Assignment #1

View From My Window

Problem: Create black and white figure-ground compositions (stable and ambiguous) using the simplified forms observed within the bounds of your home window (frame).

Limits: simple, flat shapes

Materials: Creative Process Book, pencils, marking pens, 1 sheet Bristol Board 9×6″, 1 sheet Bristol Board 14×17”, black drawing paper, scissors, exacto knife, ruler/t-square, glue.

Concepts: Shape (Organic, Geometric), Picture Plane, Picture Frame, Figure-Ground (Obvious, Ambiguous), Unity, Economy

Technical Skills: thumbnail sketching, draughmanship with ruler/t-square, inking pens, exacto knife and collage.


  1. Research /  Inspiration (DUE Class 2)
    • Choose a spot in your apartment and let the window ‘frame’ the view from that spot.
    • Write on the 3rd page of your Creative Process Book: ‘A View From My Window’ and compose a minimum 2-paragraph description of the view. Focus on describing the shapes, lines, points and their relationship to each other. Ignore everything except what you see inside the boundaries of the window frame.
  2. Experimentation / Iteration (DUE Class 2)
    Thumbnail Sketches
    • On the following page(s) of your Creative Process Book make at least 12 thumbnails of the view in pencil. Do not shift your position.
    • Draw whatever you see. Draw quickly, without thinking or worrying about the quality of the drawing. JUST DRAW!
  3. Development of Skill and Craft (DUE Class 3)
    Inked Thumbnails
    • On a sheet of 9×12″ Bristol Board, measure with your ruler 6 rectangles (3″x2″). There should be a 2″ margin on the sides and a 1″ margin on the top and bottom. Between each rectangle there should be a 1″ margin.
    • Based on the critique, choose the 6 most successful pencil thumbnail drawings that exhibit unified compositions.
    • In your Creative Process Book, redraw these 6 compositions, transforming lines and points into simple shapes. The goal with these is to simplify, pare down the designs to create (3) obvious figure / ground relationships and (3) ambiguous figure/ground relationships using only solid closed shapes. The shapes can be organic or geometric.
    • Once you are happy with these compositions transfer them to the Bristol Board using pencil first and then pen to fill in black areas.
    • Erase all extraneous pencil lines and measurements. Final piece should be neat, clean and well-presented.
    • REFERENCES: In these two examples notice the consideration of the figure-ground relationship and how it makes the overall composition successful.
      John Currin | Rousseau
  4. Expression of Form, Emotions, or Concepts (DUE Class 4)
    Cut Paper Compositions
    • Using your inked thumbnail compositions as a guide, create 4 figure-ground  relationships (2 stable, 2 ambiguous) using black paper cutouts.
    • With subtlety and economy, see if you can create compositions that each communicate an emotion or concept, such as tension, loss, power, weakness, silence, energy, etc. Ideally the content (meaning) should relate back to your experience of observing the view from your window.
    • These 4 compositions should be a culmination of the creative process so far. They should represent your most successful attempts at this design problem.
    • On a sheet of 14×17″ Bristol Board, measure 4 rectangles (5×7”) with your ruler. There should be a 1″ margin on the bottom and top and a 1.5″ margin on the sides. Between each rectangle there should be a 1″ margin. Adjust to your picture frames, as necessary.
      USE THIS GUIDE. (this guide has been updated… sorry for the inconvenience.)
    • Using Black drawing paper, scissors, exacto knife, ruler/t-square, glue, cut black drawing paper to desired shapes (figure) and paste to the bristol (ground). Shift the shapes around, re-cutting different sizes when necessary, until you are satisfied that the whole composition functions in a unified way, where both the ground and figure have been considered.
    • REFERENCES: Here are some excellent student work examples of figure-ground reversal from San Jose State.
      Example 1 | Example 2 | Example 3
  5. Thoughtful Assessment (verbal and written)
    • Bring all assignment parts to class.
    • Be prepared to present, discuss and analyze your finished work in terms of concept, craft, what you learned, and creative process.
    • State the following: your name, what you are presenting (title and design problem), which parts are successful and why, which parts are unsuccessful and why.

    Written Assessment: In your Creative Process Book, at the end of the View from My Window section, document your thoughts about this project. Think about what you learned, what you could have done better (planning, material use, craft), and how you will apply what you learned to your next project.

  6. Work Hour Tally
    • In your Creative Process Book, outline the hours committed for each portion of the assignment, including dates and times.