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Exercise w/ guidelines, on how to describe artworks

Which are the basic questions to well describe an artwork? There are guidelines that can help you fully describe, an artwork you saw for the first time?

Using this exercise here, you can analyze almost any kind of artwork, from basic to a full description.

Thank me later.

What is it? Is it a painting, design, a sculpture or something else? is it more than one thing? What is the function of the item? How is it been made? What has it been made from?

Use the following formal elements to describe it:
Line -are the lines in the piece straight or curved?
Value -How much contrast is there between light and dark?
Shape -Is it organic or geometric?
Form -Is is three-dimensional?
Space - How much space does it occupy?
Colour - Is the colour tonal or contrasting?
Texture - What texture does it have?

Pattern - Are elements within the piece repeated in any way?

How have the above elements been used to suggests the following principles in the work?

  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Movements
  • Emphasis
  • Composition
  • Proportions
  • Scale
  • Perspective

Who is the artist/designer/maker? Is it like their other work? Was the artist/designer famous when s/he executed it?

Where, when and why was it made?
What was going on in that country at that time?
What are the social/economic influences?
Who paid for/commissioned / will buy the work?
Where is it now? How did it get there?
Do you appreciate what the artist/designer/maker has tried to do? Do you like or dislike the item? Why? What does it make you feel?
What could it link to? Does/could the work influence your practice? How?


To exercise this Half term, Jo & Caroline give us some examples of artworks to describe, using this long guideline list, here are the artworks:

Costume worn
by Sir Alec Guiness
as Obi-wan Kenobi in 'Star Wars' 1977

Kimono, 1937, Japan. Museum no. FE.2-2005. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Kimono, 1937, Japan. Museum no. FE.2-2005.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London 


Milligan Beaumont, CSM

Milligan Beaumont, CSM


"Please do not use smartphones while walking", July 2017. Offset printed on paper Yumiko Yokoyama (art director) & takahiro Kadowaki (Illustrator) for the Seibu Railway, Dentsu Inc. Tokio

"Please do not use smartphones
while walking", July 2017.
Offset printed on paper
Yumiko Yokoyama
(art director)
& Takahiro Kadowaki
(Illustrator) for the Seibu Railway,
Dentsu Inc. Tokio
Bjork wearing Alexander
McQueen on
"Homogenic" album cover
Kim Kardashian-West 'SKIMS' shapewear
For the exercise I have chosen the artwork for the Seibu Railway, by Yumiko Yokoyama & Takahiro Kadowaki:
"Please do not use smartphones while walking"
Now replying in my mind the questions of the guideline, I will try my best to fully describe the artwork above. (I will use the ones that I can apply for the artwork on focus)
"Please do not use smartphones while walking"
It's an artwork Offset printed on paper, part of series of posters for the
Seibu Railway, by the company Dentsu Inc. Tokio.
Made by the art director Yumiko Yokoyama and the illustrator Takahiro Kadowaki, with the function of sending a humoristic message, about how to be a well-behaved commuter on a train.
‘Please do not rush onto trains’, March 2017.
‘Please do not use smartphones while walking’, July 2017.
‘Please consider others when moving bulky luggage’, October 2017.
When we said the artwork it's an "Offset printed" on paper,  what do we mean with offset?
It's called offset because the ink is not transferred directly onto the paper. Offset printing technology uses plates, of aluminum, which are used to transfer an image onto a rubber "blanket", and then rolling that image onto a sheet of paper.
Offset printing provides accurate color reproduction, and a crisp, clean professional looking printing.
The display includes original ukiyo-e prints which depict some of the artistic influences that inspired the posters.
The word ukiyo refers to the world of common people and e means "picture." Thus when ukiyo-e first emerged in the late sixteenth century, it usually depicted everyday life in the city of Kyoto. In the eighteenth century, ukiyo-e became a popular art form, thanks to advances in woodblock printing techniques.
The lines in this artwork are clean and neat, with straight lines that follow the shapes of architecture and machinery; meanwhile, they become soft and curved for the human figures in the space.
In the space framed in this work the contrast, it's faded, this can be recognized by the almost absence of shadows, and shades of colours. The colors of the dresses, for example, are matte looking and same for carnage. The light is anyway well balanced between bright whites and pitch-blacks.

 The composition of the opera is mostly organic, with a human group centering with a natural look and a delicate appearance.

The background instead, has a mix of geometric shapes with clear edges, the train station it's full of geometric shapes made by humans.

We had said that the artwork has a faded vibe, because of its absence of shadow. We can say, as well, that because of that the opera achieved a bidimensional look, but by the way, it's a common appearance in oriental art.

The color's faded and tonal, tonal Colors are different shades of colors of the same main color group, basically. The colors in the background are faded but realistic:  the architecture, the floor, the train follows real color and reminds of instructional illustrations from manual books. Meanwhile, the colors of the main components are striking matte with a prevalence of tonal colors: the blue-green/ blue/violet dress of the figure at the bottom, the orange/red-orange/red-violet and then violet/blue of the lady next are all examples of this.

wheel of tonal colours

The illustration has a rich range of exquisite pattern elements in the composition, one or more for each dress of the figures drew.
The figure at the bottom left with the honeycomb pattern with a striking blue, the figure next with the psychedelic violet pattern. The central figure, the most important, rocks three different patterns, two florals and a geometric one.

The composition's a traditional triangle composition (used often on religious artworks) with the important figure at the center and the other two at the bottom. It will look slightly unbalanced with the figure of the train arriving, but the bunch of figures on the back of the opposite side, re-imbalances the weight distribution.
Emphasis is used in art to attract the viewer's attention to a particular area or object. This is typically the focal point or main subject of the artwork. For instance, in a portrait painting, the artist usually wants you to see the person's face first. They will use techniques such as color, contrast, and placement to make sure that this area is where your eye is attracted to first.
The Emphasis here it's given by the placement of the figures, the one in the center and the others around, but as well by the fusion of the style of the traditional ukiyo-e style and the traditional dress with the anachronistic elements of the modern train, the architectural design and the smartphone placement in the center area.
The illustration could look flat because of the absence of shadows, but even without them, the opera it's rich in movements, all acted by the numerous figures on front and background, bumping, moving and mimic gestures.
This Illustration has been made by the art director Yumiko Yokoyama and the Illustrator Takahiro Kadowaki.

In 2016, Seibu Railway released a series of posters, which is displayed inside its trains and on platforms. An instant hit, they have become so popular, they have made their way abroad.

Drawn by illustrator Takahiro Hidowaki, the posters depict ukiyo-e-like manga in modern-day situations to entice passengers to be considerate of their fellow train commuters.

The Edo-era inspired pictures are humorous and beautifully drawn, and have become a hit with people visiting Japan. When the posters came out, foreign passengers even inquired if it was possible to buy some of the posters as merchandise.

With more people noticing, the posters have now also become a hit abroad. As recently as March 20-22, 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London exhibited the posters in an effort to showcase the harmony between the traditional and the modern.

A company in Taiwan has also found another use for the posters — putting them in Japanese language textbooks.

The person who came up with this stroke of marketing brilliance was Konomi Yamamoto, who works in the Customer Service section of Seibu Railway. When asked about the success of his idea, he simply commented: “I was trying to entice foreign tourists.”

I really loved and appreciate what the illustrator and the art director have tried to made, between the pictures given to me, this illustration stiked my attention immediately. I really like the style the fusion of new and ancient/traditional, it made me feel uneasy at first and excited at last, I loved the explosion of patterns and the beautiful shapes of the dresses. The link to the traditional way of illustration it's evident and craftly made.
I will love to mix and match patterns together so well and to shape them into clothing so gracefully. The clarity of the lines and the according of colours is it exquisite. I would like to approach some of the styles without falling into cultural appropriation! I would like to apply matte/faded colours properly for example!...and use a cleaner drawing line!




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