More Figure & Ground

Just a quick follow-on to my first figure and ground – which is which? – post.
Consider this example – Is it a picture of a black square painted on a white rectangle? or – Is it a white box with a black hole in its center viewed from directly above? Are you able to see whichever one that you tell yourself it is?

How about the previous image displayed alongside its “negative”? In addition to the same questions asked above, consider this one – are both small squares in the center of the larger square the same size? If you’re not sure, then can you see implications for emphasizing or de-emphasizing the importance of objects in an image? We know that, all else equal, lighter toned shapes capture the viewer’s eye before darker toned shapes. Now add the fact that lighter shapes against a darker background appear larger and we have a twofold method for making certain shapes “pop”.
And, yes, they are exactly the same size.

And – building on the side by side comparison above, consider these next two pictures. Look at the left image – does the blue square appear to advance or recede relative to the red frame (or neither)? Now ask yourself the same question about the red square relative to the blue frame in the right hand image.
What you are most likely to decide is that the left small blue square recedes and right small red square advances. This is based on the color perception fact that warm colors (red in this case) advance and cool (blue here) colors recede. Once again, these facts have implications on how your visual design – specifically colors & shapes – can influence the viewer’s perception and thus interpretation of your meaning. Better that you be aware of these things than to go down our path less traveled blindly.
Have we maybe learned that a shape which is light toned with a warm hue will draw attention more readily than one with a dark tone and cool hue? I think so. One other important lesson from the warm/cool example is related to creating the illusion of depth within our two dimensional image. If, in your image,  near objects tend toward the cool side and far objects are warm can you see how this might send conflicting visual perception messages to the viewer?

The message of this post is that shapes can appear larger or smaller and can appear to advance or recede depending on how the figure and ground are interpreted and treated. The treatment is your responsibility; the interpretation is 100% viewer (especially in the absence of verbal clues as is usually the case with a photograph). More of this to follow in the coming weeks – are we having fun yet?

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