Developing Effective Motifs  


Sometimes when you are creating a symmetrical design it helps to reverse the Interest Level formula to compute the number of items to include in your motif: M=Iysn. If you start with specific symmetrical operations for the design and the motif and then multiply by the number of repeats, the range of interestingly patterned values for I (2.5 to 4) will produce a range of motif-item values. For example, take this typical architectural design, which might be a reflection with the motif repeated twice:

House Outline

The formula gives M = (2.5 to 4)(1)(2.5)(2), so for an interesting pattern we want M to fall between 12.5 and 20:

Symmetric House

Here's another example; you are designing an art nouveau window with rotation symmetry, where each motif has reflection symmetry. For our example lets choose four repeats of the motif:

Window Outline

The formula gives M = (2.5 to 4)(2.5)(1)(4), so we want M to fall between 25 and 40:

Symmetric Window

Let's say that you are designing a six by eight foot quilt with one-foot square blocks. It might be difficult to provide sufficient individual detail on each block to make an interesting pattern if you are going to multiply by 48 (the number of blocks). So perhaps you combine blocks together into a motif -- say you will create three repeats of the motif, each motif comprised of a rectangle of two by eight blocks:

Quilt Outline

To keep the detail simple, lets further use a pattern such as a glide rotation. This means M = (2.5 to 4)(1)(1)(3), so we want M to fall between 7.5 and 12. Well, with 16 blocks now in each motif, this might be difficult to accomplish. So let's revise our plan to use a reflection pattern, which means M = (2.5 to 4)(1)(2.5)(3); we want M to fall between 18.75 and 30:

Symmetric Quilt

One last example... you are designing a three-and-a-half foot wide two-tone brick walkway that leads up to a house. Now in this example, although the walkway might be thirty feet long, due to visual angle constraints the visitor may only view ten feet of the walkway at a glance. Paving bricks are about 4x8 inches each, so in the visual field of view you might have something like:

Walkway Outline

With this quantity of small units (around 150 bricks), the challenge is to use a symmetry that prompts for a high number of elements in each motif. Let's try a translation symmetry repeated twice in the field of view. So we have M = (2.5 to 4)(1)(5)(2); we want M to fall between 25 and 40. Well this won't work, since splitting the visual field in two produces 75 bricks in each motif. Let's try three repeats of the motif instead, with M = (2.5 to 4)(1)(5)(3), or between 37.5 and 60. This works, since one third of the field of view would then contain 50 bricks:

Symmetric Walkway

These are several examples of how to apply the symmetry Interest Level formula to your design tasks, but clearly the possibilities and combinations are endless. Again, use this theory as a starting point and adjust it according to your own tastes and aesthetics.


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