Figure & Ground
Although a basic concept, many artists create art which causes the user to perceive figure and ground in different ways within the same piece. Most art works draw the watcher to a focal point, resting against a backdrop. When an artwork has multiple focal points which can be understood as both the subject and the backdrop, the artist is intentionally utilizing figure & ground flipping. In this promotional poster for Brave, artist Michael Depippo has two figures, the girl and the bear. Each figure, however, can only be fully understood using the elements of the other figure as its ground.
Figure & Ground: A concept poster by Michael Depippo
Patterns within artwork can create an illusion of shape and texture while avoiding hard edges. In Klimt’s Baby Cradle, the figure is enveloped in a pile of multi patterned blankets, and while the blankets are ill-defined, its easily understood based on the layers of pattern. The patterns also created a sense of texture, that the blankets are crumpled twisted and stacked.
Pattern: Baby Cradle by Gustav Klimt
Frame & Surface
The choice of surface for artist now is primarily an aesthetic choice, where earlier artists may have had to choose based on durability and patron choice. An artist will also choose to frame their primary subject within an aspect ratio, placing the central figure against the ground in a deliberate way. Many artists utilize the Fibonacci or golden spiral, a logarithmic expansion that expands based on partitions of thirds. Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper utilizes two Fibonacci Spirals. The window frame represents the first focal point of the composition. Within the window frame, the leaning women becomes a secondary focal point. Each falls within a Fibonacci spiral measured against their enclosed space.
Frame & Surface: Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper
Texture in a work of art is often a product of the medium, but can be an intentional aspect of the art. Excess paint, added material (cloth, hair, etc) adds an additional level of depth and content to art. Alaskan artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs often utiliezes human hair within her art, mixed into the paint and among the changing shades of color.
A piece by Sonya Kelliher-Combs
Mark & Line
Many artists will create artwork which relies on simple markings, shadings, mono-tones to convey their ideas. Without the complexities of paint and other mediums, and artist can focus on their intent and drive more meaning into the delicate (or not) of their marked art. In Seaside Resort by Paul Klee, the use of soft colors, loose lines and simple structures conveys a sense of peace and idealism. This resort is portrayed as simple, light hearted, but full of color and life.
Paul Klee, 'Seaside Resort in the South of France'
The use of grid or symmetrical lines can convey a sense of imposed structure, order or constraint. Many artists depict this grid, then actively work outside of the lines or disrupt the machine work in some way to convey a break from imposed order. In ‘C’, Bridget Riley shows a simple array of dots. However, with slight variations throughout the piece, the artist conveys a wave or flow, and if viewed a different way, irregular bulges. It feels very disorderly, within an ordered matrix, and doesn’t feel like there’s any singular pattern being conveyed.