Art 1123 | Design I

Design I is a six hour studio course that teaches a basic study of the fundamental elements and principles of design with an emphasis on composition.

Below are descriptions of some of the assignments in the course with student work examples.


Create a shape-based composition using a grid plus a hybrid shape. Work with the grid to explore inversions of positive and negative. The final grid may be either 1) rectilinear, 2) organic/biomorphic, or curvilinear, or 3) combination (rectilinear plus organic or curvilinear). Final materials will be cut black construction paper on 14”x17” Bristol. The artworks will occupy 9x12 inches with a 2.5 inch boarder all around. Endeavor to create compositions that are balanced (not necessarily symmetrical), dynamic (full of movement), and harmonious.

black and white patternblack and white checkered patternblack and white flower patternblack and white planet patternblack and white pattern


Working Method: This is a four-part project that will consist of four pieces, 8” x 8” each. The medium will be cut black paper on Bristol board which will then be mounted on illustration board.

Materials: illustration board (19” x 19”), Bristol board, black construction paper, rubber cement, x-acto, ruler, pencil and eraser, and possibly compass. Found imagery.

Your four pieces will work within one theme and will utilize the following compositional devices:

  1. Symmetrical Balance (can be approximate symmetry)
  2. Asymmetrical Balance
  3. Focal Point/Radial Balance
  4. All-over Pattern

Within those four compositions you must address a common theme and imagery.

  1. For your theme or concept I want you to think about a song or poem you like, and work within that framework to develop your four compositions. You will need to print out a copy of the song lyrics or poem to glue to the back of your piece.
  2. In your sketchbook, list imagery that you can pull from your piece. These do not have to be literal.
  3. Gather imagery that relates to your theme and the imagery in your song/poem. These can be from online, magazines, your own photography or drawings.
  4. Create at least 2, square (approximately 4” x 4”) thumbnail sketches for each of the 4, for a total of 8 thumbnail sketches, working out each of your compositions in black and white.
  5. After discussion, you will enlarge your thumbnails to full-sized rough. Since we will be using paper cutting as the medium you will need to have a set idea of how the piece will look before you cut your paper. This is not a very forgiving medium.

black and white pictures in four squares: top left - people in boat, top right - cows, bottom left - ferns, bottom right - bearsblack and white pictures in four squares: top left - Eifel Tower, building with windows, space ship and stars, rectangles with squaresblack and white pictures in four squares: top left - baseball field design, top right - baseball bats in pattern, bottom left - bucket of balls, bat; bottom right - leaves in rectangles patternblack and white pictures in four squares: top left - large mushroom, top right - lots of mushrooms in picture, bottom left - two large and two small mushrooms, bottom right - lots of mushroomsblack and white pictures in four squares: top left - tiger, top right - zebra, bottom left - peacock, bottom right - cheetah print


Objective: Create a non-representational linear composition in pen and ink that represents your one-word response to the two articles you read.


  • Pencils and eraser
  • Ruler
  • White Bristol paper
  • Sketchbook
  • Micron pens and sharpies
  • Artist’s masking tape



  1. 1. You should already have read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” After that, read the New York Times article “Kerry James Marshall is Shifting the Color of Art History” and completed the “What’s in a Line’ quiz on the reading.
  2. In your sketchbook, finish one of the two phrases: WHITE PRIVILEDGE MAKES ME FEEL ____________ .or WHITE PRIVILEDGE IS ____________.
  3. Create a list of at least 10 words. (Things to think about: Not all words are created equal. A word like ‘sad’ has much less emotional resonance than a word like ‘anguish’, despite the fact that they are almost synonymous.
  4.  Visual Research: Fill a sketchbook page with different kinds and directions of lines. Experiment with your different pens and sharpies. Think of different adjectives and the words you’ve come up with and draw lines that “feel” like that adjective. Photograph 5 different types of lines. Think about the compositions in your photos. Print out your photographs (can be black and white and have more than one on a sheet). Place in your sketchbook. 
  5. Narrow your list of 10 words down to 3. For each word, create at least 2 thumbnails (roughly 3”x 5”) for each of your words, and 3 thumbnails that combine linear elements using more than one of the words. This is a time to experiment and play. Perhaps use your Visual research to help you. Draw from compositions or types of lines in your photographs. Each thumbnail should be drastically different from one another. (*Things to think about: Will the viewer read your piece from right to left or from top to bottom? How does the orientation of the paper affect our understanding of the work? What kind of rhythm is appropriate for your word? How should you vary line weight? Think about the various different compositional considerations we discussed.) Start in pencil. But your thumbnails should be in pen.
  6. We will complete a critique on your thumbnails in class. Choose from your three, the word or words that have the most visual potential. Carefully examine each of your thumbnails for that word. Make note of the successful aspects of the work and write down why. Make note of what doesn’t work and write down why. Afterwards, consolidate your successes into a final compositional sketch. Be mindful and avoid the things that did not work. You should have your final composition by end of class. I must approve your final composition before you enlarge your piece.
  7. Prepare your format: Cut a piece of Bristol Board down to 11” x 17”. Draw a 1” border around the entire piece so that the format of your piece will be 9” x 15”, and tape off the border so you can draw straight to the very edge of your picture plane. Therefore, your composition should be 3x the size of your 3 x 5 thumbnails. Draw out your composition in pencil lightly at first to make sure your composition is pleasing. Remember when you enlarge, you may need to adjust line weight or add detail. Your enlarged piece may be a little different from your sketch, but that is okay!
  8. Ink in your penciled sketch. Clean up, erase pencil.

black and white pattern - starblack and white swirl patternblack and white patternblack and white vertical leaf patternblack and white half circle pattern


Project Specifications: To create and execute a design block, not unlike a quilt square, wherein you use your found and created textures in the place of fabric.

Creating your Textures

  1. You will make 5 pages of rubbed textures.
  2. You will make 5 pages of created textures (paint, pen and ink, pencil, sharpie)
  3. You will have 5 pages of black and white, full page printed textures.

Creating your Block Design

  1. Work with thumbnails (or small, trial versions of compositions) on your drawing paper or in your sketchbook to create and interesting pattern design. You can look to actual quilt patterns, you can design your own pattern, or a combination of both. You want your design to be complex enough to be interesting. Consider using a design that contains around 20 individual pieces. Keep your pattern simple, yet bold. Creating your design with textures and value will add interest and variety.
  2. When you have a pattern you like, enlarge it to create a full-sized rough (or full-sized rough version of your final). You should aim for a final piece of at least 14” x 14”.
  3. You may then want to create templates of your pieces in order to be able to recreate your block accurately. Keep a master copy of your piece so that you can lay out the texture pieces you cut where they will fit into your design.
  4. Divide your textures into groups of “light”, “medium”, and “dark” values. (see below)
  5. Then begin choosing where your textures will best work into your design. Keep contrast in mind. If you place textures that are too similar close together they will not create enough contrast. That is why we have divided our textures into value groups. You would not want to put two similar values next to one another. Step back from your design often to make sure your textures are all working well and that your pattern is still recognizable.
  6. When cutting your pieces out, I suggest you cut each piece slightly larger than it needs to be so that when you glue them down they overlap slightly so you do not see the paper behind them.
  7. Do not glue your pieces down until all the pieces are cut and the pattern is satisfactory.
  8. You may add borders if you think they will enhance the piece.
  9. You will be gluing your textures onto illustration board.
  10. Keep in mind precision and workmanship. You are working with a grid and a pattern. Any wobble or crooked line will be noticeable.

black and white - multiple textures in circular patternblack and white multiple textures in square/diamond patternslots of patterns pieced together in squares with multiple textures



# 1: Using black and white acrylic paint, create an 8-step grayscale starting with white and moving to black.

# 2: Overlay shape(s) on a portrait to create an interesting composition. We will invert the image values within this shape(s). Use the 8 values created above to paint the portrait. Remember that there will be an opposite corresponding value within your shape overlay. This is like a paint by numbers. We are juxtaposing clear and distinct values, not blending them. The values in the portrait and shape(s) must be reduced to 8 distinct values.

Final must have minimum dimensions of 12 x 9 inches and maximum dimensions of 17 x 14 inches.

Choose black or white matte board to mount your final work with 2 inch borders all around.


Part 1: Practice value scales first in pencil and then in paint. For pencil, swatch different pencil weights and pressure first in your sketchbook until you have an evenly stepped scale of 8 distinct values. For paint, mix black and white paint for each of the 8 values. Use scrap bristol to test each value.

Step back and make sure each swatch is evenly spaced in value. You should not have two values that next to each other that look too similar nor another two that look drastically different. The difference between all 8 values should be equal - they should be evenly stepped.

After sufficient practice, use the “fancy template” (posted on Canvas) once you're sure each value is correct. The three columns of the “fancy template” will be completed and turned in with Assignment 5.

black and white image of Native AmericanBlack and white image of Marilyn Monroeblack and white image of femaleblack and white image of male with rose pattern on foreheadblack and white image of female with star background