely abstract, or non-pictorial. That is that they consist of form elements in some combination, that does not refer to any kind of object, or scene, or figure that we can identify. That doesn't necessarily mean that a non-pictorial, or abstract image doesn't communicate something, or represent something. So we never try to characterize abstraction, or non-pictorial imagery as non-representational. And so we're gonna look at the distinction between those two. We're gonna start out with pictorial images because people are more familiar with those. We're comfortable looking at images that show us things that we can recognize in the world. And other kinds of things are sometimes scary. So here we have a pictorial image of a fish, or actually, four. And you'll see that these images vary greatly in their degree of naturalism. That is how closely they replicate our perception of those forms, of those objects in the real world. That is, for example here, the photographic fish is about as literal a description of that fish as possibly, as there can possibly be. It has an incredible amount of detail. That detail is completely naturalistic and derived from direct observation, or direct replication, reproduction of that image through light. And, it is basically devoid of any kind of overlay, it's very conceptual overlay. It is very neutral as an image. It only communicates what it's subject is and nothing more. And because it is so specific in its form, because it is so naturalistic, it's also talking very particularly about this particular species of fish. Having these particular proportions between head, midbody, and tail. These particular organizations of fins. And, a certain kind of luminous quality in the shading, or tonality of its scales, as affected by light. When we move to the image below it, this is still a naturalistic depiction, but we recognize that some of the detail had disappeared, and that is not photographic. It is actually an engraving, or a drawing of a fish. In this case, the drawing is an invention. It's a kind of, it is made from direct observation and it's purpose is to describe that subject matter as clearly, hopefully, as does the photograph. But because it is an invented, artistic, expression, it also deviates from probably true and sort of ultimate perfection in a literal kind of a depiction. We can see that there is a kind of rigidity to the kind of the contouring. That is that the artist has simplified some of the detail along the outer edges. The artist has chosen to minimize certain kinds of complexity in the kind of the joint of the tail to the body, as well as, between the head area and the mid-section that follows it after the neck. We don't see all of these kinds of intricate sort of wrinkles, these extra flaps for the gills. We see it as more or less, a kind of a basic shape, with a little bit of detail that is introduced to provide still some naturalistic volumetric quality to the depiction. So, in terms of where these images fall on the spectrum between the literal, or naturalistic, and the abstract. Is that they are pretty much over here. The photograph is as far against that edge of the spectrum as you can possibly get. The drawing is a little bit further this way, beginning to become abstract, it is a kind of a translation of the reality of the fish, in a literal way. But it's not quite abstract yet. We turn our attention to the image of the fish at the upper right. We'll see that we recognize all of the same kinds of details, or components of information that allow us to identify what this thing is. But this thing is radically different than either of these two. This is a, what we refer to as a highly reductive, or minimalized, or edited kind of an image or drawing. It is an invention that translates fundamental details that are necessary for identification. And then edits away all other extraneous matter. And the goal here, in this kind of reductive image, is to be able to transmit essentially the complexity of information that we require in order to identify the subject matter, but in a much quicker, much bolder, and much more imprintable way on the viewer's mind. So, even so, this particular form, which we could refer to as a graphic translation, and this is a little bit still further down the spectrum, beginning to sort of exhibit some abstract qualities, that is that these forms that define the contour have been kind of cleaned up a little bit. They then kind of super simplified. They've been altered purposely by the designer in order to create a kind of an internal dialogue of visual relationships. Of contrasts, of rhythmic movement, that is sometimes a little bit shorter, and quicker, and sometimes a little bit more long and drawn out. For the purpose of giving it its own, kind of, inventive visual life. It doesn't distract from our understanding of the fact of fishiness. And it doesn't introduce again any kind of overlay. Any kind of additional meaning beyond simply telling us, I am a fish. But it is a, a kind of, it's an abstraction. As all images really are. As this one begins to show us. So, here we have a, an image that has, kind of, moved even further past a kind of a, a recognizable level of naturalism. And has really edited down the information to the barest minimum of forms. In this case, a dot and two lines. It's only the joint of those two lines, and the way those two lines cross with these particular proportions the elliptical form that they create and the position of that dot, towards the front end of the elliptical form, that allows us to be able to interpret that image and very easily, as the same subject matter as these others. So one of the things, one of the potentials of form that designer always has, is the decision to work with something that is highly naturalistic, complex, and readily recognizable as real, versus options that are highly reductive in nature. That really create a kind of an icon of that form. Whereas this particular image, describes only this particular species of fish, in every single tiny minute detail that is a part of the truth of that particular species body. This is about all fish, with a notion of fish in general. So, we can then move to kind of the other end of the spectrum, which is a complete abstraction, or non-pictorial imagery. I'm going to from now on, say non-pictorial. Because abstract throws a kind of, a kind of a sense of meaning into the the description of what I'm talking about that's not quite accurate. Because non-pictorial images can be quite non-abstract in the way that they represent things. But here are some examples of images that are made of forms, which are not really reproducing in a descriptive, not really descriptive, but literal kind of interpretation of three-dimensional space and objects in it that we could recognize in in the world. However, we can potentially project meaning on to these. And of course, that meaning might be supported by the context of some language, or some other kind of image, in order to help clarify and give the viewer some access into it. Abstract forms initially seem as though they're kind of inaccessible. Because they're, they're, they're non-pictorial qualities are so sort of fundamental and initially unrecognizable as relating to some kind of experience, that sometimes people are a little bit wary either about using them, or they become uncomfortable in the presence of non-pictorial images. Usually under the kind of the assumption or sort of misconception, that they're not going to be able to get it, or that there's some kind of, sort of magical mystery involved that is somehow above them and they feel inadequate or in some way. So, these forms are made entirely of geometric forms. Lines, planar elements, dots, that are organized in linear chains. Lines that create, enclose shapes that intersect each other, and then a kind of a rhythm of line elements that appear to cross over and through each other creating kind of a sense of foreground and background. Now the potential of abstract imagery is really almost sort of astounding. Because I'm gonna say a couple of things, and then when I say them, you're gonna go, "Oh, yeah." And the things I'm gonna say are meanings that I'm going to attribute to these images. Let's look at this image here. This is architecture. This is effervescence, as the bubbles in champagne. This is maybe a little bit less tangible, this is precision, or mathematics. This is traffic. So, given that now with some context, these images can take on a very recognizable sort of reference, or association, to real world experience. You may begin to kind of sense precisely how much potential there is, in using images that are not made up of, you know, pictorial forms that you can simply recognize. It opens a door to all kinds of new and very unique communication, and very unique and fulfilling, sort of, personalization of graphic language that you can bring to your projects. Because these languages, or language that you might create out of non-pictorial forms, will be completely invented. And as a result, it gives a kind of greater expression, or has the possibility of, of providing a greater expression of your sensibilities and your personality as a designer. And it is also likely to be far different than any other communication out there which is an excellent way of differentiating a client, your particular client's communication from those of other competing organizations. That is that in, especially in the context of branding, as we were looking at yesterday, abstract, or non-pictorial visual form can be a powerful tool for separating out your client from the herd of its competitors and really, you know, sort of creating a very, very ownable and proprietary brand voice. Non-pictorial forms can also be organic. As these are. And these forms generally exhibit the same kinds of qualities that we looked at in the organic planar form that we saw a little while ago. And, that is kind of irregularity, that there's no real kind of studied, or purposeful distribution of elements. That the elements all constantly kind of change in direction, or how long the segments are. The intervals between each of these forms, these intervals of negative space in almost every case, as they separate those, the, these sort of wavy, sort of, wobbling masses of black, are almost entirely different from all the other ones. That there is really no repetition of any particular curve radius within this particular composition. Which provides an incredibly fluid, almost biological, and kind of sensuous experience. We recognize, of course, the presence of medium here. That is, even though this form is not really referring to anything particular in the world, we recognize the presence of water, based on the fact that this is an ink wash. And that ink wash because ink dilutes in water or might bleed in particular ways, or pool in certain areas that are in ways that are not controllable, that sort of randomness that sort of visceral, sort of spontaneity. Which is so much a quality of nature. Is also kind of compounded by the fact that we recognize a natural element in the way that it's been made. Here, we have some very, very rough and also irregular, irregularly sort of cut and ripped sort of planes. In this kind of arrangement, they take on because of their, because of their horizontal orientation within the format, and because we recognize this kind of contours that are irregular, and then a kind of a chop, and then another contour that's simple, is that there's almost a landscape like quality here. So, this is, this particular image is almost on the verge of becoming pictorial. And with the simple addition of an icon, like a deer, or a small bunny, (squeaks) it would suddenly become absolutely pictorial. Is that the cross-over can sometimes, between pictorial and non-pictorial, can be so close, that the shorthand if you will, that the abstract, or non-pictorial forms are using to refer to, or allude to, or suggest, a kind of a natural experience. Or a real world experience. Sometimes that shorthand is so close to the actual truth of the pictorial reference, that there's almost no difference.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Syllabus - Graphic Design Fundamentals.pdf

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ad+Poster-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Book+Web--Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Color-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Form+Image-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Identity-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Intro-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Layout-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Typography-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf

Ratings and Reviews


This is more about all of your courses - It would be really nice for instructors to answer questions during break times or even after the class. There a lot a fabulous questions that I see that never get answered. I would like to go back even the next day and see a short note for at least some of those questions. Just an idea to help out this wonderful format that you have going. I am sure to make use of the promote question when I see an interesting one.


I LOVED this class! I learned so much and since I had the foresight to purchase it, I can go back for a refresher anytime I want. Plus, the downloads are spectacular! Almost a book's worth and so helpful! Thank you Timothy, you are great teacher!

a Creativelive Student

This was an outstanding course, would love to see a more in depth typography course from this guy. I'm a proffesional photographer with a formal education in design, I hardly ever use it, so I forget things, this was great both as a review, and to pinpoint things I didn't know or thought I knew. thanks once again! well done!!

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