Tangents In Art and Design

Art and Design

by Spencer Goldade

Closed Corner

A closed corner is when a shape or item isolates the corner of an image.

  • We see this used in web design a lot to create corner ads.
  • That's right, tangents aren't always bad!

Halved Shape

When a symmetrical shape is cut off, by the border of the page or a larger shape, it will create an uncomfortable feeling.

  • Candid photos that chop people off.
  • portraiture artists often do half a headshot on purpose for the effect it creates.

Tension Point - Fused Edge With Border

When an item comes too close, or fuses with, the edge of the border.

Clock Tower Fused Border

Tension Point - Fused Edge With Shape

When two items comes very close to each other,
or just barely fuse together.

  • One of the most common design blunders and blessings.
  • Can easily focus a viewer's attention.
Sistine Chapel

Skimmed Edge

Similar to a tension point or fused edge, but shares a whole edge.

Skimmed Edge

Stolen Edge

One item steals the edge or contour of another.

Stolen Edge

Hidden Edge

An edge of an item is hidden by another.

  • How big is it?
  • Where does it end?
  • What shape is it?

Hidden Edge

Split Apex / Image Alignment

When multiple items, especially symmetrical ones, share the same axis.

house with too much alignment
  • This happens in text too.
  • This happens in text too.
  • I stand out.
  • This happens in text too.
  • This happens in text too.

Antlers and Growths

When the placement of one item near another causes you to associate them too closely.


Pointing Shape

When one item seems to be pointing to another, drawing attention to it or away from something else.

Reinforced by objects normally expected to be pointed at things or have targets- pointing fingers, guns and other weapons, spotlights, direction eyes are looking

  • Can be caused by negative space forming a pointing shape as well.
  • Can distract on purpose. "Hey, look over there!"

Pointing items 1 Pointing items 2


  • Tangents occur not just in design.
  • Copy, illustration, and even fine art are all affected.
  • Even the novels you read at night have tangents in their typesetting.
  • You should assess each iteration of your work for new tangents.
  • A talented artist/designer can utilize tangents to their advantage.

What Should I Do?!

If you're looking to fix your tangents, you could:

  • Add/Remove space.
  • Add/Remove contrast.
  • Alter the colour and/or tone.
  • Alter your composition so the tangents are added on purpose and benefit the design instead of hurt it.
The artist should control the flow of the composition,
which means sometimes breaking the rules.

J. M. Brodrick

That's All, Folks!

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