Category Archives: Composition

“Piece of the Artic” Pie Chart Photo Manipulation

I saw some beautiful 3D illustration of Madagascar that inspired me to create this illustration. In this tutorial, I’ll share my experience in recreating this illustration. This tutorial will utilize Photoshop 3D features, layer masking, and a lot of selections.

Preview of Final Results


Piece of the Artic Pie Chart Photoshop Tutorial


Step 1

Create a new layer (Ctrl+N) with 1600x1200px wide and resolution is set to 150dpi. Create a new layer, fill it with solid 50% gray color.


Step 2

Create a 3D shape by accessing menu 3D > New Shape From Layer > Cylinder. Use one of the 3D Object tool to reduce the cylinder’s height as seen below.


Step 3

Increase the cylinder size by dragging up the middle square in the 3D Axis, see image below.


Step 4

Still using the 3D Object Rotation tool, adjust the perspective like shown below. Show the 3D panel by going to Window > 3D menu. Inside the 3d panel, click scene button to see option about material and render settings. Click the Edit button to show the 3D Render Settings dialog, we need to see some wire frames for guidelines, so check the second option (wire frame box icon), then adjust Crease Threshold value to 0. Click OK to apply changes.


Step 5

Convert 3d object layer into a raster layer, then create a new layer above it. Using solid round brush, draw a guideline to mark the area we’re going to cut.


Step 6

Create a light blue (RGB: #6dcff6) ellipse using ellipse tool, make sure you create it below the guideline layer. Using Edit > Free Transform Path command to adjust ellipse’s width and height. Don’t forget to hit Enter when you’re done transforming.


Step 7

Create a new ellipse shape below the first one, notice that I rename the layers for easier recognition. Use free transform command to adjust ellipse’s width & height, following the 3d model as guidance. This process will be easier if we can look the 3d model, so reducing the layer’s opacity surely will help us. As for the bottom edge part, use warp command to bend it. Hit Enter when you’re done.


Step 8

Still in the layer bottom, select Pen tool from tool bar. Activate subtract from shape area option, then follow the guidelines to create a triangle-like shape. Because we’re using subtract from selection mode, the triangle will ‘cut’ the ellipse as seen below.


Step 9

Click layer top thumbnail, then repeat the same step as before to cut the ellipse using Pen tool.


Step 10

We don’t need the 3d model layer anymore, so you can hide or delete it now. Still using Pen tool, create the left, inside & right shape (I assume you already know how to use Pen tool). For easier recognition, I suggest using different blue color tone for each shape. Make sure the layers order from top to bottom are like this: layer top, right, inside, left, bottom (see image below for more details).


Step 11

Now you’ve done creating the 3D pie, hide or delete the guideline layer since we no longer need it. The next step is adding texture, but first you have to decide where to put the light source. You don’t have to draw a polygonal shape to do this step, just visualize in your mind that the light source is from the top right corner (as seen below). Knowing the light source will make your work easier, because you know where to draw shadows and highlights globally.


Step 12

Open the water image (File > Open). Press Ctrl+A to select all parts of the image, then press Ctrl+C to copy it to clipboard. Get back to 3D pie image and press Ctrl+V to paste the water image. Make sure you place it above the TOP layer and name it wave.


Step 13

Still on the wave’s layer, reduce its size by pressing Ctrl+T (hold the Shift key while dragging the corner control point, this will keep the aspect ratio of the image so it didn’t look squeezed or stretched). Hit Enter when you’re done transforming. And since we’re agreed the light source is come from the upper right corner, we need to flip the wave by using Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal menu. That’s look better!


Step 14

We need the wave image as a texture for the top shape layer. In order to do that, simply press Ctrl+Alt+G and voila, you’ve got the clipping mask layer.


Step 15

Duplicate the wave layer, then drag it down between left and bottom layer. Create a rectangle-like selection using the Rectangular Marquee tool.


Step 16

Invert the selection by pressing Ctrl+Shift+I then press Delete, this step will erase the selected areas. Now deselect by pressing Ctrl+D. To make sure there is no part of the wave image outside canvas, press Ctrl+A to select all part of the canvas, then go to Image > Crop.


Step 17

Still in the same layer, go to Edit > Transform > Warp then warp the image following the 3D model side curve. See image below for more details.


Step 18

Duplicate the wave copy layer, then place each image on top of left and right layer. After that, make each one of them ( wave copy layer ) as a layer clipping mask. Result of this steps can be seen in the image below.


Step 19

Select the wave copy 2 layer (the one on top of right shape layer) then change the blend mode to Multiply. Make it blur by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur menu, adjust Radius value to 5px then click OK.


Step 20

Repeat previous step for the other wave image placed on top of left shape layer. To apply the same Gaussian Blur filter, simply press Ctrl+F. When you’re done, select the left shape layer’s and reduce the opacity to 70%. This will make the left shape become transparent.


Step 21

Go back to right shape layer’s, we need to tweak this layer so it look transparent as the left shape. Reducing the layer opacity will simply work, but I didn’t want the entire right shape became transparent. So I decide to add a layer mask, then use a black-soft round-Brush tool with low opacity (around 10-20%) to mask some areas so the transparency is applied only on certain parts (i assume you already knew how to do masking with brush tool).


Step 22

Copy-paste the water texture image once again, don’t forget to decrease its size. Make sure you place this new water texture layer on top of inside’s shape layer, then create a selection using Rectangular marquee tool. Now Inverse (press Shift+Ctrl+I) the selection, delete the selected area then deselect ( press Ctrl+D ).

Still in the same layer, make it as clipping mask (press Ctrl+Alt+G) and then go to Edit > Transform > Distort. Distort the water texture until it the perspective’s feel right. Press Enter when you’re done.


Step 23

Same as previous step, change layer blend mode to Multiply then apply Gaussian Blur filter. Later on, reduce the “inside” shape layer opacity to 70%.


Step 24

Open and copy-paste the sand texture image into our working document. Place it on top of ‘bottom’ shape layer then decrease its size using the free transform command.


Step 25

Transform the sand texture using Edit > Transform > Distort command, making the perspective view like shown below. Don’t forget to press Enter when you’re done transforming.


Step 26

Next, make this layer as a clipping mask layer by pressing Alt+Ctrl+G then change the blend mode to Linear Light. This step also finish the ‘adding texture-part’ of this tutorial.


Step 27

Create a new clipping mask layer between sand texture and ‘bottom’ layer, change the blend mode to Overlay then draw shadows using soft round Brush with low opacity. When using Brush tool, remember the light source we mention at the beginning as your reference where to put shadows.


Step 28

Repeat creating shadows for each shape layers. But don’t change the blending mode, leave it normal instead. See image below if you need guidance.


Step 29

Get back to sand texture layer, we need to sharpen it a bit by using Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask menu. Inside the Unsharp Mask dialog, adjust Amount and Radius value as seen below. Click OK to apply the filter.


Step 30

I think we need to sharpen the top most wave layer to make it more convincing as real sea wave. Select the wave layer and repeat the Unsharp Mask filter, by simply pressing Ctrl+F. We need to tweak the wave color balance since I think more darker blue is better. To do that, we’re using Hue/Saturation ( press Ctrl+U ) and Levels ( press Ctrl+L ) command.


Step 31

Select layer shape ‘bottom’, add a layer mask in this layer. Then using soft round Brush tool with low opacity, mask the shape’s edge ( the upper-right parts ). As you can see, the result does imitate ‘depth of field’ when you look something underwater.


Step 32

To keep organize, put related layers inside a group/folder. This will bring out four different group which is named ‘top’, ‘inside’, ‘left’ and ‘bottom’. If you using Photoshop CS3 or the later version, you can do this step easily by Ctrl+Clicking related layers then press Ctrl+G.


Step 33

Open the cruise image. Grab Pen tool from tool bar, then start creating selection path to isolate the cruise.


Step 34

Go to Window > Paths or simply click the Paths tab to show the Paths panel. Now click the Load Path as Selection button to convert those paths into a selection marquee. Copy-paste the selected cruise into our working document.


Step 35

Using free transform command, reduce the cruise’s size. Make sure you place this cruise layer on top of layer group ‘top’.


Step 36

Go to Image > Adjustment > Color Balance or simply hit Ctrl+B to bring the Color Balance dialog. Adjust Color Levels value until the cruise color become more bluish, this will imitate the ambient color from the water texture, making the cruise color blend with the environment. Click OK to apply color balance command.

Water reflect things, right? so we’ll need to create one for the ship, adding realism. First, you need to duplicate the cruise layer (Ctrl+J). Then drag down the cruise copy layer below the original one.


Step 37

Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical to flip the ‘cruise copy’ image. Do some distortion here by using the Edit > Transform > Distort menu, hit Enter when your done. Now add a layer mask in this layer because we’ll going to hide half of the ‘cruise copy’ image using layer mask.


Step 38

Grab the Gradient tool, and draw linear gradient vertically from white to black (make sure the layer mask is active when you did this). There you go, looks like a reflection isn’t? but we’re not finished yet, some shadows is needed for adding realism and depth.


Step 39

Still in the same layer, add Color Overlay layer style. Choose a dark blue color, and reduce the opacity to get the semi-transparent color effect.


Step 40

We need some minor tweak for the ship’s reflection. Click back the layer mask of ‘cruise copy’ layer. Use soft round Brush tool to mask shadow’s front and back edge (marked with red circle in the image below). That’s better!


Step 41

Open the first iceberg stock image. Since the color between iceberg and ocean are contrast enough, you can easily create a selection using Magnetic Lasso tool. Copy-paste the selected iceberg into our working document.


Step 42

Decrease iceberg size using free transform command. Make sure you put iceberg layer on top of cruise layer group (I’ve been grouping those layer before doing this step), name it ‘iceberg01’ since we’re gonna add second iceberg later.


Step 43

This iceberg need reflection, so first thing is to duplicate iceberg01 layer then drag down the iceberg01 copy layer below it. Then go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical to flip the ‘iceberg01 copy’ vertically. Use Move tool to drag down iceberg01 copy image, you’ll see it’s rather difficult to create reflection if the image has this kind of perspective.


Step 44

Lets begin with the left part of iceberg reflection, create a simple selection using Lasso tool. Press Ctrl+J to copy selected areas into a new layer, then use free transform command to rotate it clockwise. Try matching the upper edge part with the original iceberg above it, press Enter when done.


Step 45

Go back to ‘iceberg01 copy’ layer and rotate it counter clockwise, it will not perfect but try to align the upper edge with the original iceberg above it. And yes, you probably want to stretch it a bit like I did ( shown in the image below )


Step 46

Erase the excessive iceberg reflection using Eraser tool, see image below for guidance when erasing.


Step 47

To make the reflection color becomes darker, add Color Overlay layer style for each iceberg copy. Pick a dark blue color with low opacity.


Step 48

A reflection usually faded, right? so, add layer mask for each ‘iceberg copy’ layer and then mask it using linear Gradient tool until you get this result ( see image below ).


Step 49

Notice the excessive part from the ‘iceberg copy’ layer, we didn’t want that annoying part. Click the thumbnail of layer ‘iceberg copy’, and then erase the annoying part using Eraser tool. See image below for guidance when erasing.


Step 50

Create a new layer between iceberg01 layer and its reflection layer. Then load a selection by Ctrl+Clicking the thumbnail of iceberg01 layer. Press Shift+F5 to bring the Fill dialog box, select black and reduce Opacity to40%. Click OK to fill the selection with low opacity black.


Step 51

Press Ctrl+D to deselect. Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur menu, adjust Radius value: 5px. Click OK to apply Gaussian Blur filter, now you got shadows surrounding the iceberg. We didn’t need shadows on the upper part of the iceberg, so just delete it using Eraser tool.


Step 52

Create another new layer on top the previous layer, change the blend mode to Soft Light. Ctrl+Click on the iceberg01 layer thumbnail to load selection, then Fill it with 100% black. Using move tool, drag the new iceberg shadow to left like shown in the image below.


Step 53

Still in the same layer, add a layer mask into it. Mask certain parts using Brush tool to hide unwanted shadow areas. See image below for guidance.


Step 54

Open whale image, create selection of the whale using any selection tool you like ( I’m using Magnetic Lasso tool ). As usual, copy-paste the selected whale into our working document. Place it between layer group ‘cruise’ and ‘iceberg01’, lets call this layer ‘whale’.


Step 55

Adjust whale size using free transform command, and then go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal to flip it.Create a new layer, name it ‘splash’ because we’re gonna draw some water splash in this layer. Grab Brush tool from the toolbar, pick a spatter brush and lower the opacity to 50%. Choose white as brush color then click several times ( don’t click and drag, the result will be different ) in certain areas where water splash should appear, use your imagination.


Step 56

Open the second whale image. Select the whale silhouette (I’m using magic wand tool to select it), then copy-paste selected image into our working document.


Step 57

Place whale silhouette layer below whale layer, rename its layer to ‘shadows’. Flip whale silhouette horizontally then resize until it fits the whale body. Erase unwanted shadows parts using hard round Eraser tool, see below image for guidance.


Step 58

Now we need to fake the ‘deep underwater’ blurry effect, using Blur tool with 50% strength (see below image for guidance). Add layer mask, then using the soft round Brush tool with 25% opacity, mask whale’s shadow to create the semi-transparent look.


Step 59

Add a new layer between whale and shadow layer, we’re gonna add more shadows in this layer. Ctrl+Click on the layer whale thumbnail to load a selection, then go to Edit > Fill menu. Inside the Fill dialog, choose 100% Black and then click OK to fill the selection. You won’t see the result since it covered by the whale layer.


Step 60

Rotate whale’s shadow to left, erase unwanted parts using hard round Eraser tool with 100% Opacity.


Step 61

Change the blend mode to Soft Light and reduce the Opacity to 75%. As usual, keep organize by grouping the whale-related layers into one folder.


Step 62

Open shark image, create selection for the shark ( I’m using Pen tool to do it ). As usual, copy-paste the selected shark into our working document.


Step 63

Place shark layer between ‘inside’ and ‘left’ group. Change the blend mode to Luminosity and adjust shark size and position like shown in the below image.


Step 64

Go to Image > Adjustment > Shadows/Hightlights menu, adjust shadows amount to 50% then click OK to apply. Shark image will be much brighter then before.


Step 65

Create a new layer below shark layer, we call it ‘shadows’ because shark’s shadow will be drawn here. Load shark selection by Ctrl+Clicking the shark layer thumbnail. Press Shift+F5 to bring up the Fill dialog and choose50% gray to fill the selection.


Step 66

Change blend mode to Multiply and reduce Opacity to 75%. Use Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur with radius: 5pxto blur the shadows. After that, use Edit > Transform > Distort command to adjust shadow size and distortion.


Step 67

Go back to shark layer, blur certain parts of the shark using Blur tool with 50% strength, faking the depth of field effect.


Step 68

Still in the same layer, press Ctrl+Shift+U to desaturate shark’s color. We also need to fake the lens distortion effect, first thing to do is create a selection in the tail area using Rectangular Marquee tool. Second, activate the Move tool and then nudge the selected area by pressing the Up Arrow several times. Deselect by pressing Ctrl+D.


Step 69

Open the second iceberg stock. As usual, create a selection around the iceberg (Magnetic Lasso tool is quite good enough). Copy-paste the selected iceberg into our working document.


Step 70

Place the second iceberg layer below iceberg01 folder. Using free transform command, adjust its size like shown in the below image. Press Enter when you’re done.


Step 71

Press Ctrl+J to duplicate the current layer. Get back to iceberg2 layer to change its blend mode to Luminosity.


Step 72

Hide layer ‘iceberg2 copy’, then add layer mask for iceberg2 layer. Hide the upper part of iceberg2 using black soft round Brush tool with 100% opacity, the result can be seen in the below image.


Step 73

Show the ‘iceberg2 copy’ layer again then add a layer mask in that layer.This time, use black soft round Brush tool to mask (hide) the lower part of iceberg2 image. As you can see now, the iceberg2 lower part seems submerged under water.


Step 74

Click on the iceberg2 layer thumbnail (this is to make sure you’re the one we’re editing now is the layer’s content, not the layer mask). Use soft round Blur tool with 50% Strength to blur some parts of the iceberg2, see image below for guidance.


Step 75

Create a new layer, name it ‘splash’ because we’re gonna add water splash there. Use white spatter brush with50% opacity to draw some water splash. Click several times until you satisfied with the result (don’t click and drag, because the result will be different). If you unhappy with the water splash result, delete unwanted parts or just transform it like I did.


Step 76

Create a new layer below iceberg2 layer, we call this layer ‘shadows’. Draw a selection using Lasso tool (just a simple silhouette of the iceberg2, no need to imitate the iceberg2 shape precisely). Fill the selection with 100% Black.


Step 77

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur menu to blur the shadows around 25px radius. Click OK to apply blur filter.


Step 78

Add layer mask for the current shadows layer. Mask the shadows using soft round Brush tool with 15% opacity, see image below for guidance. This also ends the ‘adding iceberg’ part in this tutorial.


Step 79

With the same technique when you submerge half of iceberg2, add another submerge object. For example, I’m sinking the cruise (you can use anything, be creative!). Don’t forget to group related layers, keep organized!


Step 80

On the top most of layer groups, add Vibrance layer adjustment (just go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance). Click OK, then increase the value until we get more vibrance blue/teal color for the entire image ( in my experiment, the value for vibrance is +49 while saturation value is +17 ).


Step 81

Add another layer adjustment, which is Color Balance (found in Layer > New Layer Adjustment > Color Balance). Adjust Color balance value until the illustration become a bit greenish (in my experiment, the value for midtones color balance is: -8, +15, +1)


Step 82

Hide background layer and all other layer group except the top, inside, left, bottom and two adjustment layer on top (see below image to be certain). Select the top most layer (color balance layer) and then press Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E to merge all visible image into a new layer.


Step 83

Unhide layers we’ve been hide in the previous step, then drag layer 11 ( the merged layer ) below layer group ‘bottom’. Load a selection by Ctrl+Clicking this layer thumbnail, and then save the selection via Select > Save selection menu. You can give any name for the selection (in this example, I name it alpha-1), click OK to save it.


Step 84

Still in the same layer, go to Edit > Transform > Distort and try to align the merged layer so it look like a reflection. Use the Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All, which is will add layer mask filled with black, completely hiding layer 11 content’s.


Step 85

Now grab the soft round Brush tool with low opacity ( 25% ), make sure you choose white for brush color. Slowly using brush tool in the below part to create reflections. See image below for guidance.


Step 86

Make sure we’re still in the layer mask, then go to Select > Load Selection menu. Inside the load selection dialog, choose alpha-1 channel and then click OK to load the selection. Fill this selection with 100% black.Don’t deselect, yet!.


Step 87

Add a new layer on top of current layer, name it ‘shadows’ since here we gonna add shadows for the ocean-pie piece. Fill the selection with 100% black, then deselect it by pressing Ctrl+D.


Step 88

We need to see a bit of the shadows, so nudge it down using the Move tool as seen in the below image. Use Gaussian Blur filter with 10px radius to blur the shadows.


Step 89

We just need shadows for the downside part, so we’ll need to erase unwanted shadows using Eraser tool like shown in the below image. And that’s it, we are done!


Final Results


Download the PSD

Piece of | 14 MB

Jayan Saputra – deviantart page


Colour composition

To be able to use fonts appropriately, so that they complement the design rather than clash with it, designers need to master some of the skills of the typographer.

Font Basics

As a digital designer, fonts are a basic tool of your trade. The decisions that you make about which fonts or typefaces to use, and how to use them, can have a profound effect on the appearance and readability of your documents.

Since the advent of page-layout applications and the ready availability of a huge array of fonts, it often seems that many of the finer skills of the typographer have fallen by the wayside.

The choice of font tells your readers a lot about a publication before they even begin reading it. The mark of the true designer is knowing how to use – and, equally important, how not to use – fonts to give your documents the maximum possible impact.

What is a font?

The particular design of a set of characters – including all the letters of the alphabet, Arabic numerals, punctuation marks, and other symbols, such as accented characters – makes up a font or typeface. It’s worth remembering that in today’s world of page-layout applications, computer fonts are software.

This will help you to understand the different formats that fonts can take, the ways they can be bought and used, and how to deal with the problems and cross-platform issues that may arise when using them.

How fonts work

Computers encode each character in a font in the form of a number, turning the alphabet into a set of numbers that all applications can then interpret. On screen, however, what you see are graphic shapes of the members of the character set, which are reproduced by the particular font software you have chosen.

Fonts are distinguished by various graphical aspects that each font’s set of characters shares. For example, all the lowercase letters of the alphabet in a particular font share a common ‘x-height’ (see diagram below). Further variation comes from the different styles and weights that may be produced for each font ‘family’, such as italic and bold.

Font types and qualities

There are three main categories of font: serif, sans serif, and decorative.

Serif fonts

These fonts are distinguished by the short counterstrokes, or serifs, on the ends of their letters. Very generally, serif fonts add authority and classicism, while sans serif fonts convey modernity and immediacy. Serif fonts are considered easier to read for extended periods, so they tend to be used for the body text of books and newspapers.

Sans serif fonts

These give a clean visual image and are especially good for headlines and boxed text, although their uniformity tends to make them less legible in long passages of text. Having said this, these qualities are not always so clear-cut. For example, the large x-height of Helvetica – a sans serif font – makes it easily readable when used for body text.

Decorative fonts

As the name implies, these fonts should be reserved for decoration and do not make for easily read blocks of text.

Corporate environments

Designing documents for corporate use brings its own set of complicating factors, demanding fonts that combine functionality with the appropriate aesthetic qualities to reinforce the company image or brand.

  • If you are creating documents for other people to use, you will need to consider compatibility. Are they using PCs or Macs? What software do they use? Which fonts do they have pre-installed?
  • Establish a clear set of rules for the use of corporate fonts in different situations and make sure that these rules are agreed with other departments, such as marketing and editorial.

As you’ll see above what distinguishes one font from another are the different graphical characteristics of its set of glyphs – the slope of its ‘counters’, the relative size of its ‘x-height’, the shape of its ‘descenders’ and height of its ‘ascenders’, for example – all of which will have been carefully designed to make a specific impression.

Further variation comes from the different styles and weights that may be produced for each font ‘family’: plain (often called ‘Roman’ or ‘normal’), italic, semibold, bold, extra bold, condensed, thin, light, and so on. The differences between fonts, and among styles and weights, can be marked, or they may be very subtle.

Although these words (above) are all set in exactly the same size type, the differences in their appearance are pronounced. Note particularly the relative sizes of the x-heights: Verdana’s (Every) large x-height is the main reason why that font looks bigger than the others.

Fonts and design: basic rules

  • Before you start designing a publication, read the text and think about the readership
  • Begin any job with just two fonts. Use more only if you are sure you need them
  • Invest in a specimen book showing the characteristics of different fonts or compile one yourself. Use a font utility program to print out custom specimen sheets for the fonts already on your computer
  • Use tried and tested combinations – for example, a serif font such as Bembo for body text, with a sans serif such as Franklin Gothic Heavy or Gill Sans Extra Bold for headings. Some font families, such as Adobe Stone, contain a combination of well-matched serif and sans serif versions
  • Keep body text between 9 point (for books) and 12 point (for newsletters and marketing materials)
  • Use leading (the spacing between lines of text) to aid legibility. One rule of thumb is that body text should have leading around 2 points greater than the size of the type. For example if the text is set in 9 point, then the leading should be at least 11 point. Most design software automatically applies leading 120 per cent of the type size, giving 12 point leading with 10 point type
  • Do not use ALL CAPS or underlining to highlight text. Bold or italics (but not both together) are better for emphasis. However, avoid using any of these devices for long blocks of text – it makes the text harder to read
  • Ensure your chosen fonts have all the cuts, styles, and weights necessary to set the text. For example, an animal encyclopedia will probably require an italic cut in which to set Latin species names

Follow the conventions of colour composition to create better images.

Within a scene, we tend to see relatively large, plain elements as a backdrop to smaller, more distinct ones. The latter catch our attention first and seem closer. This principle is known as ‘figure and ground’, and is important for several reasons.

First, it contradicts the assumption that smaller items will necessarily seem less significant: in fact, they may well dominate.

Second, it tells us that a composition in which figure and ground are not immediately distinguishable may seem lifeless and uninvolving. Elements should be differentiated by size and colour.

Third, the principle of figure and ground combines with our knowledge of colour theory to help us understand the impressions created by colour within a composition.

Warm hues (in the red part of the colour wheel) tend to advance towards the viewer, while cool (blue) hues recede. Therefore, applying a warm colour to a figure will accentuate its tendency to jump out, and cool colours will encourage a ground to recede; reversing this will tend to negate the effect, giving a more balanced and less striking impression.

A small splash of warm colour on a cool background will be more pleasing than the reverse.

It might be assumed that figure elements should also be brighter than grounds, but in fact dark figures against a bright ground are much more acceptable to the human eye. We write in black on a white background, despite having long had the technology to do the reverse, because it seems more natural.

Changing the value (lightness) of the ground can have a strong effect on an image as a whole, especially in graphical compositions made up of uniform colour fields. Light figures on a dark ground seem to emerge from shadows or darkness, making them seem luminous and often mysterious or foreboding, an effect that was fully exploited in Renaissance painting.

A midtoned background either forces figure colours into a narrower range of values (all lighter or all darker than the ground), resulting in a muted or hazy effect. Or, by allowing some figures to be lighter and others darker than the ground, prevents the composition being interpreted in terms of spatial recession, an effect that is visually disorienting but can be graphically rewarding.

Elements that differ most in value from the background will always draw the eye first, almost regardless of differences in hue.

Colours are intensified by being placed on a very dark or very light ground, but their temperature and tendency to advance or recede may also be affected: blue on white can advance, while red always advances against black, even in extremely dark shades, as is powerfully demonstrated in the well-known paintings by Mark Rothko.

Repetition, or rhythm, is an important feature of many compositions. The use of colour can contribute to the effects of repeating lines and shapes: graduation of lightness and saturation can tell us which way movement is going, or reinforce the impression of forms fading off into the distance.

More distant objects appear lighter, less saturated, and less distinct, an effect that can be created by blurring or ‘feathering’ elements or reducing the detail with which they are drawn.

Progressive sequences of colour lead the eye and make the composition more dynamic, while repetitive sequences give a sense of order and balance. Closely spaced repetition of hues creates optical mixing, giving the overall effect of a continuously coloured surface. Similarly, exact repetition of lines, shapes or colour fields – pattern – can allow an area to appear uniform even though it may contain a large amount of detail.

We instinctively interpret colour and form as if they are part of a real-world scene. The photo above shows an interior receding into the distance. Reduced to a few simple colour fields (below), the image gives a similar impression of perspective and recession. Such effects play a part in how we ‘read’ any graphical composition, whether or not it aims to depict reality.

This carefully judged composition sets warm, advancing earth tones against cool, receding blues to give an immediate impression of scale and distance, despite comprising only simple forms. Note the use of repetition and leading lines.
Agent: Digital Vision;
Artist: Nigel Sandor

Top left: A natural figure/ground relationship. A large field of cool hue is interrupted by darker, smaller fields of warm hue.
Bottom left: With the colours reversed, the cool figures are equally well distinguished, but appear more numinous.

Defeating expectations of figure/ground colour relationships can create a more harmonious composition.
Top centre: Normal temperature relationship, reversed value relationship.
Bottom centre: Normal value relationship, reversed temperature relationship.

Playing with proportional relationships.
Top right: Because the large shapes are more regular, darker and warmer than the negative space, they tend to appear as figures in front of a ground.
Bottom right: With figure/ground cues now thoroughly confused, we flip between seeing blue discs and a red arch.

Progressive colour sequences are dynamic, suggesting motion or depth.
Top left: Increasing values lead the eye towards the centre of the composition.
Bottom left: Deprived of a contrasting ground, the dark central figure appears to recede into shadow. The lighter rings at the outside also recede, giving a less dynamic effect than above.

Repetitive colour sequences are static, discouraging the eye from travelling in any direction.
Top right: Contrasting shades preserve some of the depth effect created by the rings. Note the slight optical illusion of a spiral, which occurs when rings are broken or partly concealed.
Bottom right: Complementary colours further reduce any dynamic effect.

The repetition of colour and form within patterns such as this tartan creates a sense of order and balance which prevents them seeming garish or distracting.

Author’s URL: Alistair Dabbs and Alastair