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  1. Color Your World
  2. Using Nature's Elements in Design
  3. Putting It into Practice
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Using Nature’s Elements in Design

Cristian Boian’s image that opens this chapter is composed of various elements working in harmony to create a whole and integrated pattern. When simple elements interact, they enhance and amplify one another, and become the more complex relationships that you experience as pattern. This process is called emergence and is recognized in science as well as philosophy, the arts, and systems theory. The patterns that create and are created through emergent properties combine as a visual gestalt of relevance (more on gestalt in Chapter 7, “Structure: Building Beauty”) in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Elements understood as a whole are more meaningful than as several individual connections because they contain simultaneous relationships with varied opportunities for interpretation. They culminate as an encompassing relationship instead of several unrelated ones. Design doesn’t have to suffer the visual clutter of additional information to have meaningful value. By making more relationships with less information, you leverage the most meaning with the least material. This is how nature conducts business.

In the exercises at the end of this chapter, you’ll make connections between your physical senses and how they interpret your experiences, how your senses relate to the elements, and how understanding these relationships can facilitate richness and informational depth in your design. In Chapter 7, you’ll look at an element as a tangible component of the design process. Your genius is in finding the subtle relationships that complement and expand upon one another to create more meaningfully expressed design.

Nature Shares Genius

  • “All children are born geniuses. 9,999 out of every 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently, de-geniused by grown-ups.”
  • —Buckminster Fuller

There are many levels of genius, but all humans are born with a substantial aptitude for problem solving. Experiencing the subtle nuances of relationship is a quality of genius because connections are where you find solutions—and sometimes in the most surprisingly obvious places. When Sherlock Holmes resolves a particularly perplexing case or Albert Einstein refined the theory of relativity into the eloquent E=mc2 formula, each reconciled a thousand loose ends into a single manageable conclusion. All ideas considered in the realm of genius are brilliant for this simple reason: They follow the trajectories of exponentially diverse information and weave it back into its point of origin. The most mundane, seemingly irrelevant, or the too complex is brought into alignment and returned—or at least clearly related to—its original, elemental, and understandable form. The meandering curve of the question mark is brought to finality with the succinct period point of an answer to complete a story of relationship. Even the word “genius” refers back to itself in the word’s etymology of inborn nature. Nature shares genius by embedding it directly into your genes. Your genius and nature’s is one and the same. The only difference is that humans have consciousness to feel and think the experience. Nature simply is the experience. When you understand the relationships between the most basic elements, you can evolve more complex relationships out of essential ones, just as nature does.

From Holmes to Einstein—and to you as designer—genius is in the genesis of the thought made relevant. I know what you’re thinking: You’re just designing an ad layout! But what you may not realize is that the process of design uses the same thinking a “genius” does by sorting, identifying, and relating meaningful patterns. This kind of thinking meanders its way through multiple possibilities to reveal the intersections of relationship. The geniuses of the world sense an overall pattern and find ways of connecting the obscure to the relevant through trial and error, and the medium of intuition. They come to astounding realizations using the very same processes you do. The primary difference between a genius and a “normal” person is persistence. Where there’s a will, there’s a way is an adage because it is the truth.

Your goal as a designer is to create an ambiance and mood immediately upon the viewer seeing your design without any linear thinking or explanation necessary. You do this by connecting into natural relationships everyone instinctively knows. Any visual statement can be finessed and well executed—humans are quite the clever species—but none of it matters in the long run if you don’t get the fundamentals right to begin with. Shiny new things attract, but if they prove superficial and fleeting on closer inspection, their value disintegrates along with interest and retention.

Design is discovery for you and your viewer. The more you know about the basics and can encode them into your work, the stronger you’ll be as a designer, the more fun you’ll have designing, and the more response you’ll get from your audience. The tables in the following sections will help you to cross-reference the five elements and their specific properties to integrate sensual qualities into your design. You can understand them best by noticing how you experience them firsthand.

The Classical Elements

The five classical elements—air, fire, water, earth, and ether—reflect the simplest essential properties and principles of all worldly matter and matters. They are the realms of universal energy. The classical elements are common to all life on the planet at all times ( Figure 6.11). Weather, chemistry, the directions, math, mythology, and many other systems—all systems—are connected to the classical elements. Each of the elements is associated with specific traits and relationships that remain stable over time.

6.11

6.11 An antique visual representation of how the classical elements relate to the worldly properties of hot, cold, dry, and wet. La Sphere du Monde by Oronce Fine (c. 1549). Image courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University. MS Typ 57.

In Figure 6.12, a classical diagram of the relationships between the classical elements and their properties of wet, cold, hot, and dry is described as one square at a 45-degree angle within another square with its translations.

6.12

6.12 The properties of hot, wet, cold, and dry in relation to the elements (with their associated alchemical symbols). Illustration: Mauricio Martínez, Mexíco.

Tables 6.1 through 6.5 chart the relationships between the elements and their various properties and manifestations. The illustrations in Figure 6.13 by Tommy Cash Sørenson illustrate each of the four worldly elements with a combination of typography, illustration, and graphic design. Ether, or quintessence, is an element of another (but pervasive) realm that is often disregarded when you think of the “earthly elements.”

6.13

6.13 The worldy manifestations of the elements combined as illustration, design, and typography. Illustrator: Tommy Cash Sørenson, Norway.

AIR

Air (Table 6.1) represents the mind and intelligence, communication, telepathy, inspiration, imagination, ideas, travel, knowledge, dreams, and wishes (Figure 6.14).

6.14

6.14 Realistically illustrated and rich with saturated color, this ad campaign by Ars Thanea/Poland engages your most fundamental senses in a way that is impossible to ignore. The “Air” ad for the Martini Asti series. Design Director: Peter Jaworowski.

TABLE 6.1 Air

Gender

Masculine

Human element

Mental and mind

Physical humor

Blood

Attitude

Courageous, amorous

Temperament

Artisan (healing)

Creative process

Development and imagination

Consciousness

Intelligence

Action

To dare

Judgment

Scientific

Jungian

Thinking and thought

viewpoint

Outward

Direction

East

Energy

Projective

Matter

Gas

Quality

Warm and moist

Symbols

Sky, wind, breezes, clouds, feathers, breath, vibrations, smoke, plants, herbs, trees, flowers

Elementals

Sylphs, zephyrs, fairies

Time

Dawn

Cycle of life

Infancy

Season

Spring

Colors

Yellow, white, ice blue, sky blue, violet

Sense

Smell

Stones

Topaz, pumice, rainbow stones, crystals, amethyst, alexandrite

Metals

Tin, copper

Vegetation

Clove, myrrh, pansy, primrose, vervain, dill, lavender

Trees

Acacia, almond, aspen, hazel, linden, maple, pine

Animals

Eagle, raven, spider

Chemical

Oxygen

FIRE

Fire (Table 6.2) represents energy, inspiration, love, sexuality, passion, and leadership. Fire is the element of transformation. It is the most physical and spiritual of the elements (Figure 6.15).

6.15

6.15 The “Fire” ad for the Martini Asti ad campaign. Design Director: Peter Jaworowski, Ars Thanea/Creative Agency.

TABLE 6.2 Fire

Gender

Masculine

Human element

Life force

Physical humor

Yellow bile

Attitude

Bad tempered, anger, intensity

Temperament

Idealist (protection)

Creative process

Idea and intent

Consciousness

Will

Action

To know

Judgment

Faith

Jungian

Intuition

Viewpoint

Future

Direction

South (north for southern hemisphere)

Energy

Projective

Matter

Energy

Quality

Warm and dry

Symbols

Flame, lightning, volcano, rainbow, sun, stars, lava, heat

Elementals

Salamanders, firedrakes

Time

Noon

Cycle of life

Youth

Season

Summer

Colors

Red, gold, pink, crimson, orange, purple

Sense

Sight

Stones

Ruby, fire opal, volcanic lava, agate

Metals

Gold, brass, iron

Vegetation

Garlic, hibiscus, red bells, cinnamon, coffee, beans, seeds, chile peppers

Trees

Alder, ash, cashew, cedar, chestnut, fig, juniper, mahogany, oak, holly, rowan, walnut

Animals

Dragon, cat, lion, horse, snake, cricket, mantis, ladybug, bee, scorpion, phoenix, coyote, fox

Chemical

Nitrogen

WATER

Water (Table 6.3) represents emotions, fertility, absorption, subconscious, purification, movement, wisdom, fluidity, the soul, and the emotional aspects of love and femininity (Figure 6.16).

6.16

6.16 The “Water” ad for the Martini Asti ad campaign. Design Director: Peter Jaworowski, Ars Thanea/Creative Agency.

TABLE 6.3 Water

Gender

Feminine

Human element

Emotional body

Physical humor

Phlegm

Attitude

Calm, deep

Temperament

Rational (vision)

Creative process

Reception

Consciousness

Wisdom

Action

To know

Judgment

opinion, subjective

Jungian

Feeling and emotion

Viewpoint

Inward

Direction

West

Energy

Receptive

Matter

Liquid

Quality

Cold and moist

Symbols

ocean, river, shell, spring, lake, well, rain, fog, cup

Elementals

Undines, nymphs, mermaids, water babies

Time

Twilight, dusk

Cycle of life

Maturity

Season

Autumn

Colors

Blue, aqua, turquoise, green, gray, sea green

Sense

Taste

Stones

Aquamarine, amethyst, blue tourmaline, pearl, coral, blue topaz, fluorite

Metals

Mercury, silver, copper

Vegetation

Ferns, lotus, mosses, bushes, water lilies, gardenia

Trees

Apple, apricot, birch, cherry, elder, elm, rose, willow

Animals

Dragon, water snakes, dolphin, fish, cat, frog, turtle, swan, crab

Chemical

Hydrogen

EARTH

Earth (Table 6.4) is the nurturing quality that is represented by strength, abundance, creativity, stability, prosperity, wealth, and femininity (Figure 6.17).

6.17

6.17 The “Earth” ad for the Martini Asti ad campaign. Design Director: Peter Jaworowski, Ars Thanea/Creative Agency.

TABLE 6.4 Earth

Gender

Feminine

Human element

Physical body

Physical humor

Black bile

Attitude

Despondent, irritable

Temperament

guardian (teaching)

Creative process

Form

Consciousness

Memory

Action

To keep silent

Judgment

Experience

Jungian

Senses and sensations

Viewpoint

Past

Direction

North (south for southern hemisphere)

Energy

Receptive

Matter

Energy

Quality

Cold and dry

Symbols

Rocks, fields, soil, salt, caves, clay

Elementals

gnomes, dwarfs, trolls

Time

Midnight, night

Cycle of life

Age

Season

Winter/Spring

Colors

Black, green, brown, russet, citrine, tan, olive

Sense

Touch

Stones

Rock crystal, emerald, onyx, jasper, salt, azurite, amethyst, quartz

Metals

Iron, lead

Vegetation

Ivy, grains, oats, rice, patchouli, lichen

Animals

Cow, bull, dog, horse, ant, bear, wolf

Chemical

Carbon

ETHER

Ether (also called Spirit; Table 6.5) is the prime and essential element present in all things, providing space, connection, and balance for all other elements to exist. Ether is immaterial, unlike air, fire, water, and earth. It is essential to your sense of connectedness and well-being, and represents the sense of joy and union (Figure 6.18).

6.18

6.18 The amalgamation of the properties of pattern, shape, and color combine to create a Photoshop illustration by Romanian digital artist Cristian Boian. Although abstracted images such as this are open to individual interpretation, there are basic elements of fluidity, diversity, unity, and separation that encompass the idea of “ether.”

TABLE 6.5 Ether

Gender

Androgynous

Human element

Spiritual

Physical humor

Attitude

Temperament

creative process

Flow

Consciousness

Enlightenment

Action

Exist

Judgment

Jungian

Archetype

Viewpoint

Universal

Direction

Universal

Energy

Universal

Matter

Singularity

Quality

Being

Symbols

The slender and subtle connection: cord or rope

Elementals

Angels or spiritual guides

Time

Now

Cycle of life

Eternity, transcendence

Season

The wheel of year

Colors

White, clear, black

Sense

Higher receptions, sound (vibration)

Stones

Diamond, quartz crystal, jet, black onyx

Metals

Vegetation

Mistletoe, hemlock, wolfbane, nightshades, fir, coltsfoot

Animals

Dove, mythical creatures, sphinx, unicorn

Chemical

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