2D UNIT IV: Figure/Ground

Project B2 Protest and Persuasion: Making Art That Matters* (Wet Media)

To explore various methods for creating strong figure/ground relationships on a two-dimensional surface.

To create visual images and symbols that could be used to protest or persuade.

Project Overview Your challenge is to plan and execute a black and white composition that attempts to protest or persuade. Your focus should be on effective definition of shape, use of symbols, figure/ground relationships, and impact on your intended viewers.

Project References


1. Gallery of Chicano and Chicana artworks

2. Marcuse, Herbert, "The New Sensibility," An Essay on Liberation (Boston: 1969), pp. 23 - 48.




technique: wet media (brush, ink or opaque watercolor)

concepts: figure/ground relationships, intersection, integration, interprenetration, ambiguity, vignette



black ink or gouache, illustration board (15" x 20")

1. Before coming to class, review the theme of Protest and Persuasion as found on the website. Plan out your image, remembering to focus on shape and figure/ground relationships (see vocabulary above). Remember that letters and words (as well as images) can also provide effective design or concept elements.

HINT: You might choose to use a linear repeat pattern as a border to frame another image or text, as Luis Guerra did in his painting for a poster, as Ana Laura de la Garza did with roses around her monoprint, as José Guadalupe Posada did with his broadside, or as the santero painter did to frame the New Mexico retablo of the Virgin of Guadalupe. (See "Gallery")

2. Make a list of words that are meant to evoke the ideas of "protest" or "persuasion." Compare this with another list of words that advocate a particular point of view.

3. Create a "short list" of 3 - 5 words that seem to effectively convey "protest" or "persuasion."

4. Create a series of thumbnails (minimum of 10) that translate your words into simple, bold, black and white compositions

5. Select the best one to enlarge to fill your entire board. Use the transfer process demonstrated in class.

6. Using only black ink or black gouache, paint the areas that you want to function as the "figure." Pay special attention to the quality of the "negative shapes" and the way in which the "ground" is articulated.

Considerations: How could you introduce the human body into your composition (Silhouettes from life using using shadows? Xeroxed or traced magazine images or photos? Direct drawing from life?); Make sure you use the whole illustration board. Don't be afraid to radically crop images--esp. the human body.


Critique Ideas


When you have completed your composition, divide into small groups and exchange artworks with another group from the class. Within your group, work together to respond to each print in turn. Consider the following:

1. Describe the various figure/ground relationships your fellow artists used.

2. Point out any personal and/or cultural symbols the artist used to indicate a particular meaning.

3. Discuss ideas the artwork seems to communicate. After some sharing of interpretations, attempt to state the message of the composition in one sentence. (This artwork is about. . .)

4. Explain how the shapes, symbols, or other elements of the composition support its message.

*Thanks to Arizona State University Professors Mary Erickson and Gary Keller Cárdenas for some of the ideas behind this assignment.

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