I'm here in lovely New Orleans, getting ready for my class tomorrow. As I am waiting for the blog to move I'll post some more things without supporting artwork or diagrams. I posted this to a group of stampers on SCS, but as I mention, I learned these rules of good composition as a graphic designer for newspaper layouts. I need to give credit to my 9th grade journalism teacher Mrs. Bigham if anything...These rules of thumb got me through design school and my journalism minor and I have yet to find anything as simple or concise when thinking of layout.
Anyways, I hope this helps you as you think of composition and how the parts make up the whole. It really has little to do with Copic, and more to do with good design. Eventually I will take each point and expand on it with artwork. Again, sorry I am directing this at stampers, but it is a key element of any creative composition- not just cardmaking.
A Summary of Good Design
To understand why you can instantly recognize a good card design yet you have no idea how to get there yourself you need to check out a book or two from the library on basic graphic design and layout. Our eyes and mind see it, but without RECOGNIZING what the good elements are we will never be able to re-produce it.
In my high school journalism class I was the graphic designer and in charge of making the whole paper look good. I would train each new batch of students on the elements of good design. We had a formulae that has never failed me, and it can be applied to both graphic design and fine art as well as in cardmaking: DUMB-V
First, Hold your card at arm's length and squint at it. Then you see the parts, not the details. Then go over each element of good design
D: Design. or overall design, format, size- the technical stuff
U: Unity. Do all the parts go together, not always match, but at least go together? This is why we care so much about color and patterns.
M: Movement. What is the first element that catches your eye? then where does your eye go from there? do you get lost and it all blends together? if the flow is wrong or the main thing doesn't stand out then it's poorly designed. Ribbon or stripes pull your eye in the direction they travel, so a ribbon should be strategically placed so that it pulls the eye into your most important element (then people tie a bow to really give a focal point).
Sentiments are read from left to right, so your eye naturally travels from left to right. when it reaches the right, it should be pulled back into the top of the card somehow, and from there, back into the middle, or in an endless loop. This makes you look longer at the card, and if you spent an hour making it you darn well want someone to look at it longer than 5 seconds!!
In scrapbooking, this is why you don't want your photos looking off the page, people follow the direction of eyes and if the eyes look right off the page then you lose your audience. Same with stamps of things that have eyes. If the art is looking in a direction, then try putting your sentiment in that direction. In a composition, the stamp is looking at something within itself.
Take for instance, the Hanna stamp where she is placing a star on top of a christmas tree. Hanna is looking at the star, her arm is out holding the star, then if you put the tree under her hand you have a loop Hanna, Arm, Star, tree, back to hanna. If you have no tree, then put your sentiment near the star, then your hanna pulls you into the sentiment. No tree, then you have one other element down in the empty space under the sentiment and next to hanna to balance the image. Don't make the last element too big or contrasty, this upsets the balance:
B: Balance. Each color, each bling, each patterned paper has a visual weight. Dark things are heavier than light. Contrasty patterns are stronger and heavier than subtle patterns. Your most important element usually stands out because it has the most contrast. When you add a ribbon that is the same color as your background paper the ribbon is lost because it has no weight of it's own. Too many high contrast papers and your image gets muddy and unbalanced. Start simple- one solid, one pattern, one bling or punch and one stamped image/sentiment. see how these work with each other. Bling, like a big ole sparkly something thrown on, will have a lot of weight- like a black hole it sucks your attention in and then you loose the important part of the card. That's why the little rows of tiny blings look so much better than one big, horking rhinestone.
In design, classy things are visually stable, conveying long lasting. So a classy sympathy card should be heavy on the bottom, since it's visually more stable. A fun, whimsical card can be light and airy, but slightly top heavy. Trendy, urban things tend towards heavy on top. this is a whole branch of study...
V: Variety. This is making it interesting. this is the bling, the ribbon, the pop-dots. This is what makes you want to keep looking. You will tread the fine line between variety and balance. The GOOD cardmakers have practiced enough that they can instinctively know what the balance is.
Beginners should err on the side of plain. A simple card always looks classy. Too many patterned cardstocks without understanding how they balance each other will just look tacky and busy. You can always dress up a plain card, but it's harder to mute out a bad one. For a rule of thumb, use only 3 elements- or elements in odd numbers. 3, 5, 7. But make only 3 elements important. Repeating elements, like 3 circles in a row, become one visual element because your eye groups them together. (I tend to have plain cards because clashing patterns and too much bling bug me- just like using too many different typefaces on one page of design).
As you can see, there is a lot to study. You can learn it on your own, you don't need a design degree, but the first step is recognizing what the parts are that add up to a good design. I hope this helps. Have a great week!