Of all the holidays we celebrate in the US, Thanksgiving seems to be one of the most universal. Who doesn’t want to appreciate what they have and celebrate with family and friends?
Okay, the turkey can be dry, and the desserts send you into a sugar coma, but honestly, sometimes you just have to look beyond the food – to the table.
Yes, decorating the table is an art, but one that anyone can master if they take into account the elements and principles of art education.
What are elements and principles of art? They are the tools artists use to create things that have visual impact and draw people into the work. This translates to drawing people to your table.
These elements and principles apply to anything we do, whether it’s dressing ourselves in the morning, painting a landscape in oils, or decorating a table.
First, let’s consider elements, the basic tools which include line, color, texture, shape, form, value, and space.
Line includes vertical and horizontal, thick and thin. Consider your dishes. Chunky ceramic? Thin china? Clear glass that lets the tablecloth or table show through? How tall are your dishes, including glasses and centerpiece? ( Just a hint—flowing lines look better for most of the table. Nature prefers curves.)
Color is my favorite. We have an emotional response to color, and we can add various hues, like a variety of autumn leaves, to create interest. Most people go with warm fall colors like reds, browns, oranges, and yellows, with a bit of white thrown in to soften the look. Try different combinations, and don’t forget silver and gold can enliven any tabletop.
Texture is the roughness or smoothness of your items. Textiles (fabrics) provide texture, and patterns add visual texture. Try a patterned tablecloth with more plain dishes and napkins, or try a plain surface like a wooden tabletop with knockout-patterned napkins.
Make sure you mix a bit of rough (fabrics and/or patterns) with smooth items (dishes) to make your tabletop more visually appealing. Our eyes, like our taste buds, crave variety. You can also add items like leaves, ribbons, or flowers to create even more texture.
Shape is aligned with line. Use various shapes to make your table appealing, but keep a common theme as well, rather than chaos. I like to drape ribbons around the space, or sprinkle the table with a unifying item like large sparkly confetti. Use shape to surprise your guests. And, if you can, include a family theme or joke in your design, so much the better.
Form is the three-dimensional aspect of shape and line. Remember to use height on your table to add drama (folded napkins, tall glasses, or maybe placing the napkins inside the glasses).
Centerpieces can add height, but make them low enough that your guests can see each other across the table. Nothing is more annoying than a tall vase of flowers that blocks people from a unified conversation. And remember, form can also hang from above, so consider your light source and see if you want to embellish it with ribbons, additional lights, or other items like leaves.
Value is the contrast between light and dark. This is one of the most overlooked elements in art, and it’s one that can make or break a design.