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In Design and Art, Perception Trumps Skill

It’s easy to approach art and design studies with an emphasis on technique, tools, and methods, and the elements and principles. But the true value lies in knowing why all these are important.

I took 14-month sabbatical from publishing my newsletter, blog articles, and video tutorials in order to refresh, strategize, and plan. I wanted to think through and refine my purpose as a practicing creative and teacher, and sharpen my focus on what I teach and why.

The outcome is that I’m making some significant changes which I’m excited to share with you. My hope is that you’ll decide to continue forward with me and perhaps even step up to a higher level in your creative skills.

Not all instruction is equal. We teachers tend to teach the way we were taught. I was trained not only in rigor and technique, but in perception. For as long as I’ve been teaching perception has been my approach in the classroom and online. It’s the approach I take in all my creative work as an illustrator and designer.

It’s easy to approach art and design studies — which include drawing, illustration, photography, fine arts, and all genres of design — with an emphasis on technique, tools, and methods, and the visual elements and underlying principles.

This focus on how to and what is necessary to a point. Technique and knowledge are the foundations of all creative work. 

But where the value of all visual creative work lies is not in how well we might draw, whether we use watercolor or oils, or whether we take the Loomis or Hogarth approach to human anatomy and figure drawing. The true value is in why we apply these things.

All art and design communicate.

For anything to have meaning it must communicate. Visual communication (design, photography, fine art) provokes emotional, intellectual, and even spiritual responses. 

We use line, shape, color, texture in creating our work, but our primary concern must be how we organize them to express ideas and emotions.

A focus on design theory — understanding elements and principles such as line, shape, form, color — is foundational to all forms of visual communication.

What’s commonly lacking in design education is why knowing these principles is so important — knowing how to apply them with purpose.

If you understand how human beings see, perceive, and understand what they see, you have the true foundation of design theory, universal design principles, and effective visual communication. You have the basis for problem-solving.

My focus as  a teacher of the things I practice is on understanding how we perceive, and then how all the elements — line, shape, form, color, space, and texture fit together. For example, it’s not the use of line in your drawings, or their qualities — speed, weight, character, etc. — but how lines can be organized to describe a thing or express an idea.

Communication is fundamental to all visual arts. Designers study and become proficient in the form language — visual literacy — which is universal. If you approach it as a language, you “get” the concepts of structure, syntax, grammar.  You understand that the creative choices you make in to develop effective designs, illustrations, portraits, or compositions are the result of visual literacy.

I don’t teach you how to draw like Burne Hogarth, or manga techniques, or the Loomis or Reilly method specifically. My aim is that you understand the why, what, how of visual communication so that you can create more effectively, and that you develop in awareness (percepetion) and organization (structure and composition) to create meaningful work. Therefore I am neither media-specific nor technique-specific.

Visual communication is conceptual, not specific to any media. It’s not dependent on tools and techniques. 

I’m re-naming and re-branding the Eye Level blog, community, and this newsletter under my business name, Alvalyn Creative. I’m forming a digital ACademy For Visual Communication as an arm of my studio.

Our emphasis will move in the direction of visual communication, universal design principles, theory and practice, form and function, color perception, and more. We’ll use drawing and design as bases for communication, and apply visual grammar and syntax to create meaningful work.

So here’s what I’m rolling out over the next 12–18 months:

  • The ACademy (the AC stands for Alvalyn Creative) through which I’m making all my creative and business skills courses available to you. These are the same courses I’ve taught and teach in degree and professional certificate programs at prestigious art and design colleges. I’m taking all the courses I teach at elite design schools and offering them through the ACademy. These multi-lesson digital courses will be delivered to your in-box. They include lectures, tutorials, assignments and opportunities for direct feedback.Courses cover a range of creative and business skills, beginner to advanced levels, including drawing, design theory, color theory, portraiture, branding, composition, publication design, design history, creative business, and more.
  • This coming summer I’m launching a premium newsletter with a paid monthly subscription. If you subscribe you’ll be able to participate in live “draw with me” sessions and submit your work for review and feedback. You’ll have the opportunity to participate in live group critiques and Q&A  sessions.

This newsletter in its current form (new name) will continue to land in your inbox once a month. You’ll get tips and tutorials on a variety of visual communication topics emphasizing perception, approach, and form language as the basis for art and design. 

The renamed Facebook group will continue for now.

As always, you can register for independent instruction, and one-on-one consultations if you want a portfolio review, critique, help with a work in progress, or career guidance. 

I’m offering you the choice to remain on this list if you find it valuable or to leave (use the unsubscribe link in the footer of this email) if you don’t.

My hope is that you’ll stay, and if you do, my goal is to help you build the skills necessary to create meaningful work.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

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