Squares and Circles

Back in March I took a workshop involving collage and squares and circles at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center (on Zoom).

Our instructor, Lorrie Grainger Abdo, led us through the concept of making art with restrictions – of shape, of color, of format. And how freeing it can be to work within parameters. Your decisions are limited and therefore your mind is cleared of extraneous concerns.

All you are doing is working with circles, squares, paper, and color. But there is an infinite range of possibilities within that structure.

We then worked on our own first version of creating within these parameters. The idea was to set out the squares in a grid pattern and then add circles, however we liked and as many as we wanted.

I made two images. Here they are. One is in one of my ongoing large sketchbooks and the other is in a small one.

I used magazine papers, dictionary pages, and papers painted by me sometime in the past for another project.

Doing this kind of composition is like playing a game. There is the initial phase of squares only, and they make a unified whole. Then you add a layer of circles. That changes the balance and feel of the piece. Then you do it again. More shifts in focus, color, and the directions your eye goes as it looks at the page.

I find this process fascinating. I will be doing it again.

One thing our instructor suggested was that if we were needing more info to help us work our way through the composition, then to turn it black and white, and see what that told us. I tried it:

It gives me a whole new set of ideas to look at this version, and I like the mystery of the monochromatic arrangement. Without color, I focus on the shapes and the designs much more, as well as the lines. There is a sublety to these that I really like.

Well, as I said, I will be doing more with this idea!

16 thoughts on “Squares and Circles

  1. memadtwo

    That was the first lesson they taught us in design school–that restrictions free your creativity.
    I like this exercise and may try it myself. I enjoy both grids and circles. (K)

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      The strange thing is that in an earlier sketchbook (I think the one I am currently posting) about 2 years ago I did a very similar thing in paint, and had forgotten all about it. I was shocked to see how similar the work I did in paint and collage was. (Also shocked that I forgot about the first one…) Anyway, though, what it told me is that I must really like this particular combination of shapes which I had not thought about. And oncourse the appeal of the grid layout. I’m sort of relating this to some knitting I am currently doing. It is thought provoking how the same visual themes recur in my mind and yet I never find them tiresome or repetitive.

      1. memadtwo

        I don’t think it’s really surprising that we revisit the same themes.. And I’m always finding things I’ve done that not only don’t I remember, but I’m sure I could never do them again. Creation is a mystery.

        1. Claudia McGill Post author

          Yes. You are right about creativity and the mystery of it – I am still wondering what it means that I made the two very similar artworks two years or so apart. Did I not progress in any way? Or is the theme of it something I had not finished with in the first piece and I needed the second one for that? Or, will there be another one? I am interested to think about this.

  2. Laura (PA Pict)

    I very much like the pieces you created. They are full of visual interest while also being calming to look at because of that uniformity of shape and form. That course sounds appealing. I like to work within set parameters as, just as you identify, it aids focus. Taking black and white photos is definitely useful for observing our use of tonal range but I also think your art works look great in monochrome.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. I was surprised to realize after this class that a page of the sketchbook I am currently revealing has a painted page very similar to this (which I had totally not remembered doing, which is also kind of scary in itself, but anyway). There is something so soothing to me about repeating shapes and making patterns like this, freed from the idea of having to make an art “image” or “scene”, just endless variations of similar shapes and colors. I could do this kind of thing all day.

  3. mim4mail

    Wonderful! Yes, in art foundation, I used circles and squares to teach basics. And I started two groups on IUOMA (the mail artists group) one for circles and one for Suarez. It’s been great fun to see the postings.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      I love the repeating nature of doing something like this image (I have one similar I did in paint some years back that I did not think of until after this class and I saw it in its sketchbook). There is infinity in such simplicity as these shapes, I think.

  4. Robin King

    Fascinating! And fun to explore. They look really good here but I’ll bet they’re TERRIFIC in person. πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Yes. I like to work with geometric shapes if I look back over my work, abstract or more representational, and this particular technique was so relaxing to work with.

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