Courses Design Principles page 4


8 Figure-Ground as Tension
Explain to students how and why ambiguity is a form of tension.

A Using cut paper or plaka, create figure-ground tension through shape. Fill entire four-inch picture plane.

B Using cut paper or plaka, create figure-ground tension as pattern. Fill entire four-inch picture plane.

The illusion of figure-ground requires equal amounts of black and white, and the illusion is enhanced by contours – some form of interlocking with black and white shapes identical.


9 Activating Ground with Shape
The manipulation of ground and shape into visually ambiguous shapes is at the heart of most trademark design. The tension between figure and ground is a significant factor in the designing of letterforms.

The interactional relationship between figure and ground is perhaps the most effective tool in the designer’s visual repertory.

Using cut paper or brush and plaka, make a shape where the field can be read on two or more planes. The shape should be aesthetically pleasing, in proportion with the ten-inch square and be visually centered. You should be able to read white on black on white on black...



10 Activate Figure and Ground to Create Multiple Planes
This exercise extends the figure-ground principle into spatial planes rather than as a shape, and this is of importance to ine artists as well as designers.

A Using one-inch circles cut from black and from white paper, create a visually interesting composition illustrating as many spatial planes as possible. Must be a visually interesting composition. It is suggested to begin with a grid lightly drawn in pencil.

B With cut or torn black and white papers, create a composition based on multiple spatial planes. Must be a visually interesting composition.



11 Maximum Activation of Ground with Minimum of Figure
Activate the picture plane with a minimum of image. With a brush and plaka or rapidiograph pen, indicate interstices in a stone wall or a bed of river rocks. Minimal drawing to activate maximum space. Must be a visually interesting composition. Scale and tension will have a great deal to do with success in this exercise.



12 Composition of Tension Lines Illustrating Space and Activating the Picture Plane
In design and drawing we often refer to lines as having tension. Tension lines always result in a more dynamic image. This is a good opportunity to explain to students that tension lines are based on intent, i.e. no flat curves, smooth transitions between line segments. A tension line does not necessarily have to be a hard, polished line, – the line can be soft or even ragged or fuzzy and still have tension.

Draw and present three lines with each line being a tension line.

Lines can be of different weights and lengths but must be lines and not shapes. At least one of the lines must have rough edges such as dry-brushed – however, there must be tension in the line! The lines should form a composition that activates the picture plane and shows the illusion of depth.

Arrange lines to activate space in a visually interesting way within the ten-inch picture plane. Use brush and plaka and/or rapidiograph pen. One solution required.






13 Contrast of Size and Surface>

Download PDF


Exercise 8A, B


Exercise 9

Activating Ground With Shape
(more examples)


Exercise 10A, B


Exercise 11


Exercise 12

Site Index



. 1 2 3 4 5 6