Project : Echoes – 10.01.10
One of the things that I always taught my kids in my middle school art class was that all design starts on paper…in two dimensions. As an architect, that is where my training began…creating two-dimensional collages where I learned two of my favorite terms – figure-ground and figure-ground reversal. These are my favorites because they are often illustrated in a black and white composition…and nothing is more appealing to me than classic black & white.
So what is figure-ground and figure-ground reversal? Consider the object or subject your “figure” – all of the area around or behind the figure is the “ground”. When you look at a composition, oftentimes your eye automatically picks out the main subject or shape. This is usually intensified by the contrast between the figure and the ground in scale or color or both.
A reversal takes place when your eye sees what would normally be the figure become the ground. Sometimes when the black and white are equal in scale it is hard to tell which is which. Are they white objects on a black background or black objects on a white background?
A reversal can also be very literal where you can clearly have white objects on a black background and then have black objects on a white background in the same composition.
In product design, it is not uncommon for a designer to decide that the area around an object should be as interesting as the object itself. This technique stems directly from the idea of figure-ground reversal where the white-space becomes the figure. I have illustrated this with these vase images where the space around the location of the stems is given much more “meaning” and substance.
The Zero Vase at wrapables.com
An elaborate bud vase by home accessories designer Global Views
A contemporary vase by Canadian designer Tim Antoniuk
“O” vases by American designer Kenneth Wingard
Innermost Stem vase by Pure Modern
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) store Outline bud vase
The Fleur Vase by Chiasso
I decided to use this same thought process in creating this week’s line drawing. What if I treat the object that I am inspired by:
And make that shape the background and give definition to the area surrounding it?… You get something like this!