Tessellations can be defined as repetitive designs in which positive and negative shapes are of equal importance and consume the entire surface of artwork. The objects in a tessellation share edges with other objects in the pattern. The word tessellation means to fit or join polygons (an enclosed plane, like a square or triangle) into flat, continuous patterns. They are also called mosaic tiling patterns.
A key part of a tessellation pattern is that all the figures are interlocking, and they border on one another, leaving no gaps or space between objects.
Though the term ‘tessellation’ has appeared in earlier art designs, the man who made it famous in the art world was M. C. (Maurits Cornelis) Escher (Holland, 1898-1972), who is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Modern Tessellations”. Escher was artist & draughtsman most known for his woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints, which tend to feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, and of course, his tessellation designs. Apart from being a graphic artist, M.C. Escher illustrated books, designed tapestries, postage stamps and murals. While Escher was not a mathematician, many of his works were based on Laws of Mathematics and geometric grids, which helped to give his artwork a sense of visual balance, even when they bordered upon impossible & infinitive patterns.
His series Regular Division of the Plane (begun in 1936) is a collection of his tessellated drawings, many of which feature animals, birds and imaginary human figures. He would distort the shapes and appearances of some of these figures in order to fit them into the basic tessellation pattern.
As a lecturer of design for the past 25 years, I’ve frequently introduced tessellation assignments to my fundamental design classes, and instructed them on how to create an overall tessellation pattern. Once they create a basic ‘template’ or pattern, they must use their imagination to fill it completely in, making drawings of ‘critters’ and figures, similar to what Escher did. I’m always surprised at the very creative final tessellation patterns that some students have made on this project.
The objective is to make students aware how joining various designs in a tessellation pattern can give them a unique and original design to be used a number of ways, as a background to posters and web pages, as well as patterns in textile design.
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