Principles of Design – Part III: Emphasis

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Happy Saturday everyone!

Ready for another design lesson? Since learning about Balance and Rhythm, how are your projects feeling? As you create a scrapbook page do you find yourself looking at how you can ensure that the eye is carried in a logical manner from one element to the next? Perhaps it’s something you have always known how to do. That’s great! Even though these concepts may seem innate to you, knowing the terminology can still help to recreate a successful layout, and teach others how to do it with their own pages.

Now that we know how to direct our viewers eye around our page so they don’t miss anything, let’s talk about how we can force that viewer to pause on one (or more) element so they can take a bit more time to appreciate all the details within it.

Principle #3 – Emphasis

Emphasis is all about accenting certain elements of your design more than others. This creates a relationship of dominance and subordination. It gives variety and character by creating focal points. In interiors this interest is achieved by the use of different forms, colours, lines, and textures – think of a living room that is painted a neutral colour except for one wall which is a vibrant red. Your eyes immediately go to that red to see what’s so special about it. Perhaps that’s the wall with the fireplace, or a fantastic painting, or even the windows with the amazing view. The designer and home owner want to draw attention to that particular fantastic feature or favourite art piece so they emphasize the area in question.

How does this translate to the scrapbook page? And why is it important to have a focal point? You are probably already creating emphasis on your pages without even realizing it (or completely on purpose depending on how long you’ve been scrapbooking!) We use our photos, our paper choices, our colour schemes, and our embellishments all the time to highlight elements.

Let’s take a look at some ways to do this, and why it’s important by looking at examples from my own body of work. I’ll also give you eight tricks to help you easily create emphasis on your own pages.

Pick your focal point

To explain HOW to create emphasis by choosing a focal point, it’s best to start at the beginning. What is the story you  are trying to tell? What is the reason for telling the story? How is that best told on your page? Whatever that is, that will be your focal point. By that I mean, is it your photos that are going to tell the story the best, or is it story behind the photos that is more important.

When we sit down to create a page, we have to decide how things rank. Which is the most important, which is of secondary importance, and what are the supporting details? If your photos tell the story so completely that you hardly need to journal more than a who, what, when, where type thing, then you will create your page to make those photos be the first thing someone sees when they look at your layout. Once they’ve examined the photos at length, then they will move on to the title, journaling and finally the embellishments.

First let’s look at some examples where the photos are the most important and how I made them the focal point.

#1 – Make it large

LOAD213-6 Surprise! by Alison Day Designs

The thing I wanted my viewers to see first on this layout was the photo of me with my massively pregnant belly. So I made sure that photo was the biggest. This is an easy way to direct the eye where you want it to go. I also made sure the photo was further emphasized by framing it top and bottom in bright colours. The background papers are fairly muted so that hot pink title above, and the pink word phrase sticker below the photo stand out. Standing out is good! That’s how you create emphasis.

LOAD214-1 Just One Please

Here’s another example of having the focal photo larger than the supporting photos. The smaller ones are needed to tell the whole story of trying to get one nice photo of my daughters in their matching sweaters, but they’re not the main focus of the layout. Matting the large photo and then framing it with the title, word stickers, washi tape, and other embellishments helps keep your eyes on the photo.

#2 – Make it the only one

26 and Holding by Alison Day Designs

Having only one photo on the page may be considered cheating a bit. Or not. Your call!

This is also a large photo so even though there is quite of bit of potentially distracting detail going on elsewhere, your eyes are still drawn to the photo first. I’ve also matted this with a double mat. Another excellent way to create emphasis!

Just Me @ 40 by Alison Day

This time I’ve used a smaller than normal photo (I think this is a 3.5×5″ or maybe even a 3×4″ photo) but I’ve layered the heck out of it! Yes, that is totally a technical term! There’s really no need for journaling, the title is small too – tiny tile letter stickers on the photo itself. Everything is designed to draw your eye to the photo and keep it there. This is a fantastic way to use up leftover scraps or an entire die cut pack!

#3 – Make it black and white

Beautiful 12

Ironically, because there is so much colour going on on this page, your eye is drawn to the one item devoid of colour. The photo!

This method also works really well for a row of identical or similar photos. Turn one black and white and it instantly becomes the focus. I couldn’t find an exact example of this but I did find a double page spread where your eye is drawn to the lone black and white photo.

All My Girls by Alison Day Designs

This layout was made for a contest called the Supreme Scrap Challenge where the specific challenge here was to use only one colour. An extreme monochromatic challenge if you will! Even in all the grey that is on this layout, your eyes still go right to the middle, black and white, photogrpah.

#4 – Embellish around it

Puerto Vallarta by Alison Day Designs

One tried and true way to keep the focus on your photos is to place your embellishments around them. We will talk about creating a Visual Triangle in just a bit. I’ve created one on this layout with the three circular embellishments. They contain your focus to whatever is inside them – in this case, the photos.

But what if we want to highlight the journaling? Let’s look at examples of how I have done that in the past.

So This is What Life with No kids Looks Like by Alison Day Designs

The three dark blue butterflies are the main attention getters on this layout. They are arranged in what we call a visual triangle around the page. Your eyes will naturally go to whatever is inside that triangle – in this case that’s the journaling first and the photos second. Since the photos are only there to support the story/journaling, the butterflies are arranged perfectly.

If I’d wanted to pull your eye to the photos I would have put the butterflies in different spots. Let me demonstrate …

Design Principles post on Ephasis -visual triangle around journaling Design Principles post on Ephasis -visual triangle around photos

The image on the left is my layout converted to a sketch. I’ve highlighted the butterflies and then drawn on the visual triangle that they create so you can more easily picture it. Yes, it includes that centre photo but since the top butterfly is well over to the left, it initially draws your eye to the journaling beneath it. Then your eyes move over the photo block to the title and back across the photos to that lower butterfly.

The image on the right is how I would place the butterfly embellishments if I wanted to make the photos the focus. Since the butterflies are such a different colour from the rest of the layout, they stand out and placing them around the photo block like this ensures that your eyes will stay in that area until they have taken in all the details of the photo and title. Only after that will they move over to the journaling to read it. Since this is a story focused layout, this placement would not be ideal.

#5 – Include your title in the journaling

Birthday Paddle by Alison Day Designs

Another way to make sure your journaling gets read is by incorporating the title into it. Sometimes you can arrange it so your written words flow from the title but for a different twist, pick out words within your story to highlight and turn into the title. By picking out the words ‘birthday’ and ‘paddle’ in tiled letter stickers, I am confident that my viewer will take the time to read all the words I’ve written. Otherwise, the title probably won’t make sense.

#6 – Write Loads!

Too Close by Alison Day

At first glance this layout may appear to be about my daughter swimming in the pool. Totally innocent. Summer fun. What’s the big deal? But if you look closer, you may wonder why I chose to use a grey background, and why I had so much to say! I have again used a visual triangle (with the pink washi tape) to bring the journaling into focus. Because, as much as I want you to look at the photos, in order to understand the significance of them, you need to read the story. This is about a very scary moment when we almost lost our youngest. Happy fun water play turned dangerous in the blink of an eye.

In truth, this layout has two areas of focus. The large (and matted) photo of my daughter, and the journaling. Both are important in telling the story and your eyes will naturally go back and forth between them.

#7 – Cut it up

What We Want You To Learn by Alison Day Designs

Use your paper to tell your story. In this case I cut out all sorts of sports related words and phrases to get my point across. Since they are all black, white and cream, having a hot pink background helps to bring the focus to the words. I have a ton of soccer (and field hockey) photos so finding new ways to scrap them is something I am always looking for. For this, it’s about the benefits of being on a team and being active, rather than who scored what goal etc, etc, etc.

#8 – Force the issue

Goofy Faces by Alison Day Designs

Force your viewer to go where you want them to go. Here I’ve created a corner centred sunburst and placed my photo near enough to the apex of all those rays that your eyes don’t question the idea of looking at it. For further emphasis I’ve used a ton of arrows that point at the photo. Everything says “look at the photo!”

No Sun Beach Fun by Alison Day Designs

A bit more subtle than sunbursts and arrows perhaps, but no less effective. Placing one photo on an angle, on top of a circular mat of a completely different colour, and surrounded by buttons, means that your eyes go right to that photo first.

I hope these eight tricks help you understand how to create emphasis on your layouts. There are more ways to draw focus to one element over another than I can possibly detail in one post! For now, let’s recap what we’ve learned.

To Recap:

Emphasis is a way of giving dominance to one element of a design over another. We can achieve this in our scrapbook layouts by first identifying what the layout is about and how we are telling that particular story. Some ways of doing this are:

Use a large photo – having one of the photos on the page larger than the other makes it the natural point of focus.

Use a single photo – any size photo works for this as it becomes the only thing on the page to focus on.

Use a black and white photo – either on it’s own in a sea of colour, or high light one photo in black and white. Either way works to create emphasis.

Use your embellishments – we talked about how created a visual triangle with your embellishments and then putting your most important details within that triangle help keep the focus on them. This works for your photos or your journaling. Or both!

Include your title IN your journaling – something fun to try as it forces the viewer to read all your words to make sense of the title placement.

Include a lot of journaling – for a longer story, this is great. Not every page in your albums will need so much explanation so the odd page with a lot to read won’t tire your viewers at all.

Use word strips – cutting up a piece of patterned paper full of word strips and shapes is a fun way to tell your story.

Force the issue – sometimes you’ve just got to get blatant! Subtle is great but every now and then you want to make it loud and clear where the focus is. Use your papers, colours and embellishments to do this in a fun way.

Where do you go from here? As you create layouts this week, decide beforehand what the main focus is and then choose one of the eight tricks I’ve shared to emphasize it. Practice creating visual triangles with your embellishments. Move them around and see how it affects the focus of the page. Review the posts on Balance and Rhythm again to see if your new ways of finding focus works with those principles too.

Next week we will talk about Proportion and how we can use relative scale of items to further create emphasis. If you are interested in learning more about our topic today, check out this article from the Daily Digi or this other article from the same author. Debbie Hodge definitely knows her stuff! While I haven’t covered everything today about emphasis that she does in these two articles, I will be covering more in future posts. Consider it “reading ahead”! Until our next lesson…

Have a great weekend everyone!




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