Kristiina Lahde and the Elements and Principles of Design

In today’s post I want to return to our blog’s roots – talking about design elements and principles as they appear in visual art. To do that let’s look at two pieces by Canadian artist Kristiina Lahde.

Lahde is a multimedia artist who transforms objects. She often takes things such as measuring tapes, rulers and phone books – functional items from a utilitarian world – and turns them into poetic artforms by simple, straightforward manipulation. The objects start out as items used to measure, catalog or document the world around us. They end up as graceful and intriguing sculptures and installations.

art installation by Kristiina Lahde made from measuring tapes

Metric System is a classic example of Lahde’s work. In it she has woven three lengths of different colored measuring tapes together to create one large triangle that hugs the wall.

Shape is the first design element we notice when looking at this work. It is a simple triangle with stair-step edges that separate the shape from the wall. The jagged edges make the shape look almost like it is quivering.

Color is another primary element that stands out. Her consistent use of three distinct blues gives the entire configuration an overall cool color range.

At the same time it is nearly impossible to ignore the rhythms and patterns that dance across the surface of the piece. Darker and lighter color squares appear with methodical regularity that suggests predictability, uniformity and general harmony.

Through skillful manipulation, Lahde has created the illusion of a three-dimensional surface here – a series of small cubes side by side and stacked together. Viewers imagine the different planes of actual cubes as they seem to come forward, face us and then recede. That illusion of three dimensions introduces the element of texture to the work. Real texture is present because this is actual material folded and nailed to the wall. Real texture also appears as accents at both ends of the folded lengths of tape where metal tabs meet the cloth.

The element of line is both actual and implied. First there are actual lines printed on the tape along with numbers. Implied lines occur on two levels. The whole triangle seems to be made of stacked and organized rows of cubes (i.e. lines), and once we realize that the original objects are lengths of tape the whole shape becomes three long continuous lines in our mind – dark, medium and light blue.

art piece by Kristiina Lahde made with chalk and snap lines

Lines and Curves uses string that has been embedded with colored chalk. These “snap lines” are commonly used at construction sites to mark straight lines on walls, floors, lumber and concrete.

Lahde once again transforms this very utilitarian item into something intriguing and poetic.

Color is one of the most prominent elements of the piece. The dark blue chalk clearly distinguishes itself from the white background panel. It totally dominates the natural color of the string and it leaves enough residue on the panel to make a mark that visually competes with the actual string.

Line is another dominant element here. The straight lines at the top are created when the string is stretched tightly and hooked over the nails hammered into the background panel. The string is then plucked, or snapped, and it leaves a chalky imprint as it bounces off the panel’s surface. Lahde then unhooks each piece of string from the nail at the apex of its configuration and allows the string to droop gracefully below. The result is a combination of “drawn” lines and linear string.

Shape is the next thing we notice. The entire piece is a diamond shape that is much more dynamic than a square or rectangle. The combination of straight lines and drooping lines creates a chevron-like shape inside the diamond. That chevron shape nestles perfectly inside the space – its straight lines mirroring the top edges of the larger shape and the curving lines comfortably filling the bottom portion of the composition.

Rhythm and pattern once again play an important role in one of Lahde’s pieces. In this work we also see the principle of unity and variety emphasized. The spacing between the lines creates a visual rhythm that is predictable. As the lines repeat themselves they create a pattern that reinforces that predictability. The straight lines at the top of the composition are, however, very different than the curved lines at the bottom. The common color and dimensions of all the lines creates unity while the straight vs curved lines create variety.

This piece also has real and implied texture. The straight lines have fuzzy edges generated by the snapping action that created them. These edges suggest a very tactile mark. The curved lines are actual pieces of string with real texture.

Finally…there are dots. Can you see them? The precisely positioned nail heads provide physical support for the string but then stay around to add rhythm and unity to the finished piece.

In both Metric System and Lines and Curves there is also the element of time and motion at play. Looking at both pieces it is impossible to avoid thinking about how they were created. We can almost visualize a video playback of the process – from folding and tacking the measuring tapes to stretching, snapping and then releasing the strings.

All of these design elements and principles (and much more) are covered in our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook. Visit Apple’s iBooks store to download a free sample.

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