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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Vignette Design Series #1~Composition

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Have you ever wondered 
how stylists create their beautiful 

How do they choose...
Which objects to include?
Where to place them?
Quantity to use?

I've always enjoyed arranging
 and re-arranging 
little groupings of objects. 
Since I began blogging, I have been
studying others' vignettes to 
find ways to improve my own.

 Nope, I am not a licensed interior decorator or
a degreed architect interior designer.
 In another life I may have been.
These thoughts are just things I've
 noticed about vignettes that please my eyes.

Here's where I find (peruse for hours) arrangements that help me.
Source: Pottery Barn Online Catalog and Printed Catalog
Of course, main sources for inspiration are
blogs written by talented and creative decorators...
Take a look at some of their vignettes...

and many, many more...

So, let me share some of 
the things I've learned

Element #1 
"the way in which a whole or mixture is made up"
in a
In this series, composition refers to how a vignette
is physically composed or made.

Composition is the real bones of a vignette;
 without good composition, the most beautiful
 objects are not ready for their close-ups, Mr. DeMille.

Several bloggers recently wrote articles that 
give great tips on composition,
 especially about the 
of items to group together.
Odd numbers of items seem to be more pleasing 
to the eyes than even numbers of items.

Visually, the vignette at my pine chest has 
a total of nine items 
(floral print, topiary, two birds, three cards, paperweight, lamp stack.)
 The lamp on the stack of books works as one unit.

Two birds with the preserved boxwood create 
a group of three.

There are three cards.

Seven items are in the cluster of smaller objects
 that are viewed together. 
 The lamp and print are so different that this small
 visual group is a vignette within a vignette.

Now, look back at the Pottery Barn image.
I'll wait.

There are three lanterns, 
 five items at the table group
 (3 lanterns, table, flower under the table,)
seven major objects in the photo
 (five at the table group and
two vertical posts.)

Composition involves more than numbers...
 of the eyes is also a big component 
of composition.

The whole scene should lead the eyes
 up and back around in a circular fashion.
 This is also one of the basic concepts in 
 printed page layout.
 The eyes should not be led off
 into nothingness, leaving the page, or, 
in our case, leaving the vignette. 

In this vignette, the preserved boxwood leads the eyes up
 to the print, then the lamp draws the eyes down, 
then down to the medium height card, 
which leads down to shortest card of the three, 
then down to the paperweight, 
which leads back up to the short bird, 
then to the taller bird,
 back up to the boxwood.

The eyes never wander outside the vignette;
 they are always pulled back to another feature.

Revisit the Pottery Barn grouping.
Here it is again so you don't have to look for it.
Source:  Pottery Barn Online Catalog
The three lanterns lead
 the eyes upward to the sky, but 
the right-side vertical post draws 
the eyes back down, and
 the curled rope leads the eyes 
down to the potted plant that leads 
the eyes back up to the lowest lantern.
No one is led off looking into the wild blue yonder.

Focal point
is another part of composition.
Those who have studied art 
are very familiar with creating a 
focal point in a painting or lettering 
so that a realistic perspective is created.
Focal points in paintings are often 
known as vanishing points, 
the spot where all the lines of sight 

The focal point in my vignette is 
the old French watercolor postcard.
This focal point is created by the placement of
 the objects on either side of the postcard.
The lamp/book stack and the birds are 
positioned closer to the front edge of the 
pine chest with the postcard
 placed farther back.
 The lines of sight on either side of the card 
converge on the postcard.

Seen from above, I realize I really should 
move the shorter bird a little closer to the 
front edge of the pine chest for 
a more pleasing line of sight 
to the watercolor postcard.

Oh, yes,... we will look at the Pottery Barn image 
to see its focal point 
and to see how the stylist achieved it.
Source:  Pottery Barn Online Catalog
Do you think you see the focal point?
Where do your eyes focus first?

My eyes say the focal point is the 
smallest lantern sitting atop the table.

The lantern is sitting at the corner of the table 
with the corner at the center of the camera lens.
The lines of sight to the lantern follow the edges of the table 
towards the front of the table. 
This is reinforced visually with the 
table leg pointing up to the lantern.

Horizontally, the large lantern is 
behind the smallest lantern and
 the medium lantern is slightly back 
of the smallest lantern.

Source:  Pottery Barn Online Catalog
 More subtle, not perfectly aligned 
lines of sight, is the rope draping 
down to the table from the posts. 
The rope appears to reach its 
lowest point directly 
behind the smallest lantern 
leading the eyes to the  
base of the smallest lantern.

Yes, those Pottery Barn stylists are
real pros!

Movement and focal point are achieved 
by layering objects.
Movement is created by vertical variations.
Focal point can be created by horizontal variations.
Height and depth are two important keys to 
stunning vignettes. 

In summary, 
Composition: Number, Movement, Focal Point
Photo Source: Pottery Barn Online Catalog
What do you think?

Try analyzing a vignette 
that you just LOVE.
See if it has any of these
components and let me know
 what you discover.

Stay tuned...

This is the first in a 
Vignette Design Series.
I hope you will be back for 
articles that will review the 
roles of Theme,
Texture, and Color 
in creating 
vignettes to love.
Please join me at these inspiring sites...



  1. Judith, this is a great post! I think both your design skills and your educator skills are shining through on this one. I'm off to work in the garden, but will be back to study and take in all the excellent pointers here. I love to arrange vignettes, and appreciate learning form you and other bloggers. I watch and learn! ~ Sarah

  2. Great information, Judith! Now I will be walking around looking at vignettes to see if they measure up! I love your sense of style!

  3. Hello Sarah,
    Thank you so much for the info.You really gave me some insight.
    I also know how mush hard work you put into this post.Thank you was worth it.
    XXOO Marie Antoinette

  4. Hi Judith,

    I really enjoyed your post and thanks for sharing.
    Have always tried to do the uneven number - 3 or 5 in a group of things and it really does work. We can learn so much from each other, with how to arrange a vignette.

    Enjoy the weekend

  5. Great post. I love the way you have explained each element and how it relates to the overall vignette. This is going to be a fabulous series. Thanks for all the hard work. Thanks also for joining Inspire Me. Hugs, Marty

  6. Thanks for the great tutorial on vignettes. I love to create vignettes and have fun creating, walking away, returning, moving . . . I will use your tips on my next vignette and I'll be back for more lessons.

  7. Thanks for the detailed lesson. I've always heard that a collection of 3 or 7 was a good number.

    Have a good Blue Monday.

  8. Yes, being a member of the great blogging world has really helped us to learn about photo taking. I have learned so much from so many.
    Thanks so much for this lesson. I appreciate the time it took to create this post. Very time consuming, I'm sure.
    I get nearly all my inspiration from places like Pottery Barn...I love doing copy-cats and I use Pottery Barn and Ballard Design more than any other ones.
    Thanks again for the lesson...

  9. This is a great post, I am inspired to look at my own vignettes with a technical eye...will pin and refer to this!

  10. Oh, very good information! You have put a lot of thought in this and I was honored to be an example post. I always look at the composition by using the 7 elements of art. I see the objects that way in the lens. Like if I were to draw these objects from a picture, what would be a good composition for the picture. Actually from a picture is the only way I can draw. I have trouble seeing it live! LOL My vignette actually has too few objects. It would get lost on a tabletop, but I got the camera in close and made up the difference. LOL I like this info and yes, Pottery Barn is one of my favorite stylist! Thank you for joining Home Sweet Home!

  11. Recently find you blog and I already learned tons from this post..I always have problems with my vignettes but now I will try making some with the things that I have learned..Thanks alot...

  12. Hi, I pinned this post and shared it on my blog ( I thought you might like to know it's been re-pinned at least 50 times and that's just from my pin! Obviously you have hit on a popular topic so I hope you are encouraged by this...and keep these posts coming!

  13. Judith, you are the fan favorite today at Anything Blue Friday party at The Dedicated House. Here is the link to this week's soiree. Hope to see you again at the bash! Toodles, Kathryn @TheDedicatedHouse

  14. Wonderful post, thanks so much for the vignette tips! Great information and inspiration!!!
    Such a pleasure having you share at AMAZE ME MONDAY!!!

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