Video by Trevor Katona


As we investigate God’s visual language, let’s remember that His principles of design apply to all creative languages.  This includes music, dance, architecture, sculpture, fashion design, interior design, automotive design, landscape design, industrial design, civil engineering, culinary arts, basket weaving, painted toenails and the list goes on.   


Music is a collection of organized sounds carried by airwaves through time.  The rudiments of music (audio elements) are pitch and rhythm.  The next layer in building music includes melody, meter, form and harmony.  Add cultural preferences, traditions, and technology, and we have audio art.  Music requires time to reveal itself.  Mozart may be on your iPod; however, until you have turned it on and dedicated moments to listening, you’ve not experienced his music. 


God’s attributes of design apply to every art form and most of all to the art of godly living.  The art of godly living is a language read and felt of all men.  Paul wrote this to the Corinthian Christians: “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3:2).  The Christian Way is a language that communicates God’s design for living.  

Christians are God’s fashion statements.  Although people strut designer fashions and emulate pop star attitudes, God invites all people to live Designer lives, fashioned by Himself, Designer Almighty.  How cool is that!  By the way, what are you wearing?  Whose name is on your label?  Does it matter?  It does, because God is our label.  We are the products of His creativity; we are His graphic works in progress.  We are His fashion statements to each other and the world. Check you out! Check me out!  We are the artworks of God.  Seeing each other as God’s masterpiece sbuilds an honor and respect for one another.  If you mess with the art, you are messing with the Artist.  He loves His work.  


Every culture embodies its character in its arts.  Italians are Italian in their attitudes, in their kitchen, and at their huge weddings.  The French romantically speak French, dress sophisticatedly French, and eat wonderfully French.  At the risk of stereotyping every nationality and race, we have to be frank, admitting that stereotypes stem from valid generalizations.  I happen to be Italian.  Our women are hairy, gorgeous in their teens and sometimes plump later in life.  In all fairness, we men bald and bulge quite well.  So what!   

These images feature the distinct cultures of various ethnicities and their aspirations 


Distinctive qualities of visual elements communicate cultural heritage.  Motifs of shape, line and texture identify traditional ethnicity.  It has been noted that cultures closer to the equator favor more vibrant colors.  As one travels away from equator, the color preferences become more subdued.  Climate greatly influences a society and its art.   


Although God looks on the heart, man looks on the outward appearance (1Sam. 16:7).  Looking beyond  outward fashion, we find a higher fashion of the heart: the classic fashions of love, joy, and peace, the clothing of God.  High style is always expensive.  Christ paid for ours with His blood.  Let’s be dressed in the righteousness that He’s already purchased (Ps. 132:9, Rev. 19:8). 

Outward appearance is not always an accurate picture of inward character.  We’re called to walk in the style of Christianity, purposely not illustrated in terms of natural design.  Our individual callings and anointings determine the appropriate Christian fashion, depending on one’s ministry gift.  The style, message, and delivery, of an evangelist are quite different than that of the prophet.  The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers bring their “pot-luck” dish to pass.  Each individual’s uniqueness feeds the needs of others.  Christianity lacks unity when this diversity is missing (Eph. 4:11-12). 

Romans 13:14 says “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ…”  These words embody the concept of getting dressed.  Again, the truth is simple: we’ve been created by God, are clothed by God in His fashion, and bear His visible message in heart and appearance.  “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” is a spiritual admonition, not a legalistic dress code.  Christian design permeates every facet of life to promote spiritual health.  Therefore, Paul tells the Romans they are to “cast off” the works of darkness and “put on” the armor of light (Rom. 13:12).  There we have it: the elements of Christian character design.  Get rid of darkness and walk in the true light.  This spiritual truth (light versus darkness) is workable in practical living and in creating art in every medium.


Just as music depends on sound waves, the visual arts depend on light.  You can easily listen to music in complete darkness.  However, without light there is no vision and therefore no visual art.  When light falls on a subject, details are defined.  We perceive lines, shapes, forms, colors, and textures - the visual elements.  In both music and the visual arts, a creative person uses these elements to compose.  The combinations of these elements of design form the artist’s composition.  This is true for all visual arts, including dance, architecture, culinary creations, and so on.  The list is endless.


We might better understand the visual elements by pretending.  Let’s pretend we are cold calculating machines; we’re cameras.  This may not come easily.  You see, a camera has no brain, and you do.  A camera objectively reads light through its lens and records that light when it strikes the film or the digital sensors.  The camera absolutely does not care that the photographer captures a sweet shot of a fluffy kitten.  The camera is cold-hearted; it’s actually heartless—in the good sense of heartless.  It calculates light and records it in the form of the lines, shapes, form, texture, and colors of a fluffy kitten.  

In this sense an artist is a camera-like technician who processes the light of his world.  In the light he sees line, shape, form, texture, and color of this physical world.  This is the mechanical process of creating visual arts—seeing like a camera so as to render imagery that is comprehendible.  

While it’s true that God’s artist is a processor of light and life, every artist injects himself into his work.  His art smells like him!  His message is communicated by how he manipulates the visual elements.  His subject choice, along with color selections, texture preferences, and all other aspects of design mirror his personality, thoughts and message. 

Anyone can be like the camera on the left; it takes snapshots, single images in a split second.  Everyone aspiring to greatness, however, is like the camera on the right, a surveillance camera, always gathering data, searching for that great photo.


The point of this activity is to employ our senses to see, process and articulate the elements of the visual language (line, shape, form, color and texture).

1. Pick a partner or do this on your own.  Find an unusual or shocking image of a person.  Search the Internet, magazines or even a family album.  The more diverse slice of our global community the better. 

2. Write 5 sentences that describe the photo. Use one of these terms in each sentence: line, shape, form, texture and color.
Optional Fun: Find sounds tracks from iMovie that match the look of the person.  Imagery translates into sound. 
The following challenges provide playful endeavors in which we’ll exercise our awareness of the visual elements and further build our portfolios of excellent works.  Have fun!


Everyone has a toothbrush.  Get your toothbrush and stare at it for about 2 minutes.  That’s 120 seconds of investigative ogling.  It’s a little odd, but hang on.  

Now grab a pen and paper.  Use simple words to document at least 25 observations.  I know, I know⎯it’s just your toothbrush, and yet there’s so much about your toothbrush that has been overlooked.  As graphic artists we cannot afford to be “over-lookers.”  You may discover the bristles on the edges are bent more than the bristles in the center.  Is the handle curved?  Describe it.  Are there any bits of leftover toothpaste on your brush? Gross!  Is the original labeling still on the handle?  You are exercising your perceptivity.  Although this may be unusual, it’s essential to see what others do not.  We cannot be ordinary if we expect to produce extraordinary works.  

By the way, God is not happy with over-lookers.  Read Proverbs 1:20 in context.  There we find wisdom personified; she cries out in the streets, in the main place of business.  She’s there, yet some folks are oblivious to her.  They are dull.  They don’t see her, and they don’t hear her.  They miss out on wisdom.

God is often in the details.  He said that if we would be faithful in the little things of life that He’d reward us with greater responsibilities and privileges.  

1.  Shoot images with new eyes.  Get extreme close-ups of ordinary things.  Perhaps your subject matter will not be recognizable.  Side note: When shooting a wedding, a photographer takes over a thousand photos.  He’ll then select about 300 good photos, and of 300 there are probably six outstanding images.  Therefore, shoot a lot of pictures with the intention that each one of them is your best, even though we know better.  It’s an earnest mindset that keeps us engaged and ultimately produces excellence.

2.  Produce stimulating, perhaps abstract, compositions that elude us in our daily surroundings.  See more than usual by being exceptionally inquisitive.  Discover hidden compositions.  Take as many pictures as it takes to get five that are exquisite.  

3.  Work them up to your delight in iPhoto or Photoshop.  This series will be a great asset to your portfolio. 

The four close up photos below are great examples of zooming in on auto body details.  The quality of design and of life is often about the details.   See life up close.  





Although these photos are good, they’ve not been manipulated in Photoshop.  Please do not be limited by the photo style of these images. Experiment and go far beyond what you see here.

Take your good works and make them your best.  As time passes, we revisit our former graphic projects and critique ourselves.  Perfecting our work is instinctive.  As we grow we become more discerning and skillful; we mature.  Evaluating ourselves and our work moves us toward our natural and spiritual goals. 

In this first challenge we’ll build a digital portfolio slideshow with accompanying music.  We’ll create the perfect marriage of visual graphics and audio art.  

Your portfolio may prove to be very valuable for college and employment applications.  

1. Select at least 50 of your best photos and graphic compositions from your iPhoto and Photoshop collections. 
2.  Categorize your pieces according to their predominate visual element.  Try to have 10 or more works in each of the 5 categories below.
You may not have 10 works that predominately employ line as the major visual element, so duplicate and re-tweak a few images to make them predominantly linear.   Do the same for other categories - duplicate and edit. You will be amazed at how quickly you can hammer out diverse works by duplicating files and using Photoshop filters to enhance the lines, shapes, forms, colors and textures in your work. 

3. Place all 50 or more images in an Event in iPhoto.  Entitle it “Ralph’s (your name) Portfolio.”

4.  Intentionally order the sequence of your slides.  Intentionally choose a theme or transitions.  What is the basis for your design choices?  Think about the visual elements in each slide (line, shape, form, texture, color) and the psychological feel of each work.  How will the sequence impact your viewers?  

5.  Check out the slides below.  They are grouped into 5 categories.  A few defining words between categories help your viewers process your sequence.  


1.  Open the latest version of iMovie.  Do the tutorial if you need to refresh your iMovie skills.  

2.  Import your Portfolio album into iMovie.

3.  Select music from iTunes.  Your music selection is extremely important.  Ask yourself a few questions: How does this music complement my graphics?  Should I use a variety of music styles?  Should I add sound effects?  Should I downplay the audio track to boost the visual engagement of my audience?

4.  Be discerning and intentional while creating the audio aspect of your digital portfolio.  Sync the music with slide changes.  Timing is powerful.  

5.  Add the appropriate titles to your portfolio.  Titles add content to your portfolio.  You may choose to title every work or just the five categories of slides.  Beginning and ending words make great first and final impressions.  

Title Slide: “Portraits in Shape”

Title Slide: “Linear Communications”

Title Slide: “Color Talks”

Title Slide: “Textures Live”

Title Slide: “The Form of Style”


Choose a favorite Christian song.  

Create a CD cover and back.  Your graphic must translate the artist’s sound and message into an image.  

Prepare for this by experimenting in your head.  While listening to music imagine the appearance of the sounds.  Do you see abstract shapes and forms, or do you see literal objects or scenes like landscapes?  Are the sounds crisp or blended, blue or yellow?  What textures, forms and lines best illustrate what you hear?  Have fun!


All right, step back and take a fresh look at your photography.  Look beyond the subject matter and process the raw visual elements, the lines, shapes, forms, textures and colors.  Which elements are most prominent in each photo?  Is line a strong element in your photo or is color packing a bigger punch?  How do these elements work together?  Perhaps one of your shots is more about shape and form than texture, line or color.  Thinking this way exercises your visual and intellectual sensitivity, so that you begin to see and process what otherwise might be overlooked.  


Most importantly, we’ll develop a visual keenness that may pave the way for a God-keenness; we will see understand how He is working our lives as He makes us new creatures in Christ.  

Although 1 Corinthians 15:46 is not specifically referring to the visual arts, the principle is valid in both life and art: “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.”  Let’s learn from the natural arrangements of the visual elements, and perhaps we’ll pick up on Designer God’s arrangements for our lives.  “For we are His workmanship (being) created in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2:10).

-	God’s design principles apply to all creative languages, like music, dance, architecture and toenail painting.
-	A piece of music requires the element of time to reveal itself from start to finish. 
-	We are God’s design, His works in progress.  We are His fashion statements to one another and the world.
-	By honoring one another, we actually honor the Lord the Artist who is currently at work in each of our lives.
-	Every culture has a distinctive style and distinctive motifs in its visual language.
-	God has given us the ability to put on the fashion of His kingdom.  This happens inwardly and outwardly. 
-	By the power of the Holy Spirit we have the ability to put on His character.  We can dress up spiritually for God, both inwardly and outwardly.  
-	“Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” is a spiritual admonition, not a legalistic dress code.
-	An artist is like a camera in that he has to calculate good lighting as it reveals the visual elements of line, shape, form, color and texture.
-	The most perceptive people are like surveillance cameras; they are perpetually scanning the landscape in search of great photo.
-	As we become more visually aware of our environments we are more apt to discover all sorts of beauty and life lessons.


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