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CHAPTER 4 Dimensional Visual Elements I
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Figure 4.1 |Cover illustration for Edwin Abbot's Flatland: a Pages Files
Romance of Many Dimensions, 1884.
A satirical novel about Victorian social structure, it remains
SideBar
a relevant introduction to the concept of perceiving
dimensions.



You, who are blessed with shade as well as light, you who are gifted with two eyes, endowed with a
Author's Links
knowledge of perspective, and charmed with the enjoyment of various colours, you, who can
actuallyseean angle, and contemplate the complete circumference of a Circle in the happy region
of the Three Dimensionshow shall I make clear to you the extreme difficulty which we in Flatland
experience in recognizing one anothers configurations? Edwin Abbot, Flatland 1

newMedia Stud
In Flatland (Figure 4.1), Edwin Abbot writes a story from the point of view of a two-dimensional being

who encounters three dimensions. It turns out that its our story: through analogy, he demonstrates how ART201
to understand elements that lie beyond our ability to perceive. Even those with which we are familiar can
be hard to grasp, but understanding visual Elements will allow an artist to not only see but also use
them. WIKI BLOG


This chapter concentrates on Point, Line and Plane, but lets first make note of all the elements that ART415
effect Dimensional or Optical properties of an object in Table 4.1.

Element Subsets orSynonyms Properties WIKI BLOG

Point 0 Dimensional
Line 1 PennState Link
Plane Figure/Ground, Form, Shape 2
Volume Mass/Void, Space 3
WebFiles
Kinetics Time, Motion 4

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Web Storage

Light Value, Tone Optical


PSU Box
Color Hue, Saturation, Brightness
Texture
Cloud Storage
Table 4.1 | Visual Elements and their properties. In Chapter 4, we cover those highlighted in red.
Sites@PSU
Example: aLine, having length as a property, is a one-Dimensional entity. Color isOptical,meaning it is
an innate property of material and therefore something we see regardless of a things dimension. In
other words, a line of a given length can be either blue or yellow or red which sounds simple, but this Blogs
property will change perception of the line (Figure 4.2).

Books + Compa

Figure 4.2 | Piet Mondrian, New York City 1, 1942. The original with color at left, and the authors digital modification
without color at right. How does the presence or absence of color change your perception of the artists line and
composition?

To some, it seems paradoxical to speak of a 1-D Line in a 3-D context. To others,its tempting to neglect
the use of Color, on the belief the power of Volume will do all the heavy lifting for 3-D. In this chapter
well demonstrate that, just as they have a place in 2-D visual design, all visual elements are relevant to
3D visual design for modelers.



Figure 4.3 | TheCartesian coordinate system. The X axis typically describes
width, Y depth and Z height. The XY plane is usually horizontal like the ground
(but in the modeling program Maya, its the XZ). Where all three axes intersect is

the Origin, where all values are zero.


As we focus on Dimensional visual elements, well do so through definitions, metaphors, and examples
from tactile 3D courses. Using a mathematical vocabulary of point, line, and plane, the Cartesian
coordinate system(Figure 4.3), discussed in greater depth in Chapter X, creates a parallel universe
Licensing Note
wherein one develops masses and voids (Volume). But theres more: many so-called 3D programs can

create Kinematics to put these volumes into motion using a timeline, thus in reality functioning as a 4D
modeler for animation. These dimensional entities can remain stubbornly abstract until we can find their
tangible expression in our universe, so lets review what we encounter in various dimensions, illustrated
in Table 4.2.
Recent Activity

ART 122Y - Com

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edited by williamC

POINT - An entity with no dimension. Mathematically, the only property a point can have is
ART 122Y - Par
location. In digital modeling programs, a point is described by one Cartesian coordinate (X, Y,
edited by williamC
Z). A particularly privileged point is the Origin: 0,0,0 in Cartesian space, located at the mutual
point of intersection of the reference axes and planes. ART 122Y - Par
edited by williamC

ART 122Y - Com
edited by williamC
LINE - An entity with one dimension. A line is a point pushed by some force along a vector of
some length. Any line of any length contains an infinite number of points and subdivided ART 314 - Esse
lines. Digital modeling programs associate length with the direction of the X-axis, although a edited by williamC
line can be created in any direction, can be associated with straight or curved vectors, and
can be created by many forces, such as translation (movement along a line), rotation ART 314 - Esse
(movement about a center) or scaling (changing relative size). edited by williamC


ART 122Y - Intr
PLANE - An entity with two dimensions. A plane is a line pushed by some force along a edited by williamC
vector of some length. Any plane of any size contains an infinite number of points, lines and
other subdivided planes. Programs associate an XY plane with width and depth, but a plane More activity...
can be created in any direction and can be associated with many shapes, not simply
rectangles or regular polygons. A plane can be curved and closed to imply volume.


VOLUME - An entity with three dimensions. A volume is a plane pushed by some force along
a vector of some length. Any volume of any size contains an infinite number of points, lines,
planes and other subdivided volumes. Programs associate the development of depth with
extrusion of an XY plane through the Z direction, although a volume can be created in any
orientation, using virtually any kind of vector and any kind of force.


KINEMATICS - Entities with four dimensions. A kinematic element is a volume existing in
time, compelled by a force along a vector of some length and duration, although it should
also be understood that an object at rest also exists in time. An entity existing for any
duration contains an infinite number of points, lines, planes, subdivided volumes, and
potential locations while it exists. Programs often associate motion (T) with units called
frames in a timeline. Frames are not referenced with spatial coordinates, although events
resulting from frame manipulation are seen as a spatial manipulation in the viewport.


Table 4.2 |Dimensional states and their relationships.

The Basic Plane


It is fairly easy to see the systematic development of dimension in a mathematical setting. The way
artists deal with dimension also follows a system, albeit a more intuitive kind. In the very title of his book
Point and Line to Plane, abstract painter and Bauhaus Basic Course instructor Wassily Kandinksy suggests
emotional and spiritual relationships in the geometrical elements which underpin every visual workthe
point and linein relationship to the plane of infinite potential he calls the basic plane. 2


For Kandinksy, the basic plane, or BP, is the painters canvas, while for the digital modeler it is a
Cartesian reference plane like the horizontal XY plane seen in the viewport. The most obvious difference
between these two BPs is that Kandinksys is a material surface, while the digital one is an untouchable,
pure state of geometry.

The problem for the digital artist is how to bridge the conceptual gap. We cant make the digital BP into
an object (at least not right now), but we can see manifestations of dimension in artifacts and objects
that possess their character. With some help from his fellow painter and Bauhaus instructor Paul Klee, we
can extend Kandinskys logic and make the metaphorical leap of association between the mathematical
and the physical, the digital and the tactile.

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Kandinskys Dimensions: Point



Figure 4.4 left | A point. Well, actually, an infinite number of points. Yes,
they're there, but you cant see them they have no dimension!


As a practical matter, when Kandinsky discusses a point, hes not discussing the mathematical
abstraction we see in Figure 4.4 above.

He rather must talk about a dab or stain of pigment placed on the canvas, a physical event that at a
certain scale extends the point to a form with color or even texture or thickness, and this physicality can
give the point emotional charge. 3 As Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips describe it, Graphically,
a point takes form as a dot, a visible mark. A point can be an insignificant fleck of matter or a
concentrated locus of power. It can penetrate like a bullet, pierce like a nail, or pucker like a kiss. 4


In other words, if you try to model a single Cartesian point and render it, prepare for an exercise in
futility: youll get a result like Figure 4.4. However, using the point locus to create an entity that has
attributes of material, color and texture applied to a volume, and placing it in a context where its scale
and ability to focus is manifest, the point will acquire character and meaning. A few examples:


Figure 4.5 | Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII, 1923.
Kandinskys point becomes a matter of focus, scale and
material, evoked by stains of color, dots and intersections of
line. He leads with masterful painting, but follows up with
the most lucid theory describing the strategy of non-
objective painting: to create an exact replica of some inner
emotion.


Figure 4.6 | Chris Jordan, Cans Seurat, 2007. The original
painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande
Jatte by Georges Seurat, used tiny points of color,
achieving the illusion of hues and gradients. Jordan brings
an ecological subtext to his park, depicted with 106,000
cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.


Figure 4.7 | William Cromar, redrin, 2005. The author
used 3D modeling to generate intersecting geometries and
organization of points for this installation in thread and
wax. The points in the ceiling give the work order, while
wax-tipped threads veer between comprehensibility and
chaos.

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Figure 4.8 above |Bernard Tschumi, Parc de la Villette,
1987. One cant help but notice the punctuated presence of
the red follies(pavilions) in this Parisian park.

Figure 4.9 left |Tschumis exploded view of theParc,
illustrating the conceptual elements of point (follies), line
(paths, tree lines) and plane (ground surfaces). At human
scale, the follies are volumes, while at the scale of the
overall schema, they become points.


Convergence in the Studio


Point examples from 3D design studios...

Figure 4.10 top |James Leng, Point Cloud, 2012, marries
weather data and the concept of apoint cloudwith a
microprocessor to create an undulating, kinetic dot matrix
thatresponds to weather.

Figure 4.11 left |All sand is not created equal: this student
project creates an illusion of receding points. From a studio
taught by the author.

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Figure 4.12 right |Sand, this time wed to acrylic plastic by
a heat gun, providinga dramatic foci of melting points
frozen in a clear plane. Again, student work from a studio
taught by the author.

Kandinskys Dimensions: and Line








Figure 4.13 | Paul Klee, illustrations of a line out for a
walk, from the Pedagogical Sketchbook, 1925 5


A line is an infinite series of points. Understood geometrically, a line has length, but no breadth. A
line is the connection between two points, or it is the path of a moving point. A line can be a
positive mark or a negative gap. Lines appear at the edges of objects and where two planes meet.
Graphically, lines exist in many weights; the thickness and texture as well as the path of the mark
determine its visual presence. Lines are drawn with a pen, pencil, brush, mouse, or digital code. They
can be straight or curved, continuous or broken. When a line reaches a certain thickness, it becomes
a plane. Lines multiply to describe volumes, planes, and textures. Lupton and Phillips 6


For Kandinsky, line suggested the presence of directional force acting on a point. Paul Klee, another
Bauhaus Basic instructor and painter, speaks poetically about that force, in the development of a moving

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dot as a "line out for a walk." 7 In the sketch in Figure 4.13 from his Pedagogical Sketchbook, the
character of the drawn line suggests the nature of the journey: a random meander, a deliberate goal-
oriented stride, a welcome encounter interrupting the path...

In one example, observe the inventor of wire sculpture, Alexander Calder, creating a drawing in space
with his evocative full-body portrait of the dancer and entertainer Josephine Baker (Figure 4.14). In
another, through the lens of digital wireframing we see UK sculptor Benedict Radcliffes surreal Nike Air.
Its not Photoshop: he carefully crafts his wireframe physical models from observation of digital media in
a clever and culturally significant role-reversal seen in Figure 4.15.



Figure 4.14 left | Alexander Calder, Josephine Baker (III), circa 1927

Figure 4.15 above right | Benedict Radcliffe, Nike Air Max, 2009


Despite its contemporary cachet, the wireframe made its debut over 500 years ago. In Figure 4.16, the
study of a chalice attributed to Paolo Uccello is a pen and ink study of Renaissance perspectival
geometry. This drawing so precisely foresaw the graphic conventions of digital wireframe modeling that
Angela Eames was able to create an exact, contemporary digital homage (Figure 4.17).

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Figure 4.16 left | Attributed to Paolo
Uccello, Perspective Study of a
Chalice, circa 1430-40

Figure 4.17 above | Angela Eames,
wireframe 3D digital model rendering
of the chalice, circa 2004


Line can suggest a direction of force. Innovative for its era, architectural structure is determined by the
funicular (rope and sandbag) model of La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral by Antoni Gaud, seen in
Figures 4.184.20. Turning the funicular image upside-down allows one to see the lines of structure
meant to support what will be tallest church in the world, once it is completed.

The sandbags are strangely reminiscent of another kind of structure: that of quantum probability,
suggested by the work of UK sculptor Antony Gormley in Figure 4.21. The human figure emerges from
the development of a density of line bordering on texture.

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Figure 4.18 upper left | Antoni Gaud, funicular model,
La Sagrada Familia, begun in 1888 to study the for-its-time
radical structure.

Figure 4.19 upper right | Funicular model rotated to see
the structure predicted by the linear ropes seen inside the
cloud of sandbags.

Figure 4.20 lower left | Antoni Gaud, La Sagrada Familia
in Barcelona, Spain. Its a work in progress: this image is a
digital montage illustrating the cathedral as it is projected Figure 4.21 lower right | Antony Gormley, Quantum

to be finished in 2026. Cloud, 2000


Convergence in the Studio
Line examples from 3D design studios...

A common exercise in tactile 3D design is the wire drawing in space, one that is often paired with figuration, to
explore the use of Line. In Figure 4.22, the student used copper wire to create a life-size self-portrait. She was allowed
to bend wire over her featuresnot cheating, incidentally, as well see when we discuss concepts in the process of
casting in Chapter xx. She still had to figure how to relate wires to achieve a proportionally accurate result. The most
important decisions included intuiting where topological lines should best be placed in the most economical manner
to achieve a phenomenon of implied mass.

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Figure 4.22 |Student exercise, figure drawing with wire in Figure 4.23 |Student exercise, now with wireframes in the
space. From a studio taught by the author. viewport. From a studio taught by the author.

When you compare the tactile wire figure with the digital figure study in Figure 4.23, youll note many important points
of reference are found in both. For example, a central axial line dividing left from right exists in both, alluding to the
principle of symmetry discussed below. Note also how the ridges above the eye and at the cheeks are similarly
modeled in tactile and digital modes. Another interesting similarity occurs in the density of data. Where significant
events such as the eye or ear occur, the description of the geometry gets denser in both. When digitally modeling
from life, the artist will find it necessary to create tactile studies... sketching, physical modeling in clay... just as she does
when modeling for a final product in plaster or stone.





Figure 4.24 |A study of line versus planar modeling, from
Antti Lehtinen atPolygonblog


In modeling programs such as Maya or 3DMax, you can choose to see your work in a solid view, an x-ray view, or as
a wireframe view. The wireframe view is a way to see topological change, making visible individual polygons or curves
that define the model, but, as used in the software, its a bit of a misleading term. Wireframing is one of the oldest
modeling modes in the history of digital modeling, and uses comparatively little memory. True wireframe modeling is
not a description of planar edges, but simple lines. Thus, true wireframe modeling is spatially ambiguous due to the
lack of topological clues between the lines. In Figure 4.24, for example, the duck is more difficult to comprehend in the
wireframe as there are no clues to indicate front or back line.

Kandinskys Dimensions: to Plane


Related terms: Figure-Ground | Form | Shape

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Figure 4.25 |Paul Klee, diagrams of line-to-plane
relationships, 1925: 8

Topan active and open-ended line... implied
and passive plane.

Middleactive and closed line... linear
character in the act of being created, planar
character once completed.

Bottompassive lines... angular or circular
force applied to create active planes.


Recall Kandinsky's basic plane, that pre-existing, autonomous world defined by proportion... a square,
vertical or horizontal format to the canvas (Figure 4.26). Point and line react to what Kandinsky calls the
effective tonality determined by this proportion. For him, the horizontal suggests the kind of passive,
restive state generated by cool tonality, while the vertical implies the active state of the warm.
Its 9

impossibly reductive to talk about Kandinksys geometry without referencing tone and color, but well
reserve a deeper discussion for that in Chapter XX.


Figure 4.26 | Kandinskys tonality implies the vertical basic plane is warm and therefore active, the square neutral, and
the horizontal cool and therefore passive.

In a set of illustrations from the Pedagogical Sketchbook 10 (Figure 4.25), Paul Klee posits three states of
line-to-plane relationships, which Lupton and Phillips describe:

A plane is the path of a moving line; it is a line with breadth. A line closes to become a shape, a
bounded plane. Shapes are planes with edges. In vectorbased software, every shape consists of line
and fill. A plane can be parallel to the picture surface, or it can skew and recede into space. Ceilings,
walls, floors, and windows are physical planes. A plane can be solid or perforated, opaque or

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transparent, textured or smooth. 11


Constructivist sculptor Antoine Pevsners exercises in translating and rotating lines would yield
overlapping 2D graphic planes, except the operations occur in multiple axial orientations, making
transparent, spatially ambiguous objects (Figure 4.27). Earlier explorations of a guitar in planar material
by Pablo Picasso (Figure 4.28) engage in a play of solid and void in which volume is ambiguous and
implied: note how the sound hole, ordinarily perceived as a receding element, projects outward as a
cylindrical plane. In these works, Picasso completely redefined the terms of sculptural production away
from traditional additive or subtractive modes and into a new technique of assembly known
asassemblage, the 3D equivalent of collage.



Figure 4.27 above |Antoine Pevsner,Maquette of a
Monument Symbolizing the Liberation of the Spirit, 1952


Figure 4.28 right |Pablo Picasso,Guitar, 1914


Furniture design in the 20th Century sometimes outstripped sculpture as a laboratory for innovation. De
Stijl designer Gerrit Rietveld turns to his cabinet-making roots to concoct 3D planar relationships in
furniture designs for his architectural spaces (Figures 4.294.30). At first glance, Frank Gehrys
cardboard chair and ottoman seem made of planarslabs slipping past one another (Figure 4.31) to
loosely accumulate into mass, but upon inspection we see those planes are in turn built up of smaller
laminated planes, in their turn built of the smallest plane: the thickness of cardboard, seen in the detail
at Figure 4.32.

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Figure 4.29 |Gerrit Rietveld, Red Blue Chair,1917 Figure 4.30 |Gerrit Rietveld, Side Table,1922-3

Figure 4.31 |Frank Gehry,Vitra Red Beaver Chair and Figure 4.32 |Frank Gehry,Vitra Red Beaver Chair and
Ottoman,1986 Ottoman,detail of construction


Unlike the polygon plane created in digital modeling, in the tactile world these plane examples all
contain thickness, and hence are technically volumes. When modeling situations where a planar element
can be seen from multiple sides, you want to be sure it is given a requisite mass. For ground planes, sky
domes, or any other situation where you are creating a stage-set surface: all these can create the
illusion of mass or space without having to account for actual thickness or depth. But if you are
modeling Rietvelts table and your camera would see the thickness of the table planes, theyd better be
modeled as masses... skinny masses to be sure, but certainly not as planes!

Convergence in the Studio
Plane examples from 3D design studios...

Like the one-dimensional line, it seems counter-intuitive to talk about the two-dimensional Shape in a 3D world. A
common 3D design exercise reconciles it by analyzing a volumetric object through the use of Plane, specifically serial
planes, a series of imaginary parallel planes that metaphorically puts the object through a bread slicing machine,
ending up like the shoe in Figure 4.33, top row. These regular planes become a way of rationalizing organic Form,
seen in the orthographic projection drawings generating Figure-Ground relationships in Figure 4.34. By studying the
shoe in this way, the student was able to see topological relationships that could be rendered in a new material. His
example shows a clever material choice, weaving flat shoelaces. The pattern the weave creates is suggestive of a 3D
modeling polygon mesh, one way of creating form in a digital modeling program.

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Figure 4.33 left |Student exercise, planar study of a shoe. Top row includes
superimposing parallel planes in two orientations and an eggcrate hybrid. The
large image is a surface model of woven shoestrings. From a studio taught by
the author.

Figure 4.34 right |In the same exercise, black paper cutout drawings suggest slicing planes revealing organic form
and figure-ground relationships.

In digital modeling, serial planes and structured right-angle grids like the
eggcrate model in Figure 4.33 are sometimes used to define shape, but the
Polygon Mesh model is more often an unstructured grid of triangles or
quadrilaterals: simple convex polygons. A combination of triangles and quads
are seen in the digital shoe in Figure 4.35. Like the analysis in cardboard, a
polygon mesh rationalizes complex form by simplifying it or changing its
resolution (the amount of detail seen).

The Lo Res Project by United Nude (Figure 4.36) reverses the conventional
relationship: instead of making a complex physical form by smoothing a
simple polygon model, it literally builds the low-resolution polygon model of

a shoe, for example, into an actual shoe you can buy. Retail, it goes for... well,
if you have to ask you cant afford it! This is high, fashion-forward fashion by
architect Rem Koolhaas, slumming in product design.

Figure 4.35 top right |Low resolution polygon model of a sneaker from
Twinity.com, a virtual world website.

Figure 4.36 bottom right |United Nude, Lo Res Shoe, 2010. One of many
designs found at theLo Res Projectwebsite.

Another kind of shape study common to 3D design courses poses the problem of creating spatial relationships
through a hierarchy of non-serial planes that imply the volume of an object. This technique is applied in origami or
pop-up architectural sculptures like those created by Japanese architect Masahiro Chatani (Figure 4.37). One
inspiration for these kinds of projects is the work of Russian Constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo, seen in Figure 4.38.
Gabo demonstrated it was possible to evoke volume without creating mass in works like the Constructed Head.

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Figure 4.37 left |Masahiro Chatani, Blocks,early 1980s.



Figure 4.38 below left |Naum Gabo, Model for
Constructed Head No.3 (Head in a Niche),1917.



Figure 4.39 below right |Chris Hill, from aNURBS
tutorial. The purple lines indicate the curves, which act as
edges defining the surface planes.


A structure defined by an economy of means, the edges in
Gabos head are evocative of the stitching edges between
surface patches in aNURBS-based 3D model (Figure
4.39). In the digital model each color represents a different
curving surface plane, and the edges between them define
a curvilinear slicing plane that cuts the volume into these
surface patches. In both the tactile and digital versions,
divisions need to be carefully planned based on the
features of the analyzed, implied volume.

Graphic Shape, Organic Form


A point is given presence by expressing it with optical properties such as color and texture, while a line
can be appreciated additionally through thickness or length, straightness or curviness. For a plane to
achieve expressive character, the possibilites are mind-boggling by comparison. Even when color and
texture are reduced to black and white, the shapes and forms possesed by expressive planes are infinite.
In 2005, artist Allan McCollum began the Shapes Project (Figures 4.404.42), developing a simple system
that yields enough unique shapes so everyone alive on earth can be given one. The shape elements are
created and combined in Adobe Illustrator by an intuitive system, not a computed algorithm (Figure
4.41).

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Figure 4.40 top left |Allan McCollum,The Shapes
Project,2005-6. 7,056 unique monoprints, installed at
Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, 2006.


Figure 4.41 top right |Illustration of McCollums process,
a system of combining quadrants with his standard set of
shape elements.


Figure 4.42 bottom left |Shapes, created as vector
objects in Adobe Illustrator, can be digitally fabricated in a
variety of materialshere, shown in laminated birch
plywoodadding color and texture to the already mind-
boggling possibilities.


Each of McCollumsShapesis aGraphicorGeometric Shape. Graphic shapes can be generators for
symbols, logos or icons, and are often created from a compound of simpler, geometrically defined
planes (Figure 4.42).

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Figure 4.43 |Simple geometric planes are combined to create more complex graphic shapes. At the top, two circles
superimpose. At center, an ellipse is cut on the bias and half is mirror-rotated. At bottom, a hexagons edges are extended,
and the result is superimposed over a circle. Each compound generates a graphic shape that has a specific symbolic
meaning. Do the results mean anything significant to you?

In an odd way, the world of polygon modeling is a world of graphic shapes. Take a simple cube, and
imagine it as a cardboard box that can be cut along edges, unfolded and flattened, a process known as
finding the net of a polyhedron (Figure 4.44). When flattened, the cube becomes six squares. German
artist Albrecht Drer was fascinated by nets (Figure 4.45), producing many for his treatise on geometry,
Four Books on Measurement, which among other topics discusses the Platonic Solids well explore in
Chapter XX. A net can be generated out of more than regular polyhedra; a highly complex net results
from unfolding an irregular polygonsolid such as a torso (Figure 4.46).

Figure 4.44 above | Unfolding a cube creates its net, a graphic, cruciform shape.

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Figure 4.45 right |Albrecht Drers
net illustration for a tetrahedron.


Figure 4.46 below |Unfolding a
highly complex net such as that
created by a polygon model of a
human torso.


As these polygonal graphic shapes become increasingly complex and randomized, they are
characterized less by their sense of geometric order. Instead of feeling human-made, they take on an
aura of the natural: they approach a sense of organic form. Claiming that he and his fellow Dada artists
aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable
order, 12 Jean Arp uses organic form to reinforce the non-mechanical origin of many of his
compositions (Figure 4.47).

Figure 4.47 | Jean Arp, Constellation According to the Figure 4.49 | Zaha Hadid, plan of Pavilion for the
Laws of Chance, circa 1930. Burnham Plan Centennial, 2009.

Figure 4.50 | Sections through Hadids Pavilion, modified
by the author to emphasize shape of the mass being sliced).
Figure 4.48 | Entry to HadidsPavilion.

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It took architects about three generations to catch up to Arp: compare his forms Zaha Hadids Pavilion
for the Burnham Plan Centennial in Chicago (Figures 4.484.50). Supporting but in contrast to the
organic form, Hadid uses digital modeling to develop a rational, geometric system of structure akin to
the ribs of a boat. The Pavilion is comparable in section (Figure 4.50) to the student drawing of the shoe
in Figure 4.34, which shares the same strategyparallel Cartesian planesto rationalize an intuitively
understood organic form.

Figure and Ground


In the aforementioned shoe drawing and Hadids section, we observe a way of drawing that has a long
history as a convention for architectural representation and is quite useful to 3D modelers. In a drawing
that seems to slice through an object, the mass is blackened in while white represents open space. In the
architecture academy of the cole des Beaux-Arts, this technique was called poch, from a French term
meaning pocket, implying an enclosed space. Graphically, it allows a viewer to understand the shape of
space and structure in an architectural drawing. When we see a poch plan drawing of SantAndrea al
Quirinale (Figure 4.51) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, we appreciate how Baroque architects play eccentric,
distorted forms off one another to create dramatic spaces (Figure 4.52).


Figure 4.51 left | Plan drawing of SantAndrea al Quirinale
demonstrating poch.

Figure 4.52 right | Gian Lorenzo Bernini, SantAndrea al
Quirinale, 1661. Interior view toward front altar.


The poch drawing is an example of a Figure-Ground drawing, which some artists also call a Positive-
Negative Shape drawing. When we speak of the Figure (or Positive Shape) in a drawing, we usually refer
to meaningful marks made on the Ground (or Negative Shape), what well recall Kandinsky calls the Basic

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Plane. We can say a positive shape represents a figure drawn inside the visual field of a ground, while a
negative shape is everything the figure is not. But that can be a crude distinction. Figure 4.53 is a simple
drawing of a group of black figures on a white ground. But what else can you see?

Figure 4.53 | The Kanizsa Triangle. Figure 4.54 above | Attributed to one Mrs. Collins, a
silhouette maker working in Bath, this silhouette of Jane
Austin from the second edition of Mansfield Park inscribed
Laimable Jane, circa 1810-15, predates Edgar Rubins
development of the Rubin Vase by a century.

Figure 4.54 is an example of a visual phenomenon known as Illusory Contours. In the Kanizsa Triangle,
named after psychologist Gaetano Kanizsa, we see a white, downward-pointing triangle. Many even
observe this white figure as somehow whiter than the ground! This is an example of Reification, which
in Gestalt theory identifies a perceptual experience that contains more information than the stimulus
actually contains. Well consider Gestalt (German for shape) more deeply in Chapter XX.

Figure 4.55 |Judy Cousins for Kaiser Porcelains, Royal Silhouette Vase,1977.

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Another Gestalt concept, Multistability, can be seen in the Rubin Vase (Figure 4.54), named after Danish
psychologist Edgar Rubin. The illusion bounces between perception of a vase and profiles of two faces
as our brains try to shape the ambiguous relationship between figure and ground. Observe a mass-
void analog in 3D: a vase created for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977 (Figure 4.55). It
generates the illusion through the spatial equivalent of figure and ground: mass and void, discussed in
the next chapter. At the Grand Illusions website, see a remarkable video demonstrating the illusion still
works even though the vase is not symmetrical, as it morphs between two profiles: the Queen and her
consort, Prince Phillip, who appear to chat.

Figure-Ground Relationships
An artist who account for working with positive and negative shapes can create impressive interactions
generating various figure-ground relationships (Figures 4.564.65).

Figure-Ground Relationships

Starting with a nine-square grid,
we'll generate 3 states:
STABLEfigure-ground relationships derive from a singular figure
disengaged from the edge of the ground, making the figure a
clear, dominant focal point.

Engaging the ground edge and alternating the squares yields a
REVERSIBLEdominance the eye may alternate between
interpreting dark and light squares as figure.

Figure is completely intertwined in ground in an
AMBIGUOUSfigure-ground relationship that contains the visual
tension of no apparent focal point.

2D EXAMPLES 3D EXAMPLES





STABLE






REVERSIBLE






AMBIGUOUS

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2D EXAMPLES, top to bottom:
Figure 4.56 |Ellsworth Kelly,Untitled, 2009. The artwork itself is a figure, a powerful focal point on the wall.
Figure 4.57 |M.C. Escher,Day and Night, 1938, uses figure-ground reversal to reinforce its narrative.
Figure 4.58 |Pablo Picasso,Guitar, 1920, a Synthetic Cubist work with graphic edges & ambiguous volume.

3D EXAMPLES, top to bottom:
Figure 4.59 |ThePantheonin Rome, 126 CE, contains a single, open skylight, a dramatic visual anchor.
Figure 4.60 |Robert Smithson creates a water and land reversal in Broken Circle/Spiral Hill, 1971-2011.
Figure 4.61 |Stephen Holl & Vito Acconci,Storefront for Art & Architecture, 1982, with ambiguous openings.

Footnotes
1. Abbot, Edwin. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Seeley & Co., London. 1884. Re-published Prometheus
Books, Amherst NY. 2005. p. 17.Abbot, Edwin. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Seeley & Co., London.
1884. Re-published Prometheus Books, Amherst NY. 2005. p. 17.
2. Kandinsky, Wassily (trans. Rebay, Hilla). Point and Line to Plane. Dover Editions. 1979. p.115.
3. Kandinsky, Wassily (trans. Rebay, Hilla). Point and Line to Plane. Dover Editions. 1979. p.29.
4. Lupton, Ellen and Phillips, Jennifer Cole. Graphic Design: The New Basics. Princeton Architectural Press. 2008. p.14.

5. Klee, Paul. Pedagogical Sketchbook. Praeger. 7th ed. 1972. pp. 16-17.
6. Lupton, Ellen. Graphic Design: The New Basics. Princeton Architectural Press. 2008. p. 16.
7. Klee, Paul. Pedagogical Sketchbook. Praeger. 7th ed. 1972. p. 16.
8. Klee, Paul. Pedagogical Sketchbook. Praeger. 7th ed. 1972. pp. 18-19.
9. Kandinsky, Wassily (trans. Rebay, Hilla). Point and Line to Plane. Dover Editions. 1979. p.115.
10. Klee, Paul. Pedagogical Sketchbook. Praeger. 7th ed. 1972. pp. 18-19.
11. Lupton, Ellen and Phillips, Jennifer Cole. Graphic Design: The New Basics. Princeton Architectural Press. 2008. p. 18.

12. Quoted in Moszynska, Anna, Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p. 66.

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