Communication Breakdown

Elements of Visual Literacy

The elements of visual literacy resemble the rules of grammar.

Here is the basic syntax: Line, Shape, Form, Value, color, Texture, and Space

A Line is a path of a moving point.
Shape is an enclosed area that has height and width
Form is the perceived volume of a shape.
Value is the degree of lightness or darkness of a form.
Color is the effect produced when the light strike an object and is reflected back to the eye.
Texture is the surface quality.
Space is the distances between, around, and within things.

Not all the elements of visual literacy above are needed to create a work of art.

But you will find at least one in every piece. Which ones to include and edit are entirely up to the designer.

This is where slow observation really helps with our visual literacy. The foundations to include in a composition are Unity, Emphasis, Balance, and Proportion/scale.

Unity is the common visual element.
Emphasis is the the part of the piece that holds the viewers attention.
Balance is the distribution of weight among the elements.
Proportion and scale are how the parts relate to the overall whole.
A composition is the the complete arrangement of the piece.

Color affects our emotional and physical well being within the elements of visual literacy.
Material/texture highlights temperature making us feel cool or warm, light or heavy.
Lighting gives us a sense of calm and order.
Scale can alter our physical experience of the space.

Take a bit of time each day and practice your slow observation skills.

Use formal analysis elements above to ask yourself questions about what you see. Pick an object at home or where ever and draw what you’re seeing. Notice the shape, color, its size in relation to other visual elements around it.

Walk through the supermarket and notice how all the items are placed. Use visual syntax to describe how the design functions. How it moves people through the space and why certain items are placed in certain areas. Why is the milk in the back of the store?

We’re going to go over the elements of literacy one by one in the following posts. Today our focus will be on dots, lines, and shapes.

Elements of Visual Literacy – Everything begins with a dot.

Dots are unique and the beginning of visual expression.

Dots are individual points in space used to connect lines. Locations can be established with each dot and a figure becomes grounded. The meaning and connection between the dots fills in the shape. Alternating the size of the dots and how often they’re repeated or how close they are together helps to establish the tone of the shape. Dots can shade, establish lines, and present tonal gradations. Printing techniques use dots extensively.

The elements of visual literacy
Would you like a reading?

Pointillism is an art form that uses dots in many colors exclusively to form compositions.

Visual Montage Perception
Pondering the Pointillism

Try this exercise with pencil and paper. Or even your favorite Photoshop drawing program. Draw an object with dots that are close together. Then draw it again with the dots farther apart.

Lines are many dots going in a direction. Forming a few simple lines can become a symbol of meaning. Lines can be thick, short, and thin. Plus lines can indicate movement horizontally and vertically. Diagonal lines can increase the tension.

The elements of visual literacy
Trite and Trivial Trivium Truth

Lines are the simplest way to convey a message in elements of visual literacy.

Maps are a great example of this. Lines signify everything we see in every symbol, shape, and form. Crosshatching lines can indicate light and dark on a form. Lines are artificial in a way in that you’ll hardly ever see them in nature. Except, of course, for the horizon…

 Traditional Theories of Communication
The Art of Stone Balancing

Think about the lines you see everyday in your life in prearranged built environment: Molding on windows, telephone poles, electric wires, mortar between the bricks, the lines of trees along the road, even the road itself.

Lines are not always literal.

An implied line can be created by juxtaposing two shapes. This creates artificial boundaries implied within the key forms using perspective and lines of site.

The elements of visual literacy
Lines in 2D

Another way to see it would be a game of pool. The game itself is about seeing implied lines everywhere…

Traditional Theories of Communication
So you want information?

Shapes are two dimensional forms with clear boundaries.

Shapes occur when lines get thick and dots get big. Changes in texture and color can signify a line. A good trick is to simplify what you’re seeing and flatten the space. Trace with your finger the shapes of what you see. This actually builds up muscle memory by training the body to ‘see’ the form. This is known as a proprioceptive act: the inner sense by the body is aware of itself. A sort of sixth sense. And it can be trained into muscle memory.

The elements of visual literacy
Figuring the Eighths

Seeing the emptiness in the form is key.

What if you could see the world in black and white and all the shades of grey in between?

The world is full of boundaries.

Visual Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a given hue, or the lightness and darkness of any form as light falls over it. Values can also change depending on the color. It can also create patterns and illusions.

The structure behind the color is the value.

Light and shadow play an important part in the process. Think of it in musical terms: Duration, tone, pitch, high key, and low key define transitions in movement.

Element Value in visual literacy is determined by the lightness or darkness of a given hue or color. Or the lightness or darkness over a given form as light falls upon it; this can also change depending on the color. Chromatic value is the darkness or lightness of a color.

When we walk into a dark room we adjust accordingly through the use of the rods in our eyes. Cones allow us to see color. Rods help us to see with very low light. Color information disappears when light is taken away. This leaves it possible to see the lightness or darkness of an object. Try squinting your eyes or darken a room and draw the shapes with shades of darkness and shadow.

Squinting and blurring can help us see value.

Also, if you look at the edge of a form and compare it to something else you can see the contrast value better. Another trick is to find something that is black and something white and place them on the object to measure value. The difference between would be the grayscale value. Take a picture with your smartphone and change it to grey scale. You’ll see the value of light and dark right off.

The Haunted Screen: Post WW I German Cinema

Here’s a great documentary using light and shadow in silent films. It’s a bit dark in tone but it does convey the artistry involved which gives it light…

The Art Verve

An Educational Blog on the Practice of Visual Art!

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