Push/Pull: the Theory of Everything
(OK, a bit hyperbolic, I admit.  But nonetheless...)

The notion of Push/Pull is also referred to as the "ambiguous figure/ground relationship."  

Graphically speaking, everything sits on a background of some kind: plain and simple backgrounds, or festive and visually interesting.  There will be an object (the figure) resting on a background (the ground) of some kind.  To say it another way, the figure is what we notice and the ground is everything around it.  To say it yet another way, the positive shapes and the negative shapes.  The object can be defined by what happens on it or to it or within its borders, but it can also be defined by the surrounding space: the negative space.  And when the negative takes on such a prominent and vital role, do we really do it justice to call it "negative" or does it now become the "positive"?  

How we perceive these things is referred to as the figure/ground relationship.  These two definitions - the positive and the negative - depend very much on perception.  And when these relationships change back and forth, we find it ambiguous.

Here are some examples that illustrate this idea:

Do you see a white vase on a black background or two black faces in front of a white background?
  Do you see a white rectangle with a hole in it or a black circle in front of a white rectangle in front of a black background?

I would argue that over time, all four effects can be seen.  This condition of uncertainty, this ambiguousness of what is figure and what is ground, can provide great visual interest for a graphic presentation.

Here are a few others:



  (This one is interactive.)

More information on this subject can be found in the follow:


Watercolor: Simple, Fast and Focused
by Mel Stabin  
It has more in-depth descriptions for each as well as some beautiful paintings as example. 

Art, Design and Visual Thinking: an interactive textbook 
By Charlotte Jirousek 


Watercolor: Painting Outside The Lines 

by Linda Kemp North Light Books 

Design Notes: Figure/Ground 
by James T. Saw 

copyright 2017 Fred B. Mullett