workshop slide gallery theory help   

01. Relationship of dot, line and plane
02. Dot
03. Constellations
04. Line
05. Grids & Patterns
06. Shapes
07. Openings (shapes within shapes)
08. Colour
09. The colour wheel & natural order of colours
10. Color Harmony
11. Texture
12. Light & Shade, Shadows
13. Three-dimensional form
14. Voids
15. Space
16. Composition
17. Principles of basic design
18. Proportion and Scale


16. Composition


The visual artist deals with space, two-dimensional as well as three-dimensional. Two-dimensional space composition lies between flat and decorative usage of space to the creation of illusion of space or illusion of three-dimensionality. Whereas in contrast three-dimensional orientation deals with placement of objects in space or actual division of space.

We cannot perceive objects on a homogeneous field. A need for a heterogeneous field in a figure is essential. Figure ground refers to our ability to distinguish an object from its general surroundings. The characteristics of figure ground relationship are as under:

  • The ground is usually larger and simpler than the figure. The smaller an area, the greater the probability it will be seen as the figure
  • The figure usually appears to be on top or in front of the ground even though the figure and the ground are in the same physical plane
  • Convex shapes tend to become figure and concave shapes tend to become ground
  • Unbroken shapes tend to become figure and segmented shapes tend to become ground
  • What dominates the eye is considered the figure
  • More passively displayed objects take on the role of ground
  • Darker colours tend to form figure
  • The enclosed surface tends to become figure, whereas the enclosing one tends to become ground
  • Figure and ground of same or nearly the same area tend to become ambiguous
  • Alternating shapes tend to create figure ground ambiguity
  • Strong figure ground relationships create visual excitement and attracts the attention of the viewer
  • Generally an ambiguous figure ground relationship is not beneficial

Normally, the smaller area tends to be the figure; and when the two areas, figure and ground begin to approach equal size and a state of balance, the overall effect becomes perceptually unstable. The focus of the eye will alternate between figure perceived as ground and ground perceived as figure.

Ambiguous figure-ground compositions can be considered as positive-negative reversals. A strong figurehead composition is visually more exciting and attractive than an ambiguous one.

Positive-negative aspects of figure and ground are as important as the spatial intervals in a point-line composition or the voids in a three-dimensional creation. A successful positive-negative spatial relationship must make maximum use of the total work area. Of course, that does not mean that a checkerboard is an aesthetic success because it cannot sustain the viewer's interest for a long time. So a good composition is one which uses space well, and is also visually interesting - which means that positive and negative areas must be well balanced.


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For more details contact - Ar. Shirish Sukhatme
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