Introductory Level Perceptual Studies


Introduction to Line and Shape Exercises
Now that I have reviewed my images in their entirety, several factors are evident. A number of images were lost over the years. Some during the many moves from one part of the country to another; some to students who borrowed them to make copies for their portfolio and never returned the originals; other images that were borrowed by teachers and never returned; a few were stolen, and in some cases, I simply did not record as many as was anticipated. When I knew that there were a number of examples on file, it seemed unnecessary to shoot more. Unfortunately, the name of students was never recorded on the slide, so in most instances, I do not recall who did what or when. A few of the images are from the first years of teaching at the Minneapolis School of Art. Other images are from the Kansas City Art Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Arizona State University and
Western Michigan University.

I have edited the images and am showing only a representation of student work. Those problems deemed more important are represented by a greater number of images. The principal focus is on basic perceptual and communication problems. A few examples of Junior and Senior work are illustrated only to show how introductory studies carried over to upper level work.

An interesting aside for me related to this sequence of problems revealed itself while going through an old portfolio from art school days. I found a travel poster illustrated with a bear that I had done as a second year art student. The bear was handled as a stylized shape similar to what I asked students to do at a later date. The interpretive shape had been my invention and not the teacher’s. I suspect that there have been latent inclinations toward this form of design treatment for many years that did not surface until criteria evolved and became clear to me. I think that emphasis on form in drawing, an awareness of line quality and contour developed through teaching the line and shape problems were the contributing factors leading to my definition of student exercises relating theoretical abstract shapes with forms from nature. From 1957 until 1977, I taught some introductory courses but my principal teaching emphasis was at the upper level, and in particular, Senior projects. In 1977, I went to Carnegie Mellon University and there I changed my priority and began teaching some courses at upper levels but the main thrust was at the beginning level. I began teaching the line and shape problem at this time and taught it each year until 1992.

The problems originated with a short exercise done by Inge Druckrey at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1967. Inge required students to design two lines, to fill in between two vertical lines, one of which could be an edge line, and create a shape. Her exercise involved playing one line against another, interval, rhythm of long and short line elements and shape. I think what caught my attention with Inge’s problem was designing a line for its own sake. I was familiar with lines describing a subject, but my concerns had always been on the subject. The difference being that content was defining contours rather than contours defining content. The concept of concentrating solely on lines impressed me as being extremely basic, and an ideal platform for developing more complicated design exercises. Over the years, I had given some theoretical shape problems, but for the most part, the studies were unrelated. However, using Inge’s line problem as a starting point, it became possible to tie line studies to the shape exercises and develop a sequence of related problems with each one being more complex having additional criteria but incorporating all criteria from previous problems.

Each year I taught the line exercises, new problem definition developed, and I learned better what and how to criticize student work. Initially, students were asked to use five lines and they were permitted to shade (increase or decrease the weight of) lines for Part 1 of the problem.

Next, the number of lines was reduced to four without shading of lines. Later, I tried the exercise with three lines. It was not as satisfactory as four, but it was acceptable when there were time constraints or students could not make four acceptable lines within a reasonable amount of time.

The next innovation in the problem was the introduction of color during the early 1980s. Until that time, all compositions had been done in black and white. Students in the first year were doing a great deal of work in theoretical design, introductory drawing and color theory with strict criteria and limitations. Frankly, much of it was tedious for students, and being abstract, it was frustrating for them. By permitting students to substitute color of their choice for one black or white shape, they felt the work was more individualized. Color did not conflict with my problem objectives as it had more to do with value than color. Once the line problem moved from composition to shape, each theoretical exercise was coupled with an application which was just as theoretical and had the same limitations as the abstract shape. For example, following the simple flat shape, students designed a leaf with the same criteria for contour; for the shape with an illusion of dimension, students designed a fruit or vegetable suggesting form. The finale used all the criteria from proceeding problems and students might do compositions based on a still life of fruits and vegetables, or shapes describing a profession. Other options were doing either a bird, animal, insect, reptile or fish.

I am convinced that combining theoretical and application definitely helped students to carry over and retain what they learned from doing theoretical problems. I have worked with a number of other basic design problems where students did well and seemed to understand the principles. However, they rarely carried over to the next problem what they learned from the one before. I seldom saw evidence that students applied what they learned in the first year to what they did as Juniors and Seniors. With the line and shape problems, I found that application of theory was carried over at all levels and after students left school.
At Arizona State University, students were required to keep progress books. This was a good addition to the problem because it was effective in showing student progress with both eye and hand skills. Also, students wrote descriptive notes regarding their understanding of the problem and what they learned.



Introduction to Line and Shape Exercises cont. >  

Download PDF



Rob Roy Kelly's original bear shape
from his school portfolio

Site Index



. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10