The figure/ground relationship in the last project was obvious because the alphabet letter used was the only recognizable shape. The negative shapes might have been interesting but that is not enough to make them figure when there is such obvious subject matter. There are, however, other criteria for controlling a figure/ground relationship.
This lesson will explore the most important of these using the negative shapes from the last project to make compositions where they will be:

  • Negative shapes to another figure.

    Form a positive shape(figure).

    Be part of an ambiguous figure/ground relationship.

Now you will make three different compositions using the "negative shapes" from the last project. All of these will be made on the same format shape and color as the first project. The shapes may be turned over but they may not overlap each other or go outside the edges of the format.
You will make the first two to see how the above information helps dictate what will be seen as figure and what will be ground. You will keep the third experiment for your book.
fOne of the advantages of collage is that you can try many possibilities before committing yourself. Try to see how effectively you can accomplish each of these objectives before moving on to the next. Show each version to your instructor so he can see how well you understand the concepts.
Reassemble your original letter design using your "negative shapes" to make sure you have all the pieces.





Use the "negative shapes" to make a new composition where the shapes are still seen as ground. That means you will make a figure shape (the background color) with the "negative shapes,"but not the same shape as the original figure. The figure should be a single shape, as simple looking as possible, in the center of the composition. That means that the "negative shapes" should all touch the outside edge of the format or nestle into shapes that do. Try to avoid shapes that float or protrude into the center space.
In the example to the right the black should be seen as figure -- actually as two figures (the little horizontal bar on the left is also figure). The red shape that loops near the bottom is also likely to be seen as figure because it makes a simple, easy to notice shape. The black lines are left between the red shapes so you can see what the original "negative shapes" look like.
Anyone that looks at your composition should say that the figure is the color of the background paper and the "negative shapes" are still negative shapes. Try it. Ask two people what they notice as figure in your composition (what color is figure?). Remember to show your instructor.




Try a second composition using the "negative shapes." This time turn them into the figure and let the format color be the ground. This is the opposite of the previous experiment. Keep the "negative shapes" in the center and try to make them into as simple a shape as you can. Avoid areas where the background color shows as a shape in the midst of the figure you are making. That shape will be seen as figure. Work until it is clear that the new shape is figure.
In the example to the right the red shape in the center of the format is the figure (the black lines would not show in your composition). The black all around the edges stays as ground except on the right side where it protrudes into the red. It does not hurt that the red touches the outside edge some, but it would be more likely to be seen as figure if it did not.

Now that you have some experience making the same shapes into both figure and ground you will make them into both in the same composition.

Use the negative shapes from the previous project to make a composition where all of the shapes are both figure and ground in turn.

If you did the first project well you already have a set of attractive "negative shapes" that will be easy to make into figure. The problem is to turn the format (color) into figure. To do that you have to divide it into simple, attractive shapes by the placement of the "negative shapes."

fTouch all of the "negative shapes" to each other so that they form new shapes out of the background. Try to make as many of these new shapes as you can. Let the edges of the shapes flow across the composition in a graceful and rhythmic way.

When you are finished ask two people what (color) is figure. They should say both colors are figure and both are ground. Experiment with alternate configurations until you have an interesting composition that where the figure/ground relationship is ambiguous.
Label this project AMBIGUOUS_F_G and save it to your desktop folder of projects.


There will be some kind of figure/ground relationship in every composition you make. One of the best things you can do for your designs is to try to make them as interesting as possible. The best way to do this is to make the ground function as a significant part of the image.
This can be controlled by making the amount of the ground appropriate to the situation -- not too much and not too little.
You can make the ground interesting by making it into simple, attractive shapes. That is what you should have done with this project. It is also what you should have done with the Figure/Ground project. If you did, this last project was easier to make.
The ground can also be made more interesting by filling it with the right color(s) and/or texture(s). Color can be an effective attention controlling device, especially if you consider value contrasts. Texture decorates a surface and can make it more (or less if you wish) appealing.
The concepts that you learn in this course will put you in charge of what viewers see when they look at your images. You need to learn how each works and how to use them in a variety of situation. The concepts taught will build on each other. You need to use each one every time you design to be effective.