Form: Where Line, Shape, and Space Converge

I probably should have put a warning notice upfront before I began this series of posts on the elements and principles of design. Although I’m going to discuss each of these separately, it’s really impossible to separate them. While I danced around this in my posts on shape, I can’t tap dance fast enough to get around it here, when we begin to look at form. Because this is where the language gets muddy. Stick with me and see.

All jewelry is form. Just as, in design, the word “shape” describes the occupation of space in two dimensions, “form” describes how solid objects occupy space three-dimensionally. Shapes have length and width and are surrounded by line and edge. Forms have height, width, length and are surrounded by space. They have volume (or mass), weight, and density. Forms are solid, or at least appear to be. Where shapes are defined by edges, forms are defined by surfaces. Those surfaces can be smooth, creating a sharp delineation between the form and the surrounding space. Think of any highly polished metal surface. Or, the surfaces can be more ambiguous, lumpy, spidery, depressed, raising questions about what is outside and what is inside, what is space, what is form.

The terms “form” and “shape” are often used interchangeably, and, in jewelry design, with reason. After all, “shapes” in metal or wax or plastic or stone actually have depth (height?) as well as length and width. It gets even more confusing when we use the term “line” when talking about form, such as the “lines” of a boat, car, or human body. What we are actually describing is the form’s contours–the line a hand would follow while stroking a fender, for example.

We’ll talk about many of the different aspects of form in upcoming posts. But the most important thing to remember about form is that its appearance changes constantly depending on the direction from which you view it. If you walk around a sculpture, you see the changing interplay of planes, space, edges. The same is true of jewelry. However, things are more complex with jewelry. While people can move around jewelry when it is stationary–on a table or on a wearer, more often than not, the wearer and the jewelry are in motion. Necklaces and pendants shift. Hands wearing rings gesture. Bracelets slide and roll on the arm. Brooches are seen from the side, front, or even from the top, from the wearer’s viewpoint (or from the bottom if you’re a three-year-old.) The complexity of the viewer’s experience of the form is increased if there are openings, depressions, or elevations contained in the form: The shapes and dimensions of those openings and elevations will appear to shift as the viewer’s position shifts with regard to the jewelry. This visual complexity increases if the jewelry maker add kinetic elements to the jewelry—parts that swing, roll, turn, sway or rattle as the wearer moves.

The three-dimensional nature of forms increases a jewelry maker’s design opportunities exponentially. Each new view can reveal something slightly or wildly different from the previous view. Jewelry makers exploit this by putting hidden messages or images inside or on the backs of rings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces. Because jewelry forms can surround the body, makers can hide and reveal different aspects of the jewelry piece as different sides of the body come into view.

Are you excited? You should be. Form is fun.

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