Visual Language Tutorial

Transcript from the ‘Visual Language and Grammar: Dots and Lines’ movie
This tutorial is about visual language and grammar. Language is a method of human communication. I’m using the spoken word to communicate with you. Visual communication is also reliant on a language. A visual language. The components of visual language are things like shapes and colour. Visual grammar is the system that governs visual language. If you wanted to show visual density by clustering dots together. The dots would be the components of the visual language but the notion of expressing density through clustering would be the visual grammar. In Part 1 we will be looking at the dot and the line.

All the exercises I will be demonstrating will be on a square measuring 150mm. To help structure the elements (dots and lines) I’ll be using, I’ve divided the square up into a grid of 5mm units both horizontally and vertically.

Red Dot and Grey Line Exercise
So let’s have our first red dot. And a vertical grey line please. Thank you. Our two components of visual language (the dot and the line) seem to have had a fight and are isolated from one another. The line clings to the left edge and the dot to the right. This sense of the line clinging to the edge is known as visual tension. It’s as if the edge acts as a strong magnet. Ok guys time to make friends. Note how the space either side of the grey line changes. The proportion of white decreases on the right as the left increases. The red dot now looks trapped. The red dot leaps over the grey line and makes their escape.

Abstract to Representational: The Sun in the Sky
In this composition, the dot looks like the sun rising in the east. The grey line acts as the horizon. Now it is mid-day and the sun is high in the sky. Time for a cool beer as it sets in the west.

Abstract to Representational: An Eye
Placing the line above the dot makes this look like an eye. Raising the line causes an expression of suprise.

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Chuck Jones
For this composition I’ve added a few lines of type next to the right edge. The type clings to the right edge causing visual tension. Type set in sentences also look like black bars of different lengths. The type adds content and meaning but also form to the composition. There is visual tension between the dot and the line and separation from the type. This gives a sense of rhythm, balance and dynamism between the elements. The white space also contributes. Considering the dot and the white space you become aware of the centrality of the dot. The mood of the composition can be altered through choice of colour.

The Cholera Map by Dr John Snow
On screen you see what appears to be dots scattered randomly. Some areas have dense clusters, other areas the dots are more spaced out. In Gestalt theory this is known as the principle of proximity. Those dots closer together belong to each other. Some larger dots are sprinkled in. This gives the composition a sense of depth and scale. The grey background circle acts as a focus – like looking down a microscope. The notion of a circle has strong psychological resonance with us. The sun, moon and earth are spherical and are intrinsic to our lives. Are we looking at micro organisms on screen on a petri dish or a galaxy in the sky? If we now add in some lines the composition becomes a little more familiar. The lines give structure to the dots. We begin to understand the distribution of the dots but not the reason for the different densities. By adding type the image is confirmed as a stylised map. The time is Victorian Britain, 1854 to be precise. The place Soho. The larger dots represent the location of water pumps. The small dots signify individual death of people. Hundreds died over a two week period and nobody new why. Dr John Snow plotted the deaths on a map and noticed a particular clustering around the pump at Broad Street. He alerted the authorities and suggested that the deaths may be due to contaminated water. The pump was closed and the deaths declined. A few years later the new medical term cholera emerged as the name for the cause of death. The street has subsequently been renamed Broadwick Street and today the Dr John Snow pub commemorates his decisive act and provides hospitality for the weary traveller.

Keep Left!
This final example of applied visual language and grammar begins with a blue dot or circle. An inner white circle is added. Lets add a few lines. A chevron is created – the beginning of an arrow.

I hope you have enjoyed this presentation. Your mission if you choose to accept it is investigate and apply some of the ideas contained in this video. Consider how you can create visual language and grammar compositions with dots or circles in two dimensions, in three dimensional space or in moving image. Using the green canvas of your lawn you could take different types of balls such as ping pong balls, tennis balls and footballs to make a composition exploring the principle of proximity.

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