TO get a harmonious design we must study and consider well of what qualities such a design should be built up. The subordination of one form to another in some way is essential ; there must be some leading lines and forms, that, from their central position or broader massing, attract the eye more than others. In the sprig (Fig. 23), which composes the powdered pattern indicated in Fig 24, the flower is the central point of attraction, the leaves and stems being subordinate to it. The forms of which a design is made should fall into their places naturally and without effort. On looking at some unskilful decorative work, every line seems to clash with another, the design being restless, and 'all on end,' lacking that breadth and repose which characterises good work. The danger of insipidity and dulness that a 'quiet' design may fall into must be avoided by contrast, the subordination of one part to another, spoken of above. Such contrast may be obtained in various ways ; for instance, by opposing delicate tracery or smaller forms to the principal masses of striking or broad forms, such opposition presenting a rich and pleasing variety to the eye. This contrast implies a certain complexity of design, which is not always necessary or suitable, but it certainly greatly enhances the richness of the intended decoration.
After thinking over this point, and writing thus far, I turned to Ruskin's 'Elements of Drawing' to see what his word to the beginner is on the subject of Composition and Design. I find here said so exactly what is wanted on many points, that I hope those who wish to pursue the subject will look up this volume, which contains much food for thought throughout its pages. Many of the observations apply as much to the decorative as to the higher pictorial arts, and I am tempted to quote the master's words on the 'Law of Contrast,' which, giving as they do the true ethical meaning of this law in a few clear and simple words, should be helpful to you. He says: 'Of course the character of everything is best manifested by Contrast. Rest can only be enjoyed after labour ; sound, to be heard clearly, must rise out of silence; light is exhibited by darkness, darkness by light; and so on in all things. Now in art every colour has an opponent colour, which, if brought near it, will relieve it more completely than any other ; so, also, every form and line may be made more striking to the eye by an opponent form or line near them ; a curved line is set off by a straight one, a massive form by a slight one, and so on ; and in all good work nearly double the value, which any given colour or form would have uncombined, is given to each by contrast' The next paragraph contains a warning against vulgar exaggeration in the use of this artifice.
The value of repetition in decoration on large surfaces will easily be seen, but it is further needed in the different parts of the design itself, as, for instance, the repetition of petal against petal, leaf beside leaf. Symmetry goes hand in hand with this, leaf balancing leaf on the opposite sides of the stem. There is also that more subtle repetition found in elaborate design, of one form 'echoing' another, without exactly repeating it. This, however, will be better understood after studying good ornamental work closely, and carefully considering its composition.
A glance at the diagram (Fig. 24) will give some idea of the nature of these laws of repetition, balance, and so forth, that govern design. The diagram represents the simplest possible expression of a 'powdered pattern,' that is, of a design dotted or powdered over the surface at regular intervals. In the little sprigs we have repetition, and in so far as they alternate in position in alternate rows we have symmetry, and symmetry and balance also in the individual sprig, the leaves of which lie opposed each side of the stem ; in the rosettes or groups of dots between the sprigs, as well as in the construction of the sprigs themselves, we have contrast or subordination.
I have sufficiently enlarged elsewhere on Convention and Realism, or truth to nature ; I will therefore only again remind you, and very earnestly, not to note carelessly one-half of my observations on this important point without due consideration of the other half, the one assertion being incomplete without the other. Man's instinct is creative as much as imitative, and the very convention he adopts, determined by his own personality, is nothing but a re-presentation based on observation of and fidelity to nature.