Form and Composition

This assignment asked us to explore how size, placement, rotation, etc. in space can convey meaning. We had to convey five words: order, tension, congestion, playfulness, and comfort, using only black squares set within a square frame.


Order was relatively easy. Squares are already very ordered things, and making other geometric shapes and patterns with them is simple.

My first thought was of troops marching, so I made Sketch 1 a column of individuals in formation.

Then I thought two lines were unnecessary, so I drew Sketch 2. To ensure that the pattern was clear, I added a fourth square to the line.

Next, I realized order can mean first, second, etc. in addition to simply being the opposite of chaos. So Sketch 3 conveys a sense of sequence rather than uniformity.

In Sketch 4, I decided to try something not built on a rectangular grid.

After those four sketches, I moved on to other words, which proved beneficial. When I came back, I realized they all had something set in the middle of empty space. That irregularity seemed inherently disordered (the squares are ordered in relation to themselves, but they interrupt the order of the empty frame), so my fifth idea involved making the order pervasive. I made sure that the squares in Sketch 5 bleed off the edges in every direction to communicate that the order goes on infinitely.

For the final product, I went with an unmodified version of my fifth sketch.


Tension was a bit harder. Ordered things are often at rest, but tension requires a sense of pulling or suspense. You have to make the person looking at it feel the tension.

My first thought was dramatic tension, so I drew a block teetering on the edge of a cliff.

Next I imagined something stretching as it was pulled, and I did my best to convey that by narrowing the middle of the form in Sketch 2.

In Sketch 3, I sort of combined the cliff from Sketch 1 with the idea of stringing squares together from Sketch 2. After drawing it, I realized I should have placed the cliffs farther apart and made the bridge droop.

In Sketch 4, I imagined a heavy weight hanging by a taught rope.

In the fifth sketch, I placed the heavy object on top of a bridge, which does droop. I placed it high in the frame so that you can sense the potential energy it has.

In Illustrator, I made yet another version. I combined many of the other ideas. My digital sketch has a heavy weight like a few of the others, as well as the “rope” with a narrow middle. In this version I had the idea to add a floor to make it clear that the weight is hanging in the air.

In Illustrator, I played with the spacing of the squares in the rope and came up with this final product:


Congestion wasn’t too hard. I found there were several simple visual metaphors, and many variations on those metaphors that could be made.

In Sketches 1 and 2, I imagined things being stuck in tight spots.

In Sketch 3, I thought of traffic congestion. The sketch depicts traffic that has come to a stop so suddenly that “cars” at the back of the line had to veer to the side to avoid crashing. However, there’s a lot of empty space the boxes could use to go around the congestion. Something more was needed.

In Sketch 4, I attempted to depict an impassible traffic incident. The boxes are coming from every direction, so no one can get past. I also think it has a clearer sense of motion. (In Sketch 3, someone could perhaps misinterpret the boxes’ direction of travel.)

Sketch 5 is a combination of the tight space and congested traffic ideas. Not bad, but less dynamic than Sketch 4.

Final version of Congestion

I chose Sketch 4 for digital implementation. This time, I filled all the extra space to add to the effect. Although I used the first digital version as my final submission, I made two other versions (shown below) as well. In the first, I made the spacing much tighter, with many boxes touching, as if they had collided. However, I found this obscured the forms. The lines of boxes now looked like single objects, rather than many individual boxes traveling in the same direction. In the second variant, I tried to incorporate my third sketch, with boxes that veered off course. However, I found this obscured the sense of motion and made the image harder to analyze.

A rejected iteration with tighter spacing to represent collisions.
Another rejected iteration, with boxes that have veered off their path.


I had a lot of sketches for this one.

I had trouble with Playfulness. I couldn’t avoid anthropomorphizing the blocks. I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong, but I wish I’d been able to do something else for at least a few sketches. In Sketch 1, I drew a simple game of catch. In Sketch 2, I was inspired by the way the Android mascot is often depicted waving from the edge of a screen in advertisements, so I had a small block peeking from the edge of the frame. In Sketch 3, small blocks jump and climb onto a bigger block to play. In Sketch 4, blocks slide down an incline. In the fifth, a block builds a tower out of… blocks.

I spent a while just coming up with those ideas, but wasn’t very happy with any. Then I thought of how Playfulness contrasts with Order. That inspired Sketch 6, which depicts a block playfully leaving a formation taken from one of my order sketches. Then, in Sketch 7, I combined this new idea with the peeking block from Sketch 2.

I had the most iterations for Playfulness.

In Illustrator, I created a larger ordered formation to make sure it was clear where the mischievous block was supposed to be. Then at the TA’s suggestion, I made several small copies of the artboard and played with different rotations and some other variables.

Ultimately, I settled on the playful block peeking from the side (not below, where it could look like he accidentally fell), far away from his spot (so it doesn’t look like he’s heading toward it).


I also found Comfort difficult, and again I anthropomorphized the blocks in every sketch. It was easier to think of ideas, but I generally found I liked each idea less than my ideas for Playfulness. Many of my ideas had a story to go along with them, but it was difficult to make that story clear in just one illustration.

In Sketch 1, I imagined a small block leaning on or reaching for its mother.

In Sketch 2, I tried to depict two blocks safe inside a house. I struggled to create something that was clearly a house, though, and the giant roof almost looks like it could come crashing down. The TA suggested experimenting more with the size and arrangement (you can see her sketches at the bottom of the page). Still, I wasn’t able to create anything I considered an improvement.

Sketch 3 depicts a block finding its friends after a long journey. However the drawing could very easily be interpreted in other ways. For example, there’s nothing to suggest which direction the lone block is moving; it could be misunderstood as leaving its friends.

Sketch 4 depicts small blocks being protected from bigger, meaner blocks by a wall. Again, I think the story isn’t clearly communicated. Also I’m not sure creating danger is the best way to portray comfort.

Sketch 5 depicts a block relaxing in a reclined chair. This one felt like it might be too literal, and it relies upon someone understanding that the large shape is a chair, which I didn’t want to bet on.

The first digital iteration of Comfort.

I finally chose to bring my first sketch into Illustrator. Having created it with perfect pixels, I realized that the mom looked emotionless when she was sitting perfectly straight. I played with several angles, and decided on a slight tilt for the mom and a more noticeable tilt for the child. I feel this accurately portrays a typical scene where a parent reaches for her child, but the child runs to her mom. I also nudged the mom down just a few pixels so that she’s not standing on only her corner. The child can be that excited and unstable, but it felt unnatural for the adult

You can see a slight slope on the bigger block in the final version.

Apologies for the quality of the digital versions. Illustrator refused to export PNGs, so these are screenshots.

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