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Figure and Ground

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Copyright © 1999 by Bonnie Skaalid

Figure & Ground

Pic: lighthouse

The terms figure and ground explain how we use elements of the scene which are similar in appearance and shape and group them together as a whole. Similar elements (figure) are contrasted with dissimilar elements (ground) to give the impression of a whole. In the picture to the left, the lighthouse stands out as the figure, while the horizontal blue lines are perceived as ground.



Pic: horsesLook carefully at the M.C. Escher print to the right.

Do you see the white horses and riders?

Now look for the black horses and riders!

Escher often designed art which played around with figure and ground in interesting ways. Look at how figure and ground interchange in this print. 

M.C. Escher works (c) Cordon Art B.V.-Baarn- the Netherlands. Used by permission. All rights reserved


A breakdown of figure and ground occurs with camouflage, where the objective is to make the figure so much like the ground that it disappears from view. Notice the painting of the bird below. Only with great difficulty can you separate the bird from the log it is perched on. Figure and ground have merged together.

Pic: camouflage

Theory:[Classic Graphic Design Theory] [Gestalt Theory of Perception] [Human Computer Interface Design]

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