Art Education – Design

Design in the broad sense of the term may he said to be the expression of a thought or plan by drawing or in some tangible material. We may have Pictorial Design, which is involved in Representation and Illustration; Constructive Design, which deals with the form and proportion of things, such as furniture, machinery, and buildings of all kinds, as well as with the simple problems carried out in the Manual Training classes; and Decorative Design, which has for its ultimate aim the enriching of things made for some purpose apart from the decoration. It is with Decorative Design that we are chiefly concerned here, although it must be understood that the same laws govern all good design whether pictorial, constructive, or decorative.

From the standpoint of decoration or ornament, we may think of Design as the orderly arrangement of lines or shapes and spaces, expressed in neutral tones or in colour. It should have for its highest intention the effort to produce beauty. It is only through obedience to the laws that produce order that we may hope to achieve beauty. There are many different principles which must be observed to bring about beauty in ornament; for example, unity, variety, contrast, repose, subordination, restraint. It will be found that these are included under the three great laws of Balance, Rhythm, and Harmony.

Balance may be said to be produced in a design when no part of it attracts undue attention to itself on account of its size, shape, position, or colour.

Rhythm may be said to be produced when all the parts of a design are so related to each other that the eye is led smoothly and agreeably from one part to another throughout the design.

Harmony means visible unity, or accord. Only those things which have something in common may be said to harmonize. To exhibit harmony, a design must be fitted to the purpose for which it is intended.


The Course in Design in the Manual has been prepared with the intention of cultivating the judgment of the pupil and putting him in possession of knowledge that will enable him to appreciate what is good and lead him to demand it when the time comes for him to exercise choice. It is in this way rather than through the preparing of professional designers that the School Course should affect the industrial world, although the exercises in Design will no doubt be the means of influencing those best fitted for the work to take it up later, professionally.

The Course in Design is so arranged that the attention of a Form I class is directed almost altogether to the repetition of a line or shape at regular intervals. This is made possible by the folding and creasing of the paper. Only in work for special purposes, and after some experience, should a Form I class be required to use a ruler for measurements.

Provision is made for a wider choice in Form II classes, and the help given by the teacher should be less direct and more suggestive. The side or top view of a flower may be simplified as much as possible and repeated to form a border or an all-over pattern. Geometric and other shapes may also be used. In Form II, Junior Grade, inch measurements should be used to prepare a plan to ensure regularity of repetition, and in Form II, Senior Grade, measurements in both inches and half-inches are required. In Form II, a feeling for balance is cultivated, through the determining of the size of unit best fitted to occupy the space prepared for it.

In Form III, Junior Grade, two constructive plans new to the pupil are added, and increasing attention is paid to the unit of Design. The idea of Rhythm, as it may be exhibited in the relation of a number of spaces to each other, is developed, and ways in which the knowledge gained in the lessons in Design may be made use of out of school are brought to the pupil’s notice. In Form III, Senior Grade, the same type of unit is used, after it has been simplified, refined, and if necessary, reconstructed so that it may be used with good effect alone, or in a border or an all-over pattern. The pupils in this Form are also expected to be able to modify a unit so that it will fit any given one of the constructive plans that are to be used in Form III. The consideration of the rhythmic relation of spaces is continued, and problems in Design that interest the pupil through home or person are discussed in this Form and studied more fully in the succeeding Forms. In Form IV, a clearer understanding of Balance, Rhythm, and Harmony is established. In the Junior Grade, the pupil is expected to make intelligent use of these principles in constructing a unit from two or more abstract shapes; while the pupil in the Senior Grade must bring the saine principles to bear on the problem of breaking up a given area into shapes that will be so related to each other as to make a pleasing and consistent unit of Design.

The above interpretation of the Course in Design is given to show the teacher how the work of each succeeding Form grows out of, and is a step in advance of, the work arranged for the Form immediately below it. There is no reason why a class should not occasionally use, for special purposes, types of Design learned in previous Forms when these seem to be particularly well suited to the purpose in hand.

The use of squared paper, though not necessary to the planning of designs, is of great assistance in some problems; and it is suggested that a supply of inexpensive paper marked in quarter-inch squares be kept for use, especially in the upper Forms.

For use in Design an H B pencil sharpened to a fine point is preferable to the regular drawing pencil.

Design develops the creative faculty, but in the elementary school the development of creative power should be brought about by modifying and adapting natural or other forms which may be so treated by each pupil that the result is the outcome of his own individuality.

A generous quantity of illustrative material should be kept on hand. It may consist of borders, surface patterns, book covers, title-pages, and other designs pro-cured from magazines, drawing books, or other sources, such as historic ornament. The work of some of the pupils in a class may be sufficiently well done to be preserved for the help or inspiration of the other members. Among discarded samples of manufactured materials of different kinds, the teacher may be able to find some that are good in taste and sufficiently simple to be of use in the lessons in Design.

There are many more possible types and arrangements than those suggested in the Manual which would not be too difficult for elementary school pupils; but limitations are necessary, not only on account of the meagre amount of time that may be given up to the subject, but also that all fanciful, meaningless decorations may be avoided, and that the exercises chosen may be those which will best develop an understanding of the principles which underlie all good Design.

At the first, too great insistence on accuracy would be fatal to the development of power in Representation and Illustration, but in Design- it is of the greatest importance and, when once a unit has been chosen and the manner and method of repetition determined upon, the greatest possible accuracy of which the pupils are capable should be required of them. On this account the use of very intricate patterns and those which necessitate manifold repetitions of a difficult unit should be discouraged.

When there are two or more classes in a room, designs which have been begun in class may be finished as seat exercises. In any Form, the completing of unfinished designs will be found to make ideal seat work, profitable from both teacher’s and pupil’s standpoint, and of absorbing interest to the average child.


The greater part of the work in Design done in the elementary school should be planned from the first with a view to the ultimate purpose for which it is intended and, wherever it is possible, the designs should be actually applied to the articles for which they were planned. In this way interest in the subject is greatly increased, and the definiteness given to each problem is conducive to thoughtful work and to a more intelligent understanding of the purpose of Design.


A number of optional problems are suggested, which call for materials not generally found in schools. The pride of ownership that the pupil feels in some-thing made by his own hands and the decoration of which has been planned by his own brains, is intensified when the article made is not only serviceable but also sufficiently durable to retain its usefulness and charm for years, or possibly with proper care, for a lifetime.

In no case are expensive materials required, and suitable remnants that the owners would be glad to have used in school in the ways suggested are probably to be found in many of the pupils’ homes. So fascinated are the boys and girls with this work that the teacher will be surprised at their timely suggestions with regard to materials that may be substituted for those that are not to be obtained in the neighbourhood. Butter paper (not waxed paper) makes a good substitute for transparent tracing paper, and a sheet of foolscap to one side of which a coating of stove polish has been applied may be used instead of carbon paper. Straw-board, or pasteboard, though not quite so solid as mill-board, may be used in its place for some things.

When an article is to be constructed and decorated, the teacher should make one before the class undertakes it, not only that an example may be on hand for reference, but that difficulties may be anticipated and mistakes prevented.


The planning of designs in school for home problems in which the pupils are interested will help them to realize that ornament must be thought of from the standpoint of the thing to be adorned and will awaken in them a distaste for the commonplace embroidery patterns and other cheap designs which come in packets for indiscriminate use on all sorts of materials. In many cases it will doubtless arouse a talent that might otherwise lie dormant.

Good taste forbids the use of ornament in connection with some things, and over-decoration is always to be avoided; therefore the points to be decided in a problem in Applied Design before the actual work begins, are as follows :

1. Does the article or surface to be decorated admit of decoration?

2. Will it be improved by decoration?

3. What form of decoration will most enhance its appearance—border, corners, all-over pattern, or single central unit?

4. What proportion of the surface should be occupied by the ornament?

In Forms I, II, and probably III, all of these questions should be decided by the class under the guidance of the teacher. In Form IV, the third and fourth points, as a rule, may be settled by the pupils individually.