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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Bootcamp, Stars and Stamps | 2 comments

Variety is the Spice of Life (Using Variation to Add Interest)

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Welcome to the May Bootcamp! This month we’re going to take a look at how adding variation to your design can add interest.

Variety is the quality of having different forms or types. When we use variety, or change the character of elements, to make them different we give a design visual interest. When variation is introduced, even when it is subtle, subconscience mental activity is required to absorb it. The key to successfully applying variety is that the elements need to be alike enough so we perceive them as belonging together and different enough to be interesting. If the elements are too dissimilar a design will become chaotic and “unreadable” (what we OWHers have come to describe as “sneeze” is a good example  of this) but without any variety the design becomes dull and uninteresting.

We interrupt this class to bring you a shameless plug for the OWH Before & After Pinterest Board, where you will find a gallery of cards that visually show a lot of basic but valuable design concepts in action. I like to think of them as 2-minute lessons to grow your cardmaking design skills. (Please note — both the before & after version were created by OWH blog team members as a learning tool and cards sent in by YOU to OWH are not, never have been and never will be ‘redesigned’). We now return you to our normally scheduled program…

Some of the basic ways to vary the elements in a design include:

VALUE:  Value refers to the relative darkness or lightness of elements. If your design lacks contrasting values elements will tend to blend together. Adding variety in your values (contrasts of darks/lights) will help to draw attention to elements.

TEXTURE:  Variety in texture would include smooth and embossed papers as well as elements like ribbon, flowers and brads. Even though they may be smooth to the touch most patterned papers would fall under the category of ‘adding texture’ to a design.

COLOR:  As we discussed in our very first class understanding the relationships between colors can help us to choose colors that will add variety but also compliment our overall design. Even a monochromatic color scheme requires a variation in color value (lightness & darkness) to succeed.

SHAPE:  An example of applying variety in shapes might be including a die cut circle to frame an image or sentiment within the rectangular shape of the card design.

SIZE: You might have similarly shaped items in your design but varying in size.


Let’s take a look as some card samples that show variation in one or more of these areas.

Barb 5

In this card design Barb has got several areas where variation occurs most obviously in the varying size of the stars.


Lee Mae

Lee Mae has used a variation in color in this design to add interest to her focal point… the bouquet of three (there’s that Rule of Odds) flowers.


Allison 5

Allison has incorporated variation within her 4 hearts by embellishing each in a slightly different way and this design has a lot of variation in textures too.


Smantha 5

The circle shapes and sizes are identical but there is variation in patterns and colors in this card design by Samantha and the twine adds variation in texture too.



Nancy’s design has various shapes and sizes of paper button embellishments and having the focal image on a bright white background creates a nice variation in contrast with the dark brown frame.



Sandy 5

The variety of circles inside the rectangle frame in this card by Sandy is a great example of how variation in shapes and sizes can add interest to your card designs.


While many designs will include variety in each of these areas (and the more advanced your designs skills become, the easier it is to do this) you will easily improve your designs by applying variety in even one of them. If you feel overwhelmed I would suggest starting with adding variety in one way at a time, in the order we’ve discussed them. Start by adding variety in your values first, then move on to using variety in values and textures etc.

Variation, which is closely intertwined with Repetition (which we’ll discuss in next month’s class) is a very common sight in nature, from schools of fish to forests of trees. The consistent presence of variation with natural repetition may be why naturally always expect repetition to be accompanied by variation and why we find it visually pleasing.


As we continue to explore additional concepts you should be starting to work on building your ‘toolbox’ of knowledge and start to practice applying multiple concepts simultaneously. So this month while you work on a card that uses variation in the area(s) of value, texture, color, shape and size take some time to see how you might also apply one or more of the previous concepts too. At the very least you’ll want to be sure you also have a strong focal point. I look forward to seeing your designs!

Everyone who participates in this Design Bootcamp by linking up a card created for this class will receive a Class Summary in PDF format via email.


  1. Looks like fun!

  2. Thanks, Paula! these lessons are fun, and even when I do some things naturally, I find it’s valuable to learn a more structured way to think about it. I love OWH for many reasons, and one of them is all the help and encouragement to improve my card making.


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