I've seen this photo of my sea-inspired vignette all over Pinterest so I have to assume that there are at least a few people that connected with it.  So I thought I would talk a little about it and hope it helps shape your ability to critique your own vignettes, compositions, arrangements--whatever you want to call them.
I don't claim to be any kind of expert on the subject but I have developed some clear ideas and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback; in fact, to quote one of my design (and comedy) gurus Sherry Hart,"Dude, what are you, the vignette angel?" I take that as a huge compliment coming from this pro.

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I like to--well, okay, I have a need to--analyze these compositions.  Sometimes I can make sense of everything and sometimes I can't.   I also like to name them.  If they're easy to name, they're usually well done.  I know, it's crazy; but I'll get to that in another post.  Sometimes I just can't figure out why I'm attracted to them or why they work.  I guess these are the abstract paintings.  I
 don't know why I like them, I just do. 
The simplest way to create a successful vignette is using a theme.  Here's another vignette inspired by the sea that I really like.  Everything in it belongs.  The pieces all speak the same language.  They tell a story. The rope, the whaling scene...is that a blow fish in the front?  The book could be a ship's manifest.  Even the beaten up dark wood table seems perfect.  
I would imagine this vignette started with the engraving of a whaling scene.  It just takes being inspired by something.
The inspiration for my vignette came from a rather unusual place.
The legs of the little table I set up.  After looking at the beautiful turnings for a while, I was getting the vibe of...

...a ship's wheel.  So I used that "language" that the legs were speaking to me as my inspiration and started to pull things together that spoke that same language.

The frame I used for the table top was lined with paper that had a watery color palette.  I also thought the pattern was reminiscent of waves without being too literal.  So this became my "sea."


And then I scoured the house--the prop supply in my basement--for items that fit.  Most are obvious.  The pond boat, the coral, the tortoise shell (which is gessoed and painted).  The bottles (although handmade) are something that might have been thrown into the ocean and a coral grew atop.  The old Chinese bowl perhaps something from an China Trade shipwreck.  I'm not sure a new Chinese bowl would work.  It speaks a different language.

I needed the coral to sit higher just for a variety of heights so I used some old books to raise it up.  I've seen some people criticize the use of books as platforms for other objects but I think these old books fit the story.  They could be old passenger lists or ship's manifests.


The modern artwork, at least in my mind, fit the story. The collage, by Marblehead artist Bernd Haussmann, could be an abstracted seascape.  I upper beige field has the same color and texture as the sails in the boat.  There's angular line in that color field that also repeats the shape of a sail.

Here are some other things I like to take into consideration.


Size of the shapes.  Notice how there's variety in the size of the shapes.


Dominance.  I think a dominance of one quality over another is important.  In this vignette, there are more straight lines than curved lines.  There's also a dominance of hard surface over soft surface (the sails).
  

So let's just recap a few things that I consider when putting a vignette together: 
  • Inspiration or idea, theme or story.
  • Do the objects fit the story.
  • Variety of shape sizes
  • Dominance of one or more aspect
Next time I'd like to take a look at some vignettes using some of these criteria and see how they stack up.
 
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