How to create cohesion in your art and your brand
I throw around the word “cohesive” quite a lot—whether I’m working on a client’s brand or website, composing a pattern, or painting a composition. But what does it really mean to be cohesive?
Cohesion is “the action or fact of forming a unified whole.” I’m interested in creating a feeling that something is complete, not lacking anything. And while being cohesive is so important for creating consistency with a client’s brand, I find that it is equally as important when composing a pattern, creating artwork, or designing an illustration. In my latest Skillshare class, Watercolor by Design, I review how seven basic design principles influence my painting practice. In the last few years, I’ve worked hard to understand my preferences, both style wise and what I’m passionate about. By doing so, I’ve been able to understand where art meets design and why the two can live harmoniously together in my work. It comes down to cohesion.
By making intentional choices using design principles, you can create cohesion within your brand or your artistic style. Let’s review the seven basic design principles I share during my class and how they influence my design and artist practices.
Seven Basic Design Principles
Knowing what is most important allows you to create a visual hierarchy to communicate a particular message, emotion, feeling, or mood. Creating a visual hierarchy guides the viewer’s eyes and allows them to land on a particular location within your composition. Scale, density, detail, and overall prominence play a role in determining where the focal point will be.
Contrast is an excellent compositional tool. Adding a spectrum of color values allows you to emphasize (or de-emphasize) specific areas. It can be used in combination with other techniques to create a pathway for the viewer to move through the piece. It can apply to how we use color, fonts, imagery as well as our painterly techniques.
Repeating elements, style preferences, colors, etc. can provide uniformity—or in this, case reveal your style. Recognizing and repeating patterns in your work is a great way to enhance your signature style, as well as lean into what is working for you. Repetition is also a great way to create cohesion.
In design, proximity is used to create organization and cohesion within a space. When it comes to fine art, proximity can be used to create friction, breathing room, consistency, or a combination of the three.
Balance is also a tool that can be used to create a sense of friction or ease. Balance can be achieved by creating or placing objects, colors, or images at an equal distance from the center on opposing locations within the piece. I prefer compositions to feel balanced because it creates a feeling of wholeness to me.
Color can evoke certain emotions and express values. Warm colors create a different feeling from cool colors. Complimentary colors can create balance or contrast when placed next to one another or cancel each other out when combined. Color can add depth, or lack of color can make it feel flat—both can be intentional choices.
Space, like balance and proximity, is important to keep in mind for compositional purposes. Negative space, in particular, can be an excellent tool to keep in mind while you are completing a composition. Space creates a pathway or a natural shape that works as a tool alongside contrast, balance, and proximity.
When a brand is well designed and adheres to a style guide, it allows us to quickly recognize that brand at a glance (almost subconsciously) and forms a sense of reliability. When an artist intentionally moves in the direction of their style preferences, we can also recognize their work. It allows an audience to engage with that artist, builds trust, and creates a connection to the work.
If you’re interested in finding ways to use the principles listed above in your brand or your artwork, here are a couple of suggestions:
For your brand
Try listing out the above design principles on a piece of paper. Then under each item, brainstorm ways that you are currently creating cohesion in your brand using these principles. Or, if you feel there are areas for improvement, think of new ways you could begin implementing these techniques.
For your artwork
Start by creating a lot of work (or look back on a large batch of your recent creations). Then reflect on what works well and what doesn’t—what feels cohesive to you? Write down the design principles you’re using that are giving you that cohesion. Then, create a new piece of work using the style preferences and principles that you enjoy in your previous works. If you like the outcome, consider continuing to move in that direction going forward.
Just like the seasons, your preferences will change over time—whether you’re reviewing your brand or your artwork. Just recognizing those changes over time allows you to continue making intentional choices and creating cohesion within your artistic style or your brand.