Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day and a Design Lesson

My Independence Day cards have already been posted so here's a sunny, cheerful card for a sadly rainy July 4th...and a design lesson to go along with it.

Someone asked a while back for a reason why the rule of threes and other odd numbers doesn't always apply. That rule says that odd numbers are generally more visually pleasing than even numbers. It's important to remember that these "rules" are more like "guidelines" than actual "rules."

Don't you hate unnecessary quotation marks?

Anyway, there are lots of reasons why two or four might work better than three, and they all have to do with all the other design concepts and principles, such as unity, balance, symmetry, harmony, line, color, shape, etc.

In the card above, the rule of thirds applies to the layout. Imagine a tight frame around the stamped area. Two-thirds of the inside of the frame is taken up with the sentiment, and one third is occupied by the flower. That third-ness is visually pleasing and creates a nice asymmetry to an otherwise completely centered design.

But color takes over from there. The two yellow elements are the stars of this show. Just two. Not three. Two. Note that there is more yellow area on the 2/3 side of the design than the 1/3 side, so the amount of color is proportionally balanced.

The color also plays on shape differences...lines and angles love curves. The sentiment is a definite, strong rectangle, but the flower center is a strong circle. That difference makes you look at both of them and put them in relationship with each other...thus unifying the design.

(Keep in mind that visual triangles are a very easy way to unify a design, but they are not the only way to unify it!)

Also, to contrast the bold and heavy use of yellow, there are very thin lines of black on each reverse proportion to the size of each area...lots more black on the 1/3 side than the 2/3 side. The asymmetry creates a kind of visual tension that makes the design interesting and gives a sense of movement and energy to the whole thing, even though it's very solid.

And no, I definitely didn't think all this through as I was making the card. I was working with some very well-designed stamps from Clearly Besotted and playing with layout and color, not consciously thinking about the rest. I just fiddled until it looked right, laying un-inked stamps on the card, moving them around. Only when I finished it did I realize it was a pretty good card!

Design is a lot like grammar. There are lots of rules that all work together to create a clear message, a concise thesis or focal point, if you will.  After lots of practice with the rules, you understand in your bones why each rule is a good rule, what it communicates, why it's important, and when you can break it for good effect.

It's how the little things relate to the whole message that makes all the difference. And if I can figure all this out, without formal training, you can, too.

All it takes is lots of practice, a little bit of obsession, and a willingness to make mistakes time and time again while experimenting to make it work. A simple, well-designed card like the one above doesn't just happen by accident, and it doesn't happen every time.

When I photographed my latest batch of creations, seven were photographed and two were not worthy. Of the seven, one ended up looking meh on the computer screen, so I won't post it either. The unworthy cards will have the fronts cut off and tossed, and the backs put in my scrap paper drawer.

And thus endeth the lesson.

stamps: Clearly Besotted You Are
ink: Memento tuxedo black, SU summer sun
paper: Papertrey Ink
accessories: yellow Stickles


  1. I was the one that asked.....good answer! The best I could come up with regarding the two cards that had sparked the question in the first place; is that the two images plus a sentiment made a visual "three" on the card.

    I know it doesn't matter and that the design "rules" are really more like guidelines but I appreciate you putting some time into thinking it through.

    Happy 4th!

  2. Wonderful card. *sigh* The yellows are lovely. This is what I call a happy card. TFS your guidelines too. I always read and reread them. Such a sweet card. Happy 4th. Bev

  3. I love your reasoning! I pontificate for ages rearranging elements on the clank card space. Fascinating how some arrangements work from a balance design point of view and other arrangements are quite obviously "wrong"!

  4. So pretty! I love and appreciate your design lessons.

  5. Thank you, Susan ... this is why I'm looking forward so much to your ebook ... making cards instinctively is fine, but it does lead to a very full paper bin. Knowing the rules/guidelines that back up the feeling of balance/unity etc etc is so much more satisfying (and environmentally friendly). Lovely card, full of sunshine and happiness ... Anita :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your design experience Susan, such an eye catching card and now I understand why :) Cathy x

  7. Great decsription! And a great card. Loving the pops of yellow.

    Now, if only you could explain why sometimes a perfectly nice card is not photogenic?! I have experienced this phenomenon on many occasions, so I know exactly what you mean. I've never been able to figure out why that happens. So frustrating!

  8. Tanis, I have no clue why that is, but it's deeply annoying. Photography is not my specialty for sure, and I muddle through as best I can with my little Nikon point-and-shoot. Maybe my husband could solve the problem with his Nikon d-90!

  9. Happy 4th to you! Ya know, we can learn from your mistakes too. Please, feel free to show us what/why you trash can something ;). It is nice to hear they don't always work for you too. Bawahaha! Meanwhile thanks for another lesson. So fun

  10. Your card and lesson are so interesting. I like that our instincts tell us when we have made a good card, and then, sure enough, the "rules" apply. There are rules out there that we don't know about or pay attention to until we mess up. I can't help but think of God's rules for life, as he reveals to us not only in writing but in our conscience.

  11. Beautiful one layer card! Loved the lesson but I do have to go back and reread it…. Visually I get it and your card is a perfect balance.

  12. I always love your cards. I am sure the ones you don't think of as "worthy" (oh there's those quotes again), are equally as good to most of us.
    Thanks so much for lesson!!! I need to try this.


Thank you so much for taking time to comment!