CalArts: Funds. of Graphic Design-W4: 4.2 Visual Contrasts

So we’re going to divide visual contrast up into a list of six different categories.

Those categories are

  • form or kind of shape,
  • scale, size relationships,
  • weight, so a difference in tonality.
  • Space, how composition might use negative and positive space.
  • Direction, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, lines or how objects point and help you traverse white space.
  • And then texture, the kind of flatness versus the texture or the quality of a certain an object.

So to begin with, 
we’re going to break these down into single visual contrasts with single forms.

So what that means is, we’re gonna take every single aspect of those six points, and we are going to look at them with just one shape and see what would make a lot of contrast or a little contrast.

So to begin with, if we think about form is a shape. It’s a single form.


There’s no real contrast there and all we’re really looking at is the difference between that form. 
And we’re really just trying to accentuate just this one form.

There’s no scale difference between the forms. 
There’s no tonal difference, 
there’s no directional difference, 
apart from what might be inherent in the form itself.

So we can look at form and talk about differences in form with just single objects. It doesn’t necessarily have to be comparative side-by-side.


But if we look at the next contrast scale,

we really need to see large versus small next to each other, cuz they define one another.

So here you can see scale when it’s even, so no difference between the two objects

versus obviously a much more exaggerated scale.

One object being larger, one object being smaller.

But again we’re trying not to allow any other contrast to be visible here. 
So, not a lot of direction, not a lot of spacial, tonal difference or textural difference.


So let’s look at weight now and try and isolate weight as a contrast.

So here you can see we have two shapes that are very even. Exactly the same tone. 
They have the same visual weight, 
which is obviously related to their scale and their form as well.

But you can see just by turning one into an outline and leaving the other solid, the dark shape suddenly has a lot more presence on the page.

A lot more contrast volume. So it appears to have more weight.

And obviously we can do this tonally as well.

We can look at a 50% shade here, 
and look at the difference between that tonally.

And again, it’s in terms of contrast. 
So the shape on the right appears to be visually larger than the shape on the left, 
and visually heavier as well.


So now let’s look at space as a contrast.

And space isn’t necessarily a contrast that can be held within a particular form, 
so we’re not really talking about the difference between each of these two objects as implying a contrast in space.

What we’re really talking about, is a compositional contrast
where here, for instance, 
by putting those two shapes into one corner we’re creating a lot of white space.

So we’re really looking at creating a composition here that puts an emphasis on that white space and makes that white space much more visual.

But at the same time, because the square shapes are echoing the square of our page and are sitting fairly passively in the corner, there’s not a lot of direction happening either.

And again, there’s no tonality, there’s no difference in textural scale, 
so what we’re really trying to do is just to isolate and emphasize one aspect of the visual contrast list in order to focus on it but also in order to be able to really understand it and control it.


Direction works in a similar way.

We’re not really looking at direction within an individual shape.

Obviously a square as an even geometric shape, 
pulls you into the center of that shape, 
whereas a line might actually have a little bit more direction.

But we’re thinking more about the relationship between the page and the objects that are put on the page.

So here for instance you can see we’re getting a much more diagonal relationship out of these squares.

We’re starting to get a diagonal direction so our eyes being led from the center of the page out to the corners here.

And you can see, you can create that tension and you can create direction that actually makes the viewers eye cross white space.

And this is the beginning of understanding how elements work in relationship to backgrounds within compositions, 
how a viewers eye moves around a composition in that relationship to hierarchy.

So for instance we might be drawn to one of these black shapes but then our eye is pulled across to the other shape.


Texture works a little bit more like some of the other contrast that we were looking at, 
where texture really relies on the object itself changing rather than its relationship to the page and its position on the page.

So for instance here we can see just the very straightforward black square whereas the shape to the left has a geometric texture to it and you can exaggerate that even more by perhaps making it be more organic.

You could also have a less linear quality to define that shape,

so here you can see that we still read this as a square but the texture is really forcing us to not think about it being quite so geometric as before.