Design Demystified: Dots

Visual Explorations by Andew Borloz

This new series covers the exploration and application of design elements and principles. Each column will cover one basic design element and/or principle, and will contain descriptions, examples, tools and techniques, and exercises that can be used for art journaling, photography, collage, book arts and other creative disciplines.


I like to think of a dot as the smallest design element. It is usually and generally a small round mark or a spot to indicate the end of a sentence, giving it a feeling of completeness or closure.  There have been some exceptions; a square or other shape has been used as a dot. In the visual arts, we often mark the images with a small spot or spots as highlights, outliners, indicators, fillers, or shadings. But they’re not necessarily small or plain dots—we often used them as symbols or representations, for example, eyes, nose, mouth to name a few. We can think of them as points, spots, periods, full stops, specks, or speckles. They can be either solid, hollow, small, or large.

The placement and the size of a dot or a few can considerably alter the visual perception of the images.  For example, shown below are five images with the different number and size of the dots.

 01 Dot Placement & Position

 The first image on the far left (1) gives an idea of a doughnut, a bead or an Asian coin. The second one (2) gives an impression of a ninja dressed in black, and the third one (3), a bowling ball.  The fourth one (4) reminds me of a button, and the last one (5), a movie reel.

The same element can be used to represent other concepts by creating a vertical or horizontal series of dots of either same or different sizes: water fountain (1), volume (2: from left to right – increasing volume), pause (3), and radiance (4).

02 Series of Dots


In Search of the Dot

Let’s go on a visual expedition and see what can be found in the physical world. We find that they are often used in the traditional folk and tribal arts in the various countries: Australian aborigine art, Polish Boleslawiec pottery, Portuguese ceramic roosters, and pysanky (Ukrainian egg decorating).  In the art museums all over the world, we find them used by the famous artists: Georges Pierre Seurat (pointillism), Yayoi Kusama (pop art), Roy Lichenstein (Ben-Day dots).  In the urban and suburban environments, we find them on the manhole covers, on some boutique hotels, as traffic lights, and as holes on the steel structures. And while we are people-watching, we find them wear shirts, blouses, or ties made with the printed or woven textiles containing polka dots and mini-dots. 

We also saw them in candy stores, home kitchens, bakeries and restaurants: cake decorations, candy dots on paper, sprinkles, utensils and food plating.  For most of us, we are often found reading the forms, publications, advertisements, signs and writings on a daily basis – both paper and electronic, and they all often contain bulleted lists, dotted lines, half-tone photos, typography, and light bulbs. The Braille dots are sometimes seen by most of us but are often touched by those who are visually impaired. For the musically inclined, they are sometimes used next to the notes to indicate longer beat. 

As either kids or adults, we often found ourselves playing with them – dominoes, connect-the-dots, cribbage boards, wooden puzzles with golf tees, and Twister, to name a few.  For those who are gardeners, nature lovers or outdoors people, there are plenty of examples such as stars, snow, pachysandra buds, pebbles, rocks, stamens, lichens, and camouflage patterns on living things.

At home and work we can find them by looking at the everyday objects: paper fasteners, pencils, pens, rivets, peg boards, buttons, beads, coins, sink drains, tacks, push pins, nail heads, candy dots, salt and pepper shakers, strainers, clocks, sequin ribbon waste, paper punch, cotton pom-poms, cotton balls, and dot matrix on the television screens.

Visual Explorations

Now that we have seen quite bit of how the dots can be found or are used out in the visual world, let’s go back to home or studio and start doing our own visual explorations.

Let’s get some of the tools that we can use to either record or make the dots for our projects: cameras, stencils, stamps, pens, pencil eraser heads, markers, brushes, and various cutting instruments.  With these tools, we can develop our own techniques within the following creative disciplines:

  • culinary arts – food plating (sauces and spreads), cuts (carrots), and punches (candy dots, cucumbers)
  • photography – unaltered, physically altered (with dot markers), and digitally altered
  • surface treatments (textile and art journaling) – decorative borders, embellishments

With the above tools and techniques in mind, I have developed three exercises for your visual explorations:

Food plating:

Using raw or cold cooked vegetables (i.e. carrots & peas), create a visual interesting effect that radiance from the center of a plate or salad. The center could be left blank, a small tomato slice or could be a small mound of cold salad.  My example below was quickly assembled with sliced baby carrots, gherkins, and small tomato topped with mayonnaise.

03 Food Plating

Digital Manipulation:

Think up of one everyday object and find variations of the same object. Take several snapshots of them and create an interesting composition by digitally cutting and pasting them together. For example I thought up of a kitchen drain hole, and took several photos of them. I then digitally altered them and place them together: 04 Composition with Sink Drains

Surface Treatments/Mixed Media:

Get a board book and convert it into style reference/sketch book by painting them with gesso and acrylic paints. To help develop my own style and creativity skills, I have created two board books (still incomplete) and use them as references for my future art/design projects: 05 Two books

The tools and techniques that I used on the pages shown above are stenciling, markers, photocopying, and tape transfers.  I have decided to fill up the first spread (two pages) with various stenciling and mark-making techniques shown below.  06 Seven Examples

1. Sequin ribbon waste – I used two metallic acrylic colors (copper and gold) for this effect.
2. Coil bind hole puncher – I punched a sheet of paper folded in half, creating two rows of holes, and used it as a stencil.
3. Mylar stencil* – I used two different designs and two colors  – some of the dots are subtle – created by small bars. I highlighted one “row” with dark colored paint to make them stand out.
4. Mylar stencil* – note that I used dots as “shades” on the right sides of the cubes.
5. and 6. – I made these marks on a separate piece of paper with markers and acrylic paints. I then made copies of them using carbon-based photocopier, and place packing tape on the images. I then them to remove the paper from the tape, leaving the carbon residues on the tape.
7. I cut these designs out from a storage basket (available at supermarkets), and used them as stencils. I then use markers for highlights and fillers.

Note that I have used varying sizes and colors to create different effects such as filling, shading, highlighting, and contrasts.  *Mylar stencil designs shown in the photo were designed by me, and they can be purchased on-line from Stencil Girl Products:

The next spread shows how I used only one dot to create a whole different visual effect: focus.

07 Focus

The next photo shows how I used a row of dots (using the tape transfer technique) instead of a solid line to create “balance”.  The painted background (for both above and below) was created on a separate piece of paper, photocopied, and adhered to the two pages.

08 Balance

The next spread utilized a totally different technique – paper. I made these holes with a coil bind hole puncher, applied the sticky adhesive to the backs, and adhered them one by one on the last spread, creating a whole different effects. 

09 Many Dots

I decided that I would make them look more finished by gluing the black bookcloth to the spines. I am not entirely happy with book number 1, but these are still “works in progress” as I may decided to redo or add more to the covers. Book number 1 is almost finished and is more geared to art journaling techniques whereas book number 2 is more of an abstract art board book.

10 Two Covers

The next photo shows the different style/approach used – the book on the left is rich with colors, layers and different images whereas the book on the right side is done in minimalist style using black and white plus one color.

11 Approaches


I hope this post will inspire you to see and use the dots in a different ways in your creative work. Coming next month is another design element, line.

Andrew Borloz

If you’d like to learn a thing or two from Andrew in person, check out his Experimental Pochoir and Printing class at Art Is You in Stamford, CT this October.

About Andrew Borloz.

Andrew Borloz_200Ever since when Andrew Borloz was a kid, he has been exploring and hunting for color, texture and design wherever he goes. After his training in industrial design at University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, in computer science at Montclair State College in New Jersey, and in book arts at Center for Book Arts in New York City, he has developed a lifetime collection of creative works from the various creative disciplines such as fine art, origami, mixed media, exhibit design, product design, book arts, letterpress printing and printmaking. Over the past several years he has attended various mixed media retreats such as Art-Is You Retreats, Squam-Art-Workshops, Artiscape, ArtFest, Art Unravelled, and Creative Palette. He is currently self-employed as an artist/designer/instructor, and is currently involved in stencil design and book arts projects.

More fun with Design and Dots!






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