Understanding Design, Composition, and Color


Students will come to an understanding of design elements, the principles of composition, and the effects of color and texture in scenic design. Students will present a picture, object, etc. that portrays the essence of their conceptual design statement.


Materials Needed

Four or five stylized paintings, four visuals of different set designs


Related Documents


Lesson Directions

Anticipatory Set/Hook

As class begins, turn out the lights and ask students to describe the mood and feeling of the atmosphere they are in. Then turn on a small lamp in the classroom or a computer monitor or an overhead – just something that gives off a small amount of light. Again, ask students to describe the aesthetic of the atmosphere. Finally, turn on all the lights and ask students to describe the way each differently lit atmosphere affected the mood and tone present.



Step 1: Transition – Discuss with the class the different types of elements that contributed to each different aesthetic. Write those elements on the board. Ask students to define each element as well.


Style – A manner of producing a play in which all production elements (costumes, scenery, lights, acting) adhere to a common set of artistic/philosophical characteristics
Line – A mark that connects two points defined by dimension, quality and character
Shape – Any line that encloses a space creates a shape
Mass – Three-dimensional manifestation of shape
Measure – Ability to judge the size of objects and relative distance between them without the aid of measuring devices
Position – Distance between objects and their placement relative to forms around them
Color – Generates psychological and cultural reactions
Texture – Visual or tactile surface characteristics or appearance of an object


Step 2: Instruction – Explain that drawings created by designers need to be guided by these elements of design and that in the end, their creations utilizing skillful knowledge of these elements, will imply specific meanings to an audience viewing the show. Explain that in order to create this type of meaningful work, students need not only to understand the individual elements of design, but how they can be coordinated with each other to create that cohesive design.


Guided Practice – Put students in small groups and give each group a stylized painting to look at. Ask students to describe the style of the painting as well as how each element of design contributes to their understanding of that style.


Check for Understanding – Have students share their conclusions with the class.


Step 3: Instruction – Explain that all of the conclusions drawn about the paintings had to do with the principles of composition that help to create meaning through coordinating the elements of design. List the principles of composition on the board:


Unity – The creation of a stylistic plan to which all parts of the design subscribe – that plan being the design concept covered a day previously
Harmony – The sense of blending and unity that is obtained when all elements of a design fit together to create an orderly, congruous whole
Contrast – The juxtaposition of dissimilar design elements
Variation – Providing visual interest through variation of the monotonous elements
Balance – The arrangement of design elements to give a sense of restfulness, stability, or equilibrium to the design
Proportion – The harmonious relationship of the parts of an object to each other or to the whole
Emphasis – Directing the audiences attention to a specific place of the set
Modeling – Choose one of the paintings to display in front of the class. As you point out examples of each principle of composition, have the students say which principle it is.


Step 4: Checking for Understanding – As time allows, show some of the set designs and have students discuss what compositional elements create the mood and meaning of each scenic design.



Students will orally decipher how compositional and design elements are used in the set designs displayed and what overall effect they have on the perceived understanding of the themes of the production. Also, have students turn in their design concept statement and object.