Principles of Art and Process

Yesterday, I mentioned the design principles of art, and how I use them to create the mental pictures that I turn into my descriptions. So how do I get from principles to composition, and from there to a picture?

The principle I start with when laying out my mental pictures is always dominance. Where would the eye be going if this were a painting, or a movie still? If I can figure that out, I can figure out what to build my image around.

Once I know what I want the dominant part of the image to be, I determine how to create that dominance. Contrast comes into play here—the best way to set what I want apart from everything around it is to make it somehow different. Usually, I go with the simple use of light and dark or bright colors against muted ones, with occasional uses of motion amid stillness (somewhat rarer given how often these descriptions end up in fight scenes), since that’s easiest to translate into words. Sometimes, though, what I’m going for is an emotional context that works better with size, shape or texture contrasts—something soft amid blades and rough edges, the small amid the large or large amid the small, clarity where the rest is haze, and so on.

The movement, if I haven’t already addressed it (and if what I’m describing isn’t a static image) comes next. That’s the nice thing about images like these—since they’re not stuck in time like a picture is, I can describe the movement rather than just implying it with a pose, or give a sentence or two to how the pose was reached rather than just letting it sit there. On the other hand, if someone’s walking in on one of those really awkward tableaus that tend to come from a door being opened at the worst possible moment, knowing how to imply movement in art gives an extra bonus in figuring out how to describe someone caught in the middle of it without explicitly saying caught in the middle.

While I’m likelier to use rhythm and repetition as elements of my sentences rather than parts of my mental pictures that merit description, I don’t ignore them when setting up the image. If nothing else, they’re a good way to fill a background quickly without having to detail parts of it—I can just mention rows of faces in a crowd, the pattering steps of the character running from one point to another (see how these things tie together?), a tesselation of brightly colored tiles on the ballroom floor. People get an image of one, note the repetition, and fill in the rest themselves.

In the end, I use unity to sort for relevance—which details are people going to care about, and which ones about the character are actually going to fit with this image? In a fight scene, for instance, the last thing I want is to worry about static physical details that I’ve already established or that nobody would really have time to pay attention to; the number of scarf-ends one can see wrapped around Esemeli is far less important than that she’s not where she’s supposed to be and that she’s just pulled a knife on a semiconscious NPC, and the color of her eyes not near as important as that manic look they’ve manifested. On the other hand, if what’s going on is conversation, what’s going to matter are things like facial expressions and positions relative to each other. In sum, if it doesn’t point towards the goal of the image, either by supporting to message or by contributing to one of the other principles, I generally leave it out of the final description.

Once there’s an image, I can translate it to words.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Process: From Image to Text | Exchange of Realities
  2. Impractical Applications (Art in Action) | Exchange of Realities
  3. Adding Description to Dialogue: The Comic Method | Exchange of Realities

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