Mary Stewart Educator: Digital Foundations Syllabus: Assignment 1: The Parts and the Puzzle

Introduction to Digital Imaging through organization of a set of visual components

Example A: Breakout
Problem: Working with a curvilinear shape, a line, and a simple rectilinear shape, create a minimum of 8 compositions within a 3:4” format. 

Objective: This assignment requires imaginative thinking within strict limitations. You will be put in a box, then invited to break your way out. Seek to

  • create the widest possible range of solutions while meeting the limitations
  • use negative shapes to increase compositional complexity
  • fully engage every square inch of the composition

Final studies will be done digitally, using Adobe Illustrator

First, be sure you understand the game rules.

  • Any type of curvilinear shape can be used, from a circle to an amoeba. Any type of line can be used. The rectilinear shape cannot have more than ten perpendicular angles.
  • You must use the same three components in each study. Thus, if you choose a jagged line for the first study, a jagged line must be used in all subsequent studies. If you choose a square for the first study, a square must appear in every study.
  • Any component can be multiplied as needed. For example, you could have 2 squares, 2 circles, and two straight lines in one of your studies. However, do not exceed a total of 6 positive shapes.
  • Any component can be enlarged or reduced as needed

There are two equally effective approaches to this assignment.

1. Develop at least 20 ideas via thumbnail sketches, choose the best 8, then finalize, using Illustrator.

2. Invent your basic component (the 2 shapes and the line), then move directly to Illustrator to begin organization. Rough out at least 20 ideas on the computer, then refine the best 8.

Notes: Buckminster Fuller, one of the most influential of American designers, described design as “the character of the organization of relationships.” Thus defined, individual components are less important that the interdependent means by which they are organized.

This assignment gives you experience with the design process as well as a design product. The seemingly intractable limitations can actually be used to stimulate creative thinking, as you seek to “break out” of the box.

Projected Timetable: 2 weeks
Lectures: The Nature of Digital Imaging
Demo: Vector Basics: Introduction to Illustrator

Example B: Text and Image Symbiosis
Problem:Step 1: Using images provided by instructor, complete three 8x10” images, exploring proportional relationships between a single figure and line of text or a sequence of numbers.

Step 2: Expand on the above, adding a second image, to provide a setting. Experiment with focus, contrast, and illusion of space

Step 3: As homework, do an expanded version of the assignment, using your own images.


  • To demonstrate the effect of proportion and juxtaposition on communication.
  • To introduce the basics of Photoshop, including scaling, cut/paste, degrees of definition.

Final studies will be done digitally, using Adobe Photoshop.

1. Choose a dramatic photograph and a line of text or sequence of numbers. If you wish, the text and numbers may have a direct relationship to the photograph.

2. Generate a wide range of variations. Try working with a very large figure and very small numbers; try using large numbers and a small figure; try overlapping the figure and the numbers. What happens when an extreme close up of a man’s ear is combined with 14-point type?  What happens when a tiny figure is shown in silhouette surrounded by the same sequence of numbers in 48-point type? Repeat the text or numbers as necessary to create the most intriguing results.

3. Complete at least 6 rough variations, then finalize the 3 best and print them on good paper.

4. Enlarge one or two of the designs to 11x17" to demonstrate the effect of scale on communication.

Notes: Limiting the variables to a single figure and a single phrase or sequence of numbers helps to demonstrate the direct impact proportion has on communication. Enlarging or reducing a design can demonstrate the impact of scale. Encourage students to choose their texts carefully. Brevity is a virtue!

Timetable: 2 weeks

Lecture: Basic Raster Techniques

Demo: Scanning

Mary Stewart email address:

Sample Assignments for Digital Foundations

Assignment 1:The Parts and The Puzzle
Assignment 2: Color and Communication
Assignment 3: Linear Narrative
Assignment 4: Juxtaposition and Association

Back to Digital Syllabus