Abstract Structure


In this section of Leborg’s book, Visual Grammar, he discusses different ways of structuring a composition. Leborg maintains that, “we can only describe a structure if we are able to recognize its pattern,” and this can be done in several different ways. One way to create a visual pattern is by evenly distributing objects within a composition. In this kind of formal structure, structure lines will either pass through an objects’ center, or run between the objects. When this is done, and all of the sections are alike, a basic structure, or grid, is created.

Gradation is another method of structure and can be achieved through repetition. This can be done using parallel lines or radiating lines. However, with gradation, the structure units can change in size, form, or both, but must maintain and even rate or growth. Within radiation, there are different methods of gradation. There is concentric radiation, in which the structure lines create circles radiating from a central point but are all unequal distances from the center, and there is centrifugal radiation in which the structure lines diverge from a common center, for example, the lines on a seashell.

When objects in a composition do not follow straight structure lines, it is called an informal structure. Often times, one may perceive objects in a composition to be positioned in a structure, but this is based on visual distribution: a judgment about the amount of space an object occupies based on our visual experience. This is caused by our brains tendency to fill in what is missing, so we see a structure or grid to please our brain. Leborg argues that these are inactive structures: structures that “indicate the position of the objects but do not affect their form.”

In every composition objects are contained by the limits of the surface. Whether it is a formal or informal structure, there are forces of varying degrees of energy that dictate from and proportions. These are known as the format or object’s structural skeleton.

Article: http://char.txa.cornell.edu/language/element/pattern/pattern.htm

Similar to Leborg, Charlotte Jirousek, professor at Cornell University, argues that, “pattern is an underlying structure that organizes surfaces or structures in a consistent, regular manner.”

In her blog, Art, Design and Visual Thinking, Jirousek goes into depth on how pattern is the “skeleton” that organizes a composition. She discusses the theory that grids are the foundation for any structure or image, and the ways the points of a grid are connected become a class of pattern.

While Leborg primarily focuses on visible and invisible structure lines being the foundation of a structure, Jirousek talks about the classes of pattern which are created through the modes of connection on a grid and which are found in nature.

The four modes discussed are: flow, branching, spiral, and packing and cracking. Flow is defined as repetition of an undulating line and is referred to as Meander patterning. Branching is the pattern formed by the natural connection of plants. Spiral is the pattern found in everything from the smallest organism to the farthest galaxy. Packing and cracking is the idea of pattern being created with objects are clustered together and as a result of the tension, crack.

Although Jirousek takes a more organic approach to structure, I think she provides some valuable information in regards to how pattern, the foundation of structure, is a natural phenomena. When looking for an article relating to Leborg’s discussion of abstract structures, I could only find people who had referenced the information Leborg had provided in Visual Grammar. I did not come across any other designer who discussed abstract structures and its importance to graphic design.



This is an example of an abstract structure because there is a clear pattern but there are no visible structure lines to define the limits of each object or unit and how it fits in relation to one another.



In the image above, the objects are evenly distributed throughout the composition.  This creates a formal structure.  This also shows the basic grid because the structure lines are perpendicular to one another both horizontally and vertically.



To tie this in with Professor Jirousek’s discussion about structure, I chose this image of gradation found in nature.  These rocks are structure units that change in size and form at an even rate.



This is an image of a seashell.  Another example of structure found in nature.  This image shows a hybrid between both concentric and centrifugal radiation.  It is concentric because it has structure lines that are unequal distances from the center, and it is centrifugal because the structure lines diverge from a common center.


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