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Picture This by Molly Bang

Graphic Design, Resources

Molly Bang shows us in a wonderful visual book how emotions can be very well represented only by abstract shapes with a series of principles in mind.

The key of how emotions are brought on the canvas stays in the associations of colours, shapes and placement of the elements forming a picture with our own experiences from the day to day life. Therefore, this kind of associations determines our emotional response to a picture.

I have gathered all the principles and represented them by shapes as showed in the book not to get away from the point made by Molly Bang. All these principles work together, they impact one another and are also linked to the context and content.

Gravity
  1. Horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability, even more if they are wide & flat (grounded)
  2. Vertical shapes are more exciting and inspire energy (skyscrapers)
  3. Diagonal shapes are very dynamic and signal motion by expressing objects moving from one state to another and tension due to balance challenge
  4. An object placed on the upper half of the picture looks like it’s floating which makes you think of happiness, spirituality, freedom.
  5. An object placed on the bottom half of the picture looks heavier and more constrained

picture this gravity

Frame

  1. If you put an object in the center of the page, then it will be the greatest point of attraction. To be avoided when the picture is meant to be explored.
  2. When there is no object on the centre of the page and even more, when there are objects crossing over the page, then the picture takes a more dynamic form.

picture this frame

Light and Dark

White/ light backgrounds feel safer than black/ dark backgrounds. White signifies brightness & hope and is used to represent the day while black signifies the unknown & fears and is ideal for showcasing night moments or twilight or bad weather like a storm.

picture this light and dark

Points and curves

Pointy shapes look threatening to us while curved shapes look like they embrace and protect us giving a sense of security.

picture this points and curves

Size

The larger an object in the picture, the strongest it feels.

picture this size

Colour associations

We associate the same or similar colours seen within a picture frame much strongly than we associate shapes.

picture this colour

Repetition & confusion

We prefer repetition over confusion as the first gives us a sense of stability while the latter is frightening for most of us. In the same time, too much repetition is monotonous so either extreme is not preferable.

picture this repetition and confusion

Contrasts

We notice a contrast. This can be between shapes, sizes, colours, placement or any combination of these elements.

picture this contrast

Space

  1. If an object is separated by an empty space from a group of objects, it will look alone, free or vulnerable.
  2. The shapes may imply movement but also may the space between them.
  3. Overlapping two or more objects will blend them together.
  4. A sense of depth can be created by keeping a regular geometric progression rather than an arithmetic one in the space between the objects i.e. if space is 1/2 smaller than the preceding one rather than a fixed amount.
  5. Space implies time, therefore in a situation of danger it will be more tension between two objects farther away than closer as you have the time to become aware of what is about to happen. It’s true that very little space can create the feeling of tension as well.

picture this space

The book also has, in the end, some exercises that invite you to play around with shapes and colours and apply these principles in order to tell a story and communicate a feeling or mood. For example, situations that represent danger like a group of birds attacking a victim or a person trapped in a cage or illustrations of emotions expressed in a poem, painting or song.

I love it that there are so many ways of exploration and the recommended limitation to 3 colours plus white and the usage of sole circles, rectangles and triangles, only make it more interesting.

I gave it a try and exposed myself in the playground area, so you can check mine here. And I am super curious to see yours so please do not hold back from sharing your experiments! 🙂

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