Level Perceptual Studies
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.
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.
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 teachers. 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.
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 Inges 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 Inges 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.