Figure And Ground Relationship: Suzanne and Michelle (detail)

Suzanne, Michelle and the Figure/Ground Relationship

The figure and ground relationship is about how the background relates to the main subject.


Just Thinking.

Recently, I’ve been studying the “figure/ground” relationship.  That is how the “ground”, such as the background and foreground, relates to the “figure” or subject.

Example Of Figure/Ground Relationship.

And, lo and behold, this painting of my siblings Suzanne and Michelle ends up being a good study in the figure and ground relationship.  Not surprising, I would say, since my first instructor and mentor was John Stermer, my Father.

Figure and Ground Relationship: Portrait of Suzanne and Michelle in blue and orange

What Is The Big Deal?

So, what am I talking about?  Or, more to the point, what sparked my excitement?

It Is About Unity.

Look out the same color blue is used in the background behind the figures.  Then, it is used in their clothing.  Finally, you see a small patch of the same blue in the small rectangular shape in the foreground.  Wow!  This is the type of thing that I love to find!  You see, the flow of the blue through the shapes in the paintings helps to create unity.

And, unity was one of the primary considerations of composition.

Also About Seeing A Painting.

Fine and dandy.  But, what if you’re not a painter?  Well, here is the deal.  You see many if not most painters try to use compositional elements, like color in this case, to create unity.  John Stermer was not the first artist nor the last artist to use such a strategy.

Therefore, when you see a painting, maybe take a second look and see how the artist created unity.  Or, how does the subject relate to the background?

An Aside About Color.

By the way, all that blue makes the skin tones look warm and lively.  That’s because the colors complement each other.  Plus, blue being cool makes orange look extra warm.

Personal History.

On a personal note, when my father worked on this painting, I was a bit envious of my sisters.  It looked like fun being the model.  I was later to remind myself, that being a model isn’t easy.  And, in time, I would get my own turn!


I hope you enjoy this figure portrait of my sisters Suzanne and Michelle completed in the early 1970s by John Stermer.




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