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SHAPE

Shape is a design element. Shapes can be seen everywhere we look. When a line is too wide for its length, it becomes a shape. Shapes can be implied, they can be organic, geometric, large, or small. Line and shape are found everywhere — in fact, can you even find a two-dimensional image that could NOT be described in terms of line and shape?

Key Principles: FIGURE/GROUND, FIGURE/GROUND REVERSAL, CLOSURE, PROXIMITY, SIMILARITY, VARIETY, BALANCE, UNITY

FIGURE/GROUND
When working with the two-dimensional picture plane, our eyes eagerly look to separate object from its surrounding. The object is termed “figure” and the surroundings are termed “ground.” Other ways of describing this are object and background, or positive and negative.

Our eyes want to see the visually dominant shape as the positive, and what surrounds it becomes the negative. The visually dominant shape can be large or small, detailed or simple, bright or dull, depending on the other elements of the composition.

FIGURE/GROUND REVERSAL
Problem 2 asks you to explore ideas of Figure/Ground Reversal (or negative/positive reversal — same thing). Sometimes an image is composed in such a way that what first appears to you as the positive (figure) can also appear as the negative (ground) (think about those optical illusions where the two faces form the image of a vase).

Figure/Ground reversal is most easily achieved when the positive and negative shapes are about the same size (proportion) and are extensively interlocked.

Check out Problem 2 Examples (ppsx).

CLOSURE and PROXIMITY
The principle of closure describes how our eye tends to finish an incomplete shape with what we expect to see.

Proximity, also called Grouping, is a term to describe how the eye perceives shapes that are near one another as being a group or unit.

Implied Shapes and Implied Edges are testaments to these phenomena. You can use closure and proximity in your designs to create interesting compositions that work on a number of levels because they simultaneously use big shapes AND small shapes, simple shapes AND detailed shapes, shapes AND line, etc.

Check out What is an Implied Shape? (pdf)

SIMILARITY, VARIETY, BALANCE, and UNITY
The concepts of Similarity, Balance, and Unity become especially relevant when talking about shape. Having shapes that are similar to one another will help to create unity in your compositions; shapes that are different from one another will add necessary variety and interest. Experiment with combining large and small shapes to create balance in your design.

Describing Shape: PROPORTION, LOCATION, TYPE, OVERLAP, TRANSPARENCY

PROPORTION
Shape can be described in terms of proportion, or a shape’s size relative to the other shapes in the image, or relative to the picture plane itself.

LOCATION
Shape can also be described by its relative location (or position) on the picture plane.

TYPE
Geometric shapes are hard-edged and angular (think geometry class: triangle, square, rectangle…).
Organic shapes are softer, more fluid. They appear as though they exist in nature or living things (think plant life, the human form…).

OVERLAP
You may want to create the illusion of overlapping shapes on the two-dimensional surface. Shapes appear to overlap if two shapes have a shared edge, and the one “at the back” appears incomplete because of the shape “at the front”. See the principle of CLOSURE.

TRANSPARENCY
In your shape assignments, you may have to create the illusion of transparency. Transparency is overlap where the overlapped area forms a new shape and has a value in-between that of the two overlapped shapes.

SHAPE in ACTION

See how shape is used by a variety of artists and designers…
Brute
Obey
Dirk Krecker
Nicola Lopez
Joan Linder
Jovi Schnell
Edward del Rosario

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