Picture This — Perception and Composition

by Molly Bang
Bulfinch Press, Little, Brown and Company, 1991
Paperback, 141 pages
Reviewed by beve handwerger
Originally Published Summer 2000

The title informs the reader that this book is about design and the cover invites you in, but you cannot even begin to imagine the wonderful world that opens up. Once you enter its pages you do not want it to end.

This book is about discovery – of design, design principles, color, experimenting – and delighting in a subject that comes alive; becomes understandable; and that anyone, young or old, can relate to. The author has definitely fulfilled her purpose.

The “Forward” was written by Rudolf Amheim and begins by saying “I confess I have never quite understood the distinction between grown-ups and children. It has been rightly said that in every true grown-up a child is hidden,” and goes on to say “it is an eye-opener for adults, not only a unique gift for children.”

The “Preface” was written by the author, who began her career as an illustrator of children’s books, went on to study the psychology of art and took painting classes. She “began to teach” this book as a course first to eighth and ninth graders, and more and more to adults.

There is no index and the table of contents is quite small and simple, but to the point. You know where the book is going. The paper, type and general layout are excellent.

Ms. Bang writes and illustrates in a manner that is acceptable to both children and adults. The first section of the book deals with “Building a Picture”: and she uses the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” to teach the concepts of design by using simple illustrations of colored shapes (for example, little red riding hood is represented as a red triangle) and text that guides the reader logically through the design of the story. She uses psychology to make the reader understand emotions related to shapes, their size, color, placement, and direction. It is very skillfully done.

The second section deals with the principles of design, which are discussed in terms of their psychological effects. For example, smooth, f;at shapes impart stability and calm.

The last section is a series of exercises combining psychology and action, using simple paper cutouts to interpret feelings, situations, poems, and folk tales. These exercises are similar to ones used by Wilke Smith and Barbara Lee Smith.

I cannot remember being so delighted with a book of this type. Most books on design are textbooks, intended more for the classroom, and even though they teach in a very straight forward way, they are not enjoyable. This book teaches, but gives an immense amount of pleasure. It is also easy to understand by teacher and student alike. If I were to teach design and color as a class, I would seriously consider making the reading of this book a pre-requisite for the course. It is that good! This should not be the only resource used for design, by any means; but it should definitely be very high on one’s list.