Until a few years ago design was taught with only pencil, paper, and a little color as the necessary materials. At the present time we use clay, leather, wood, reed, raffia, and textile materials, iron, copper, brass, and silver, and all the tools necessary to the proper working of the materials. Until recently a design was called good if it looked pretty on the paper or if it were well drawn, and the question of the use and of the construction seldom entered into the consideration of the problem. Nowadays, while good drawing is a requisite, the standards by which a design is judged are: First, is it suited for the use and purpose for which it is designed? . Second, can it be made in the manner designed, and of the material indicated in the design ? Third, is the indicated construction sound, and will the article be durable if constructed in this manner? Fourth, is it a suitable article for decoration? Fifth, is the decoration based on the structural elements of the design? Sixth, has the decoration been conventionalized to conform to the limitations and requirements of the tools and processes ?
It is not to be expected that grammar or high school students will all make excellent designs, even with the best of teaching. Even the very best professional designers make dozens of designs before they get one that will fulfill all of the requirements and limitations. All designers, whether amateur or professional, have a definite problem with certain limitations and requirements, and it is the business of the manual arts teacher to give to the student a definite statement of the problem, and to have the student work it out under instruction, taking into consideration the requirements of use and sound construction, the limitations of material, the time involved in the making, and the skill and ability of the student who is to carry the design to its completion. Design is a subject that has its fundamental principles, its rules, and formulas, and it must be taught as such, and not in a hazy or indefinite way. The problem should be presented to the student as definitely as a problem in mathematics and when a student is asked why a certain design is good or bad, he should be able to answer, because it violates or conforms to this or that rule.
Metalwork in copper, brass, or silver is a subject that is coming rapidly to the front in the manual arts and it is inseparable from design, in it we have means of expression for the art of design that is almost perfect, lending itself readily to constructive design, to line, and form, as in bowls, vases, etc., and to the use of characteristic forms of construction as a means of decoration, as in lanterns, candlesticks, and electroliers, or in similar problems where rivets or lapping is used as a means of construction. It lends itself also to the study of spacing and proportion, as in the side of a lantern, or the parts of a candlestick, or the border of a plate; to surface decoration in etching, sawpiercing, hammering, chasing, enameling; and to coloring by means of heat or chemicals. Metal-work has a decided advantage in the fact that there is no danger of breakage, and in the'ability of the metal to stand a repetition of nearly all the processes over and over again until it is right. Even when an article is finished we can go back and repeat the processes and change it entirely from what it was in the first place. Other advantages are the low cost of the necessary supplies, the simple and inexpensive equipment, the fact that elementary work may be done without benches, and that it can be done with equal facility by both sexes.
The first problem suggested is that of a watch-fob or bag-tag made of copper or brass, and the first instruction in the designing of this problem, as with all of the other problems, should be in explaining and illustrating the constructive and utilitarian requirements. This may be done by holding up a small piece of copper and a strip of leather, and leading the class to see that a hole in the copper for the leather to pass thru and fasten to is necessary before it can be even the simplest kind of a watch-fob, - bringing out the rule that construction must be thought of first. Next is the size of the fob. Some pieces of cardboard cut in squares cr rectangles, some too large and some too small, and some about the right size for a watch-fob, should be shown to the class. The students should be led to see that the fob must not be too large or too small, but that it must be of a practical size. After we have decided on the size, then we have to design the outline or shape. Starting from the square or the rectangle, show how the shape may be varied and made more interesting by cutting or rounding off the corners. Then cut off the bottom corners more than the top corners developing into the triangular shape; then round off the corners and show slight curves instead of straight lines. During all of these trials keep before the class the importance of the strap hole.
After we have determined the outline we have arrived at the stage where the decorative design must be considered. The process of etching it on the fob places a limitation on us, in that we must . leave the metal full thickness around the edge and around the strap hole to avoid making the fob weak. This brings out another rule, that the decoration must be subordinate to the strength and utility of the article decorated. Then come three rules together: first, that we should have a center of interest or point of attraction for the eyes and attention to rest upon; second, that the design must support or follow the shape; third, that the various parts of the design should harmonize and hold together and not look as tho they had been sprinkled on. A small square mirror is of great help at the stage. It is made use of by folding the drawing paper to make a crease, then opening it out and again and drawing one-half of the design on one side of the line and placing the mirror on the center crease. The complete design will be seen reflected in the mirror, by slightly moving the mirror one way or the other the design can be varied. This brings into use an important principle of design, that of symmetry or like-sidedness, where there is perfect balance on each side of the central line. This principle may be illustrated to the class by drawing meaningless lines or letters and figures and placing the mirror on them. Suggestions for designs will be shown that will interest and often help the students.