Movement is how the design gives a sense of action as well as how it leads the eye through the composition. The goal here is to lead the viewer through the design without sending them into a dead-end or out into the abyss. With that in mind we want to design our primary elements so that they flow into one another as much as possible. This doesn’t always mean that they literally connect.
In Sun Wukong (above), Sun Wukong’s tail points back to the wrap with leads back into the center of the design. Follow up through the head and out the feather and it leads directly to the branch in the background. The primary design flow in this case is a figure eight. The staff points out in a way that might lead the viewer out of the design for good. To try to bring the eye back, the end of the staff is placed roughly along an imaginary arc created by the top branch, staff, tail and the bottom of the tree. Ideally the eye would be pulled along this imaginary arc back into the design.
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Battle Fungale by Drakxxx
The Battle of Anghiari by Da Vinci
Emphasis is the part of the design that the viewer is primarily drawn to. A design without an emphasis or focal point can feel amorphous and without purpose. You can achieve emphasis by many means, including placement, color, complexity, and focal length. We humans are also naturally drawn to faces, and eyes in particular. In addition, if a figure within the design is looking at something, we will naturally follow their gaze to see what it is.
There can be little doubt where the emphasis is in Robbie Lee’s Oh, Hole-y night (above). Despite the fact that the design covers the entire shirt and there’s a lot going on in it, we’re instantly drawn to the sun character in the upper right. It’s bright yellow, a face, and the only warm color in the design. In addition it features the area with the most visual activity, the hand and scissors. The more complicated the design, the more you need to focus on an emphasis so that your viewer isn’t lost, wandering the design without an anchor.
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Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt
Harmony and balance are how the elements coexist. If something seems to be overpowering the design, then it lacks harmony or balance. One of the most common places this can materialize is in the design’s composition. People have been exploring harmony in composition for centuries, using concepts like the Golden Ratio to help balance their compositions.
It’s helpful to think of composition in terms of weights, which is determined by the amount and types of shape and color you add. Put too much of something on the left, and you need to balance it out on the right with something of equal weight. In the Sun Wukong design, the background tree was added to balance the top-left to bottom-right diagonal of Sun Wukong’s character. This X shape composition is a classic solution to dramatic diagonal compositions and can be found throughout Art History. Similarly, the colors were chosen with a focus on balance. A small bit of warm, intense red can have the same weight as a large amount of cool blue, as is the case here. Had the colors been reversed this design would have seemed wildly out of balance.
Keep in mind that a large empty space has weight as well. This is why a side-placed vertical design such as It was a dark and stormy night by ISO30 (above) still feels balanced on a tee – it has a large empty space on the opposite side that can carry as much weight as the design itself. Harmony and balance is a great design principle to visit when you’re placing your design on a tee.
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Noted by radiomode
Composition VIII by Kandinsky
Good contrast is when the elements in the design conflict with one other in a harmonious way. Drama is inherently interesting; pitting two things against each other helps create that drama. The Umbrellas by cmdixon2 (above) is filled with it. The colors are split-complementary, with a cool blue opposing the warm orange and yellow. They’re also so bright that they immediately jump off of the dark asphalt background. The contrasts aren’t limited to color; the long, flowing shapes of the running paint/ink contrast beautifully with the pointed, octagonal shapes of the umbrellas. The straight, vertical fall of the rain also contrasts with the meandering, horizontal flow of the running colors. The Umbrellas is masterful example of using contrast to create drama. You guys know all about drama so don’t be afraid to add it to your tees!
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The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio
Whew. That’s a lot to digest. Let’s take a siesta before we tackle the next half. In the meantime, how about you show us your favorite examples of Movement, Emphasis, Harmony/Balance, and Contrast – whether they be from Shirt.Woot’s fine collection or from the wide world of Art in general.