Using Artwork in Design. Drawing or painting? | WebReference

Using Artwork in Design. Drawing or painting?

  Drawing or painting?

So what is it that a designer is after in a piece of art? What can it offer that is missing in the traditional design toolkit and cannot be supplied by photography? From a purely visual viewpoint, the unique contribution of hand-made artwork combines two aspects: form and texture, impersonated in drawing and painting as the two traditionally differentiated genres of fine art.  Let's see what we can get from opposing the concepts of form and texture in theory, illustrated by Fig. 1 where they are separated in practice.


Figure 1, a             Figure 1, b

  Fig. 1:  Form (shape, contour) and texture (surface) as the two pillars of artwork.  These two images would be of a quite different value for a designer, and understanding their different nature and different roles in design is important  

  In the aspect of form, only a skilled artist can provide a designer with a simple yet recognizable sketch of a given object, with its outline generalized and distorted in a peculiar way.  Usually, the majority of a composition's real estate is occupied by straight lines and simple curves, so the softly streaming artwork shapes (Fig. 1, left) may become not only a refreshing change, but a foundation of the entire design.

The same applies to the textural diversity of artwork.  A striking contrast to the soft blurry textures in photographs and the flat color dominant in the rest of the page, the genuinely natural brush strokes or engraving patterns in an artwork fragment will add a new dimension to your work.  Much as the pure outline does not necessarily need a textural accompaniment, the texture aspect may be quite self-sufficient: You can take something like Fig. 1 and base your work on its distinct "look and feel" without a reference to a particular object (an example of "displaying" as defined later in the article).

From a more general viewpoint, both new forms and new textures introduced with an artwork fragment are interesting and attractive if they feature at least one of the following qualities:

  • Generalization.  We cannot perceive things other than by generalizing them.  That's why photography, especially the unprofessional variety, often overwhelms our vision with too many annoying details.  When an artist draws a human body with a few pen strokes, we like his work because it stimulates our own subconscious process of extracting the essence of the form we see.

    Similarly, abandoning the motley mix of textures abundant in the real world objects in favor of one dominant texture type (often artificial, such as brush or watercolor strokes) meets our subconscious desire for unification and generalization.  Each texture conveys a certain mood, and we usually don't like having more than one mood per image (especially if the image itself is to be used in a bigger composition).

  • Artful distortion (see also my article on automatic distortion techniques).  For authentic reproduction of objects, we have photography; if we didn't need anything else, photography would render artistry redundant long ago.  Quite often we are entertained by distorted portrayals of objects exactly because they're obviously untrue to their originals, and even generalization is in fact nothing but a special kind of distortion.

    Distortion does not necessarily mean burlesque or obscuration.  Sometimes you wouldn't even realize what in the image is distorted and to what extent, unless you analyze it carefully.  On the other hand, not just any random distortion will work.  For a distortion to have an aesthetic value, it must be based on some general idea, must be consistent in itself, must have something artificial and even hand-made to it.

Of these two concepts, generalization is in many ways akin to the form aspect of graphics, and it is therefore more obvious in images where the outline aspect prevails.  Contrastingly, textural variations are more likely to be thought of as "distortions."  This multiaspect dichotomy surely has something to do with the different functions of right brain (the one that deals with complex textures, music, and emotions) and left brain (that recognizes generalized forms, uses logic and speech).


Created: Dec. 11, 1998
Revised: Dec. 11, 1998