Figure vs. Ground – composition

Posted: October 17, 2012 in layout, Uncategorized, week 8
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Composition is something we don’t go without. It is everywhere and in everything. Usually, we find it in our environment and my favorite source of composition is in nature. Have you seen a butterfly lately? A snail perhaps? If I am not mistaken, those forms were often imitated in man-made composition. Design must have a good composition for it to work. This week’s lesson is all about layout composition. An activity we have is described below.

Rearrange shapes cut out of paper, and try to find the point at which the figure disappears into the ground.

Cut out a series of shapes from black paper – squares, rectangles, circles and random shapes – in a variety of sizes, from small to large.

Working with a square piece of white paper, place shapes of different sizes into the white space; place them on the white one at a time and move them around.

Try to find the point where the distinction between figure and ground becomes unclear. Does it depend on which shape dominates the space: black or white? Is it about the position of the shape within the space? Think about how important figure-ground relationships are within composition and design.

The first time I tried doing this activity, it sort of messed with my thinking. What is the goal of the activity? As I played around and had enough time reading the lecture, it became clear that this is very important in making composition. We tend to see only the figure and not its relationship to the place we will put it on.


Working with two dimensional medium, figure and ground can be interchangeable. A figure can disappear into its background or the background can disappear into the figure.

A single shape put on a large piece of ground will automatically be labeled as a figure and gets the focus.

Placement and positioning play a very crucial point in the perception of design…giving life to the ground and the figure.

In summary, the biggest conclusion I derived from this activity is that the ground can either be interesting and uninteresting and depends largely on the figure we put on it!
image What is the ground and what is the figure?        image


I placed the same shape figure but the other was one white in a black ground and the other was black in white ground.
image   image

Above figures show the shape and size but in different positions which gave different effect on the ground.


image Putting one subject/circle on a big ground gave  the impression of just a circle while putting more circles with different sizes may mean more. Can be a ball in motion thrown upward or downward.





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