squared pt. 3

CDF F17 Project 2 Documentation
Final Process Documentation


The goal of this project was to communicate contrasting words and feelings working with only simple shapes and within strict constraints. Using only black squares (and restricted color) on a square canvas, I tried to communicate the essence of the provided prompts (rigid+fluid, clumsy+graceful, rhythmic+erratic, and one figure/ground composition), keeping in mind Gestalt principles like proximity, equilibrium, and continuation.

initial sketches and exploration

I began brainstorming solutions in my sketchbook with small mostly-pencil thumbnails. The small scale of these thumbnails gave me the freedom to sketch quickly, experiment, and explore and become familiar with the project constraints.

After sketching many small thumbnails, I created five larger thumbnails per word for the sketches that seemed the most promising. These larger thumbnails, done with black marker, allowed me to see the compositions at a larger scale and increase my focus on the details and relationships within each canvas.

I began noticing patterns in my compositions for each word. Rigid compositions featured mostly perpendicular, static squares with balanced white space and proximity; Fluid compositions featured irregular white spaces and more variance in square size. Clumsy compositions — large squares rotated at varying degrees; Graceful compositions — smaller squares with subtler or graduating variances in size. Rhythmic — perpendicular squares, balanced white space; Erratic — rotated squares, irregular white space. And at this stage, Figure/ground compositions featured perpendicular squares and balance between white and black space.


The feedback I received for my paper and pen sketches suggested that my strongest concepts lived in my sketches for Rigid+Fluid and Clumsy+Graceful. Overall, I received the most positive and/or interested feedback in my Figure/ground sketches, which was both validating and unsurprising — I definitely had the most fun experimenting with Figure/ground.

digital iterations

After sketching large thumbnails on paper, I moved to Adobe Illustrator to translate those sketches into digital thumbnails. I chose to focus on the word pairs Rigid+Fluid and Clumsy+Graceful, as well as Figure/ground.

These digital thumbnails allowed me to see my compositions with crisp, accurate squares, and also gave me tools to easily play and make high-quality iterations. As a result, these digital iterations made me see some compositions in entirely new lights, and several compositions were reassigned to different words and categories, or completely abandoned as solutions.

Rigid Digital Iterations

Digital iterations for Rigid ultimately deviated very little from my hand-drawn sketches. The precision achievable in Illustrator made the illusions of depth, brittleness, and/or stability even more pronounced, and as such aligned these sketches with my overall goals for Rigid.

Fluid Digital Iterations

In Illustrator, the Fluid compositions benefited from the ability to quickly create large numbers of small squares. I experimented with scale, white space, and balance. I was inspired by movement, as well as by the loose molecular structure of real-world liquids.

Clumsy Digital Iterations

Clumsy also greatly benefited by the flexibility available in Illustrator; it was easy to move squares, overlap squares, and adjust scale. I also decided to use color in these compositions to draw the eye towards the awkward relationships and shapes I was trying to communicate.

Graceful Digital Iterations

Graceful went through the most iterations in Illustrator; the initial illustrations taken from my sketchbook didn’t translate as I’d hoped when reproduced digitally — the first iteration actually went on to become a Figure/ground composition, as the white space began to remind me of teeth. In the rest of my iterations, I continued to experimented a lot with proximity, scale, and figure/ground relationships. I wanted to convey delicacy and daintiness, as well as motion — like a ballet dancer.

Figure/ground Digital Iterations

As mentioned previously, many Figure/ground digital sketches came out of digital iterations of other words. The second iteration was originally an iteration of Rigid, and the third and second iterations were originally Graceful compositions.

final iterations

My final iterations included black and white compositions for Rigid+Fluid and Figure/ground, and colored compositions for Clumsy+Graceful. I chose a light pastel pink for the colored compositions; in Clumsy, it communicates childishness and simplicity, while in Graceful it communicates delicacy and softness.


If I were to do this project again, I would have pushed myself to iterate more for my Rigid+Fluid compositions and/or seek more feedback. Ironically, while I felt the most confident about my Rigid+Fluid compositions, during the final critique my peers seemed to find these compositions more ambiguous than my Clumsy+Graceful or Figure/ground final compositions, saying in particular that they perhaps communicated Rhythmic+Erratic as well and not solely Rigid+Fluid. This process taught me to proactively seek outside input and second opinions, even if I myself feel confident that I’ve found a solution.