I am a wildlife biology student. I like art. I was one credit short of being a full time student. So, here I am in a class on two-dimensional digital design, reveling in the creative breaks between long sessions dedicated to scientific nomenclature and statistical study design.
Instead of memorizing this...
...I can draw this!
Bird. 2017. Digital art. Emily Ballain.
Okay, so I still have to memorize the bird checklist. But taking an art class justifies spending time on art.
Art has many pieces. Figure and Ground. Frame and Surface. Mark and line. Grid. Pattern. Texture. Sometimes these overlap, and always, they are easier shown than written, but words complement images. And images clarify words.
So, here goes
Figure and Ground
Basically, figure is the main focus of an image, while ground is... well, the background. It would be great if figure was always figure and ground was always ground, but clever artists can sometimes make you wonder which is which.
MC Escher. "Sky and Water I" 1938. Woodcut print.
In MC Escher's "Sky and Water," the birds start out as figure, then become abstracted into ground for the fish figures. Likewise, the fish start as figure, but increasingly abstract until they are just the white "ground" for the bird figures!
Frame and Surface
Should I place my focus on the center of the image or the top or the right third? How do I lead the viewer's eyes through my image and create an interesting composition? All these considerations create a frame. Sometimes frames are solid, obvious...
Desert Bird. 2015. Photograph. Emily Ballain.
...as in "Desert Bird," where the stone walls frame the bird.
Or frames can be invisible, a secret mathematical formula drawing our focus to a certain point in the image.
Pine in Bryce Canyon National Park. 2015. Photograph. Emily Ballain
This invisible frame could be the Fibonacci Spiral at work. Or the Rule of Thirds.
And what about Surface? That's the material you work on. And the textures your medium creates. I'll go into further detail in a bit.
Mark and Line and Pattern and Grid
Lines and marks are simple yet complex. Lines can convey movement and emotion. Marks can give an image a new feel. These can combine randomly or into a Grid. Grid in turn is a form of Pattern. Each of these aspects certainly deserve their own section, but my mind places them in and overlapping category, so I have to group them first and tease them apart later.
Below: Line. Mostly line, with some dappling marks on the front horse. Most of the lines here are hatch and cross hatch, but there are scribbles too. Tiny lines define the horses and wild strokes and scribbles create the idea of vegetation.
Digital Tracing of "Horses Fighting" photograph by Lynda Adlington. 2017. Digital art. Emily Ballain.
Grid is surprisingly common in everyday life. Look at the lines of windows on buildings, the tiles on the floor. Of course some artists have gone so for as to make grid more than a mere design element. Instead, grid is their theme. Grid is the focus. The image is the grid.
Diamond Dots. 2011. Fiber. Marian Bijlenga.
In the grid, one finds Pattern, simple, easy to see pattern. But pattern can be far trickier. An artist can repeat a shape throughout an image. Even in "Diamond Dots" above, Marian Bijlenga creates a pattern with color. Each of the circles has two tones.
On the other hand, a pattern can be incredibly simple.
Aesthetic Accident. 2017. Digital image. Emily Ballain.
How does this artwork feel?
Fear no Storm. 2017. Digital art. Emily Ballain.
"Hm. It feels a computer screen..."
The beauty of texture in art is that it does't have to be real. Looking at the fur of that handsome, heroic cat (his full name is Gunpowder, but he goes by Beep), I can almost feel how fluffy and soft he is. The rock--or whatever it is--that he is sitting on feels rough. In my mind. The hazy landscape behind lets me feel cooling mist. Or oppressing humidity. It depends on whether the storm is approaching or retreating. Whether this is the beginning or the middle of the day.
Should I keep going, and fill in this picture's thousand words? Haha. I won't.
Anyway, Figure and Ground, Frame and Surface, Pattern, Texture and so on are just some of the many aspects of art. I hope you enjoyed you super-fast overview of how art works!
Sprink Sarrow. 2013. Graphite on paper. Emily Ballain