Whether your ambition is to become an artist, a photographer or a designer, understanding how visual things can coordinate with other visual things is an essential skill set. This awareness is the most important gateway to clear if your goal is to achieve visual coherency in your creative work. History is littered with great ideas, poorly expressed.
Professor Schneider has been teaching art and design at various universities and colleges since 2001 and began teaching online design courses in 2010. Twelve design principle workshops have been conducted overall including three online.
This site is dedicated to the legacy of the Chouinard Art Institute, predecessor of CalArts in Valencia, Ca. The lessons and exercises contained in this site were developed as an extension of that legacy and were adapted to more appropriately fit into the current information matrix.
It has been Prof. Schneider’s desire to provide a freely accessible learning environment. The goal in building this environment has been to reach out to individuals who might benefit from an introduction (or reintroduction) to design principles, those who need specific help in a specific area, as well as to those who could use a creative reboot or a tuneup. Pinterest links and other tools are shared within this site’s pages in order to help in the process.
Howard Schneider is owner/creative director of both DesignPrinciples101.com and Howard Schneider Design and is a MFA graduate of California State University Los Angeles. Since 2001, he has served as adjunct professor in both graphic design and foundation courses at California State University Northridge in addition to lecturing at Pasadena Community College, and has taught online for the Academy of Art University, San Francisco.
Beginning in November 2010, Prof. Schneider conducted numerous workshops on the topic of design principles at various Southern California colleges and universities. The workshop, entitled Design Principles Workshop, was developed originally as part of a research project, eventually leading to the online learning environment: DesignPrinciples101.com.
Acknowledgements: The legacy from Professors Fenollosa, Dow, Schaeffer, Moore and Monahan permeates this site. A very special thank you to all of those whose contributions made this environment possible: Professors Edie Pistolesi, Ken Sakatani, Dr. Sharon Brown, Scott Hutchinson, Bonnie Barrett, Ann Mitchell, Jimmy Moss, Joe Bautista, Trevor Greenleaf, Eric La Brecque of Applied Storytelling; and lastly all of the students who participated in the various workshops conducted online and the workshops conducted onsite at UCLA/AIGA Student Group, California State University Northridge, Santa Ana College, Long Beach City College, and Cerritos College.
A few years after receiving my undergraduate degree, I decided to take a Basic Design course at USC Extension primarily because of the course’s instructor, highly regarded designer and illustrator, Leo Monahan. Designer, painter and educator Lee J. Wexler had previously advised that I find some way of connecting with Leo. This class finally presented that opportunity.
Granted, I had previously taken a basic design course years before, so it felt as if this author had entered a mode of retrograde. Little did I know then that this course was the basic design and color course that he and his instructor, Bill Moore, had been teaching at Chouinard Art Institute (predecessor to CalArts, Valencia), though presented in a somewhat condensed format.
After four weeks, a visual world of remarkable elegance and clarity became the new basis. Structure was quietly in the background of nearly every move I made. Rhythm began appearing in my work. By the course’s end, I could create and control a composition far more confidently and playful than ever experienced before. This one course changed the direction of my career. I was obviously ready for it.
Fast-forward to November 2010 and my ninth year of instruction at California State University Northridge when I began a research investigation through a series of workshops whose purpose was to identify whether a short-term, intensive immersion into design principles could affect any meaningful change with an average art or design student’s approach to layout and composition. The results were immediate and remarkable. The only questions that remained were how best to expand or refine the initial model and how best to implement a broader outreach. Five+ years later, the initial phase of this website became the result.
Today’s DesignPrinciples101 course has as its DNA core, the teachings not only from Leo’s class and also from his teacher, Bill Moore, but also from Bill Moore’s teacher, Rudolph Schaeffer, Rudolph Schaeffer’s primary influencer, Prof. Arthur Wesley Dow, Prof. Dow’s primary mentor, Prof. Ernest Fenollosa, and the Laszlo Moholy-Nagy era imprint upon the Bauhaus and the subsequent Bauhaus diaspora. Behind all of the above, float the centuries-old Japanese and Chinese approaches to space, form and gravity.
LEO MONAHAN is as busy as ever–doing, discovering, lecturing, and teaching, while having made a successful transition from design agency dynamics to the quieter world of galleried art.
An Unpublished Manuscript
An unpublished manuscript containing the legendary instructor Rudolph Schaeffer’s syllabus was made privately available a few years ago. The document proved to be an invaluable resource since it also contained in-depth notes on teaching color that were authored by another teaching luminary (and former Schaeffer student), Bill Moore, in addition to the design principles syllabus of Leo Monahan, one of Moore’s former students.
Schaeffer’s syllabus included a series of exercises directed at giving students an introductory awareness of rhythm in the visual arts. These exercises have been redeveloped for digital media and have been included in this site (Exercises in Rhythm). Leo Monahan’s syllabus was the foundation for Design Principles Explained and Exercises in Unity & Composition.
Exercises in Unity & Composition’s purpose is to focus a student’s efforts specifically on one aspect of the traditional two-dimensional design course experience–indeed a powerful and significant one, Design Principles. This relatively narrow segment of information has proven to be for many, a game-changer.
BILL MOORE had seen more than his fair share of magnificent as well as challenging student work during a teaching career that spanned over four decades. The legendary Chouinard Art Institute instructor of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s–then briefly at CalArts before his passing–had a reputation for challenging the mediocrity out of his students while also turning out some of the best creative talent across multiple eras.
Those students inspired by his intensive methods include Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter; producer, director and animator Tim Burton; director Henry Selick; Emmy-winning fashion and costume designer Bob Mackie; Columbia Records creative director S. Neil Fujita; photographer and legendary Blue Note Records graphic designer Reid Miles; three times Oscar-nominated costume designer Theodora Van Runkle; and award-winning designer and illustrator Leo Monahan. Add to this list a cadre of all-star animators whose work has populated the ranks of the Disney Studios up through and including today. The list truly goes on.
Prof. Moore’s most enduring takeaway simply states, “Two principles underlie all forms of human expression…unity and rhythm”.
RUDOLPH SCHAEFFER had a profound impact on his student, Bill Moore. Professor Schaeffer, founder of the San Francisco-based Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design which ran from 1926-1983, is credited with expression, “Design is the structure of art” and was decidedly influenced by Ralph Johnot, a proponent of Arthur Wesley Dow’s design principles. This course’s Exercises in Rhythm and video On Rhythm are contemporary interpretations of Professor Schaeffer’s original foundation exercises.
Prof. Schaeffer was a student of Arthur Wesley Dow’s program at Pratt University. It was at that time, Schaeffer is introduced to the Japanese concept of notan (predecessor to positive/negative). Prof. Schaeffer in his oral biography states, “No-tan is merely composing. Instead of doing a design floating on a background, no-tan was a matter of making the background vital, the dark areas enclosed with light areas and vice versa, so the light spaces, the negative spaces were in an alternating balance, and to the eye the light spaces were visually as important as the dark in an abstract sense. For instance, there might be flowers or leaves, distributed over a surface but if they were designed over the surface dark against light, the light spaces, the light areas were meaningful. Not just a design floating on a background, but a design with a structure of dark and light areas. That is the spirit of no-tan and no-tan comes from the Japanese word merely meaning dark-light, as a hyphenated noun, not dark and light, but dark-light.”
Arthur Wesley Dow
ARTHUR WESLEY DOW, a leading figure of the Arts and Crafts revival, is generally credited with rethinking 19th century art education into more of the contemporary model we know it as today, and drew considerable inspiration from the Japanese concept of notan and master artisans of notan, including Hokusai and Hiroshige. Painting luminaries Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler were among his most notable students.
Prof. Dow was decidedly influenced by Prof. Ernest Fenollosa of whom he wrote: “The history of this structural system of art teaching (you are about to read) may be stated in a few words; and here I am given the opportunity to express my indebtedness to the one whose voice is now silent (Fenollosa) … An experience of five years in the French schools left me thoroughly dissatisfied with academic theory. In a search for something more vital I began a comparative study of the art of all nations and epochs. While pursuing an investigation of Oriental painting and design at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts I met the late Professor Ernest F. Fenollosa.”
Prof. Dow’s comprehensive ideas on composition and color were published in his 1899 text, Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers, and is highly recommend.
Ernest Fenollosa was an American-born educator, scholar and Japanese art historian who taught in Japan as well as the US, and is rightfully credited with contributing to preservation of traditional Japanese art. What he may not have anticipated was the depth of influence that his study into Japanese aesthetic sensibilities would have had upon succeeding generations of artists and designers.
He lived much of his early adult years in Japan and while there, helped found both the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and the Tokyo Imperial Museum. He collected Japanese art extensively. Much of his collection was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Fenillosa curated the museum’s Chinese and Japanese collection as well as the Japanese art display for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Arthur Wesley Dow said of Fenollosa, ‘He was gifted with a brilliant mind of great analytical power, this with a rare appreciation gave him an insight into the nature of fine art such as few ever attain.” It is hard to imagine the development of modern art and design in the west without Fenillosa’s dedicated involvement.
The Bauhaus and Beforehand
A hemisphere away, the BAUHAUS school of Germany – which began in 1919 and lasted up through 1933 – revolutionized arts education to the same degree (or greater some believe) as the approach practiced by Prof. Dow and his disciples. Prof. Dow’s approach and that of the Bauhaus shared some of the same sensibilities – for example that natural forms inform structure, rhythm and visual thinking in general. The Bauhaus went a step further by promoting a melding of art training with craft training into a synthesis now called the Applied Arts. As a result, the Bauhaus is generally considered the first design school. Research suggests an intersection of the two educational models, branching backwards to the late 19th century Werkbund movement’s fascination with Far Eastern architecture and also in part to the Japonisme wave of artistic sensibilities that swept through Europe following the latter’s controversial, breakthrough debut at the Great Exhibition of 1851, London.
Within the Bauhaus epoch lay an early split between two contrasting sensibilities represented by Johannes Itten , the expressionist and Bauhaus co-founder, and László Moholy-Nagy the constructivist and Itten’s replacement. Ironically, each shared Japonesque sensibilities in their educational DNAs. Itten was a student of Adolf Hölzel – an early convert to abstractionism and one of the founding members of the late 19th century Vienna Secession group, a virtual contemporary of the aforementioned breakout Werkbund movement. Itten resigned from the Bauhaus in 1923 and was replaced by Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian born painter, photographer and designer. Maholy-Nagy’s teacher was Robert Berèny, a painter whose primary influence was arguably (debatably?) the “founder of modernism”, Paul Cèzanne. Cèzanne, the Vienna Secessionists as well as the Werkbund have the mid-19th century Japonisme western awakening in painting and architecture to thank for the historic paths each would eventually carve out.