Relief Articulation Techniques

in Art & Perception
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We consider techniques used in the articulation of pictorial relief. The related ‘cue’ best known to vision science is ‘shading’. It is discussed in terms of an inverse optics algorithm known as ‘shape from shading’. However, the familiar techniques of the visual arts count many alternative cues for the articulation of pictorial relief. From an art technical perspective these cues are well known. Although serving a similar purpose as shading proper, they allow a much flatter value scale, making it easier to retain the picture plane, or major tonal areas. Vision research has generally ignored such methods, possibly because they lack an obvious basis in ecological optics. We attempt to rate the power of various techniques on a common ‘shading scale’. We find that naive observers spontaneously use a variety of cues, and that several of these easily equal, or beat, conventional shading. This is of some conceptual interest to vision science, because shading has a generally acknowledged ecological basis, whereas the alternative methods lack this.

Relief Articulation Techniques

in Art & Perception



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  • View in gallery

    At left Peter Paul Rubens, portrait of a woman. Rubens used classical shading according to the reception of the light. The illumination direction is from the upper left. Notice the resulting clear ‘reading’ of the surface relief. At right a wash drawing by Nicolas Poussin. This is still academic shading, with a well-defined direction of illumination (from the left), although there are no gradual transitions. Gradients are not required to construct strong pictorial relief, here Lambert’s law seems ‘binarized’, or ‘clipped’. Notice that this figure indeed captures the ‘shading’, but that many subtle color effects are missing in the reproduction. For instance, Rubens used a combination of red and black chalk, Poussin’s drawing is in wonderful sepia tone.

  • View in gallery

    A drawing by Aristide Maillol (1861–1944) illustrates the ‘sculptural’ method of edge darkening. This has nothing to do with shape from shading proper. The light comes from nowhere, or is perhaps felt to derive from the artist’s and/or observer’s mind (as in Yeats (1936): ‘The mirror turned lamp’).

  • View in gallery

    This famous photograph by Edward Weston of 1934 clearly shows what Ansel Adams dubbed as the ‘limb effect’ (Adams uses this Weston example). Notice that the sun is right behind the photographer, the model covers her shadow on the ground. The edge darkening is mainly due to the non-Lambertian properties of her skin. The composition depends upon the similar values of the sand and her skin.

  • View in gallery

    The case of proper shading. This also illustrates the nominal anchor points of the linear order pursued in the study. The scale is composed of the conventional shape from shading stimulus, with contrast varied in steps of a factor of two. Notice that the highest contrast looks almost spherical, whereas the lowest contrast yields an almost flat relief. Ideally, the powers of the other cues considered here should fall between the anchor points defined by these instances.

  • View in gallery

    In this Yin–Yang pattern the white and black areas play equivalent roles. Evidently, ‘equiluminance’ makes no sense here! In terms of pictorial composition white and black on a medium gray ground carry the same ‘weight’. This is generally true in cases where two colors — like white and black here — play together, or compete with each other, in Gestalt configurations. The colors are not ‘equiluminant’, but of ‘equal weight’.

  • View in gallery

    Example of contour modulation by way of bipolar edges. The linear gradient inside the disk has been replaced with a uniform tone. The tonal area modulation (‘shading proper’) has been limited to a narrow strip about the circular outline. This clearly articulates pictorial relief.

  • View in gallery

    The case of edge darkening. The linear gradient inside the disk has been replaced with a tonal edge darkening. This sculptural shading — as it is often called — has no radiometric origin, yet it is quite effective. It is common in many cultures, and stylistic periods, because it does not introduce an irrelevant accident like a direction of illumination.

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    Two tonal stimuli that will almost certainly be perceived as ‘flat’, although possibly raised or recessed from the picture plane.

  • View in gallery

    Scatter plot of all individual voting orders against the median of the voting orders.

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