Monthly Archives: July 2013

Inspired By Research; Inspired To Research

I love doing research as a creativity tool. With the internet this is so much easier than it used to be.

When I was young research for any type of project meant a trek to the library. Our high school library was nice but it had nothing on the State Library of NSW downtown in Sydney with its subterranean stacks and endless card catalog. Plus the building was very impressive with its sandstone dignity, stained glass skylights and traditional wood decor.

What’s a “card catalog”? the whippersnappers ask. It was where research began – looking for an author or book mentioned in a bibliography, or going to a subject index and starting there. I was being my own Google.

Card Catalogue at State Library of NSW - just one of several cabinets

Card Catalogue at State Library of NSW – just one of several cabinets

While a tremendous number of books are available on the reading room shelves, many more are kept in stacks.Having found the reference book I wanted, the process was to fill out a request form and hand it (possibly after standing in line) to the assistant librarian on stacks duty, and then wait while they used the mysterious series of numbers that are the Dewey Decimal System to find the location of the copy, send some even more junior person to walk the stacks, and return with the book.

Reference books could not be borrowed, only read in the adjacent reading room. Long heavy wood desks, hard wood desk chairs, art deco style reading lamps.

I’m not really nostalgic for that process at all – it was time consuming and dependent on the assiduousness of the people creating the cross reference notations. A whole trip to the library could be taken up just with formulating the reading list.

But I do still like the visceral elements of this process. Hand typed cards, with faintly yellowed edges and even hand written added notations – sometimes with actual ink pens. The decor. Silence as a palpable thing, reinforced by the sound deadening architecture. The smell of old books.

Every time I designed costumes for a new show, I reinforced my own personal library with a trip to downtown. I liked to immerse myself in period information, making copious notes, sketches, and – get this – having a few select pages photocopied by the librarian! We weren’t permitted to make our own copies with those new fangled and supposedly temperamental Xerox machines.

How Research Stimulates Creativity

Sometimes it only takes a little bit of research – priming the pump – to get my thoughts, ideas, lists and sketches flowing. It’s always good to pause the research and make notes, mind storm some of the ideas, and go where your thought journeys take you. Personally I find if I don’t grab the moment and jot down ideas immediately, they sometimes get engulfed by the ongoing information input. You can pick up where you left off with your reading and notes, but not always with your idea flow.

At other times, I have been at a loss, and found I needed more comprehensive information before anything useful arose in my mind. I might have been looking for a hook, or a way in to my story. I might have been looking for the right visual motif.

Sometimes I found the theme of my vision adjacent to my mainstream research. For example once I was looking at wartime young people’s clothing, but what really helped me capture my design was looking at school uniforms from 10 years earlier.

Research might mean refreshing the memory – revisiting facts and ideas somewhat known – or it might mean finding information wholly new to you. It’s a stirring stick. It’s new ingredients thrown in. You don’t have to rely entirely on what is already in your head.

Research might be goal oriented and directed. The question is “How do I achieve this”. It generally has been so for me when I am designing something, or need to understand particular techniques to achieve a predetermined result – such as my webpage.

Or it might be experimental and exploratory – following threads until something sparks. The question is “Where will this take me?” If you are stuck, research might be the key. It could be a simple as going to the paint department and looking at the new paint colors, looking at a catalog, going to a different section at the Natural History Museum, or following a repin trail on Pinterest.

The Dark Side of Research

Research can be a time sucker and productivity killer. It’s all very well to follow the rabbit hole and surf the endless links for new connections, when you have plenty of time or no deadline. But sometimes it’s time to stop and actually do some creative work.

Mad Hatter Latin design

“We’re All Mad Here”

Some people, and I have certainly been guilty of this myself, will use research as the ultimate procrastination tool. I think we know when we are putting off getting started, and when we are genuinely stuck or need a bit more information. It can take self discipline to stop following the tantalizing tangents, especially now with so much information so easily available. In the old days at the library I was conscious of definite consequences if I decided I needed another tome, and sometimes a look at the clock decided the matter for me.

I know the feeling when I am using research to procrastinate. I start shifting around in my chair, and feeling twitchy inside. Better just to stop then – put in a bookmark – and instead move on the next step of collating my notes.

You can’t know everything about a topic – even if you are an expert. The old joke is that experts are people who know “more and more about less and less” – and that is great. But for creative work, you only need to hold in your head and notes, as much as you need to move forward. There will always be more and new information to find – some of it may be what you contribute.

Let research be a tool that you use, not a barrier to action.

 Research tools

  • Written published material – whether on line or in hard copy
  • Spoken word, oral histories – ditto – but the web makes access so much easier
  • Video material – documentaries, histories, how-to videos on You Tube
  • Memory – interviewing people, finding instructors
  • Trial and error, and exploring materials, as I mentioned in my prior theme.
  • Museums, galleries, and Aunty Mabel’s attic – places with visual artifacts.

Here’s my latest Infographic – about intentional research:

Please share this wherever you wish.

Please share this wherever you wish.

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Aesthetic Preference – Shabby Chic

Lois Crowley Heritage layout

Lois Crowley Heritage Layout

I’m talking about Shabby Chic this week, because it follows on so sweetly from Romantic Country Cottage.

The term was coined, and trademarked, by textile artist and interior designer Rachel Ashwell. The style in home decor is characterized by a lot of whitewashing and very pale pastels. The accessories, textiles, and furniture are usually old or look old with intentional distressing. The watchword is Texture.

Hallmarks of shabby chic style include using glamorous and luxurious elements like gorgeous chandeliers in casual settings, and layering folk art elements like quilts and lace tablecloths.

There are two ways to achieve the worn and distressed look on furniture or other items. The most effective, in my opinion, is to sand back the paint at the edges, high spots, and places where “wear” would naturally occur. Using a nice wax based colored polish will add patina.

The other way is to add paint in a rough, even sloppy, way so that the underlayers show through. The best way to achieve that is to use crackle paint finishes, which are designed to shrink as they dry and reveal the underlayers as if they were aged in the sun and rain over decades.

Shabby chic designs include laces, textures, and frayed edges. Printed and stenciled texts remind us of old flour sacks or tea chests. Chalkboard – black with white lettering – is another recently popular element. Empty picture frames, sometimes stacked, suggest the idea of incompleteness.

A shabby garden would have more white flowers, and wild flowers, rusty metal elements, old bathtubs filled with shrubs, lavender (again) and peonies. Clothing would include antique and Victorian lace blouses, tulle layers, granny boots and textured tights (roll on winter). I think faded velvet shawls too.

To me fairy tales sometimes feel shabby chic – the cottage in the forest that is run down and filled with old books, the strange old castle with wrought iron fencing.

Here’s how I described it in my shabby chic treasury:

Simple, aged, distressed, neutral colors & pale, weathered, folk. Old lace. Connection, history, folk tales, burlap, farm house, sheers. Timeworn. Miss Haversham. “To Kill a Mockingbird”. “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.

To this I would add pale lilac, mint green, robin’s egg blue, blush. Wabi-sabi all over again.

Quail Eggs in a dish

Quail Eggs in a dish

Ways to Bring the Shabby

It’s popular because it’s easy.

One way to add shabby chic elements to your decor is to paint vintage or old things – tins, hooks, wood boxes, candlesticks, ornate picture frames – with white or pastel paint and sand the edges. The paint color adds a unifying aspect.

Another is to bleach floral prints and incorporate plain muslins, lace, crochet in cream string, doilies, and many layers of sheers as the textile elements – drapes, table cloths, pillows and slipcovers.

Include vintage and aged garden accessories – especially urns, wire frames from topiary work, and baskets.

Add nostalgic and memory elements – like hanging a vintage baby’s christening robe on a twisted wire hanger among a bunch of silk hydrangeas. Use old pewter and tarnished silver cups and jugs. Mercury glass.

Bring architectural elements, carvings and castings, that might normally be on the exteriors inside.

Shabby looks great in company with industrial, mid-century modern, or minimalism, and loves Beach Cottage style too. However, in my opinion, it doesn’t work as well with Traditional – since it either looks like you aren’t done refinishing the rest of the furniture, or that you have a bunch of old stuff that needs refurbishing. In a house full of very Traditional furniture, I would stick to a few pillows, and small items.

There are a lot of scrapbookers using shabby chic style in their layouts. It works especially well with a touch of glam – silver beads, tiny rhinestones, pearls and old buttons.

Family Ancestors mini-album

Family Ancestors mini-album

Because it is all about the white, it is also a very popular wedding theme.

Plus it’s a great way to affectionately showcase beloved heirlooms.

Carved old mirror

Carved old mirror

 

Please visit my Shabby Chic Aestheric Preference Pinterest Board to see more examples. Do you love it? 

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Embrace Randomness

Marbled paper

Embracing the random was one idea that I’ve included in a past newsletter, and I want to revisit it. Randomness doesn’t replace Design – which is an intentional process to solve a specific problem. But it can be a great creativity jumpstarter, and a component of your design process. I mean just think of Scrabble!

Surprise effects with projects like tie dye or paper marbling are not the only places where randomness can produce delightful results. Many people are familiar with the idea of opening a book at random to find an “answer” to a problem. It is really a way of resetting your old thought pattern – the answer actually comes from within, from making mental connections.

Sandra Dodd sells Thinking Sticks, a thought and word game designed to encourage players to make connections between ideas that initially seem unrelated. It’s to show that learning can be free ranging. So can creativity.

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

~ Albert Einstein

Here are some happy accidents in the field of science and invention.

Here are some ways for you to use serendipity as creative inspiration:

  • Open a book or magazine at random and press your finger to a page. Use the first words you find as a writing prompt, or to inspire an illustration. Ask someone to think of a number and then turn to that page in a book. Imagine creating a painting or sculpture of the events on that page.
  • Set up a situation where unconnected objects are brought together. Close your eyes and reach into your bead container, or button jar, and pull out three or four items. Use the colors or shapes (or repetition) to inspire a sketch or stacked mini sculpture.
  • Try spinning a color wheel and using only the color on which you land for a drawing, collage or mood board.
  • Paint some pages and tear them into strips. Close your eyes and collect strips from different pages – arrange them into a pleasing collage.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Make up a nutty story about the first person you pass (in your head).
  • Point and shoot your camera every 10 steps. Turn the images into a digital collage, or look for repeating colors or shapes.
  • Go to Wikipedia and start clicking on links randomly. Look at the Wiki Commons images on a page that is several pages along from your start point. Will the picture inspire a story, poem or art work?

Embracing the random within an art piece or project.

Usually the parts of the piece that are unpredictable still come within certain parameters. It’s the detail that is random. For example when we pull the letters out of the bag for that game of Scrabble, we expect wooden letters, not a pickle or a peppermint. Random has it’s limits.

  • Tie dye, whether with crumpled fabric and bottles of dye, or using the actual tied resist method creates beautiful random effects.
  • Throwing balloons filled with paint creates amazing splatter.
  • Making monoprints with gel foundation, or on a hard surface, can create somewhat unpredictable results.

Mistakes

Errors don’t have to be tossed away. My friend Kelly calls mistakes “learning-takes”.

  • What can you do differently next time?
  • How can you embrace the unexpected result this time?

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The Time of Your Life is Now Online Workshop

“I let go of what I didn’t do. I release it to be carried away on the wind while I sleep tonight.
I look forward to all that awaits.  I open to the possibilities without being attached to the outcome.
I separate my value from the things I do. I identify with the goodness and grace that I share.
I declare to live a life in the pursuit of happiness.
Of my own desired design.”

Time of Your Life is Now

Here’s a creativity blast extra!

My good friend and creative being Flo Gascon is offering her creativity and life enhancing program, The Time of Your Life is Now as an online workshop for the first time.

The self-paced, email supported workshop is full of ideas and gentle guidance towards making this year, this month, this minute the beginning of the best, most fulfilled, time of your life.

And the great news is that the next supported session starts this Monday, July 15th, although you will have full access to the workbook materials the instant you register!

From the website:

The Time of Your Life program helps you design:

  • opportunities to be seen and known for your unique self
  • meaningful and productive celebrations of you
  • a toolkit for making things happen and feeling good while you do it
  • an arsenal of happiness and gratitude that inspires you
  • emotional space that honors where you’ve been while moving on

with

  • a New Step and Exercise in your inbox every day except Sunday for two weeks
  • a 40 page pdf workbook for in-depth examining and planning; a place to put your commitment in writing; a reference guide to remind you of your intentions
  • Intentions and Tools to make this the time of your life


My method + your work = sparks to create the life you want to live

——————————————————————————————-

The recommended price of the program is $37, and you can define the value of the program and choose to pay more if you wish.

 

But Flo understands that sometime people need a bit of encouragement and practical help to live their dreams, so she is offering the amazing “pay what you choose” option, allowing you to pay any amount from $15 on up, without judgment or sales pitches.

Click here to learn more and register.

 

The Elements of Design – Shape

The Second of the Elements of Design – Shape

Shape – the outline of an object. It will have at least height and width, and in three dimensions, depth/thickness. Shape is often defined by line, but also by color, and texture. In a sense, a shape is defined by where it ends.

The simplest shape – the circle – is the foundation of technology – the wheel.

There is positive shape – the space occupied by the object – and negative shape – the space left empty. And there is optical illusion – variations on this famous face vs vase illustration.

Vase or profiles

Silhouettes – distinctive shapes in the absence of detail – can be extremely evocative. Instant shape recognition is something advertisers have long known and taken advantage of, as do graphic artists, logo designers, and the designers of public signage. Fact is humans are hard wired from birth to take note of high contrast simple positive and negative shapes that represent faces.

Shapes

Shape in garments – well shaped garments create shape in bodies, including illusion and enhancement.

Proportion is a factor in shape. The visual meaning of a shape alters with changes in proportion.

Proportions

Shape is important in set design. First the floor plan, dependent on the performance space, is a 2D shape. The floor plan facilitates movement and flow. The elevations might show levels. Set pieces  show the architecture of the set – realism, abstract, expressionist. The shapes may have soft edges and curves, or straight lines and hard angles. Geometry, the science of shape, is important – especially for defining sight lines and the effective wedge (the part of the stage visible from every seat in the audience).

The Golden Mean

This is a magical seeming ratio produces rectangles that are considered to be the most pleasing to the eye, the most balanced and the most restful. It is believed to occur all over the place in nature. It has been called the Divine Proportion. Euclid is known for exploring it, and it is a big feature of Classical Greek architecture.

The actual number of the Golden Ratio is represented by Phi, and like Pi, goes on forever. The mathematical formula is:

.

but for artistic purposes we can approximate the ratio as 1:1.618, so a rectangle where the long side is a little more than one and half times the short side is getting there. (Long side divided by short side.)

Try using a drawing program to draw a pleasing, comfortable rectangle. There will be a moment when intuitively it just feels right. I bet you will be very close to the Golden Mean. Some artists are known for intentionally measuring to use the ratio. However it turns up automatically in all kinds of art because of aesthetic intuition. The proportion looks and feels right.

Looking for Shape

Just as once we started looking for line, it seemed to be everywhere, once you start looking at shape inside art, and appreciating the shape of objects in your environs, shape will be really obvious.

Animal silhouettes

Spend time appreciating the pleasing shapes of your belonging and shapes in nature. Shape is often governed by function – leaves, birds’ beaks, animal’s teeth, teapots. Ergonomics influence shape, how a well designed tool feels in the hand. Look at shapes within architecture. It isn’t all rectangles.

Disney Concert Hall

Fun with Shapes

Play with kids’ blocks. Look at the shadows cast by your towers.

Play with tangrams.

Negative Shape – Space.

One reason people stand with their hands on their hip in photos is to create the negative space under their arm. It breaks up the shape and makes you appear slimmer.

The beauty of an object on a shelf can be better appreciated if the space around it is defined – hence shadow boxes, and bookshelves. Many pictures look better framed with a mat.

In music, moments of silence can give clarity to the next notes. It’s called “phrasing”.

Originally the editing of the penultimate scene from “Casablanca” (1942) went like this.
Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects”.

Adding in some space made the moment immortal.

Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot…”
Rick stares at Renaud.
Renaud looks at Rick, and makes a sudden decision.
“Round up the usual suspects”.

Here’s a quote from Doctor Who:

“Oh, you’ve been eliminating yourself from history. You know you could be reconstructed by the hole you left.” Cyber Doctor, Nightmare in Silver.(Series 7, Ep.12)

The History of Interiors in architecture is the history of shape defining space, and space defining function. But that’s for another time.

Steps

Steps – shape and line

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Aesthetic Preferences

Beautiful Roses

Blushing roses

I have come up with the concept of “Aesthetic Preferences” to mean people’s taste and the kind of home decor, literature, clothing, visual arts and performing arts that lifts their spirits, makes them feel comfortable and beautiful, and ignites their creativity. Essentially it is the style they prefer.

I was developing these as a path to understanding the kind of look and aesthetic my prospective scrapbooking clients might want for their layouts.

I started listing them and came up with about 20, but I think there will be more. Some the really visible or prevalent ones popular today include Shabby Chic, Steampunk, and Modernist. Others include Traditional, French Country, Cottage, Prim, Mid-Century Retro, Craftsman, Shaker, Tribal, Beach and Asian.

One place where I have been able to illustrate them has been on Etsy through treasuries. These are a nice way to support other handmade artists, promote my own shop, and gather visual material together. Please visit my Treasuries Page to see them. I started numbering them, so I think I’ll visit them here over time in the same order.

Aesthetic preferences are a continuum, sliding from one to the next in eclectic moments.

Just as nobody likes only one kind of cuisine,  as far as I can tell, nobody likes only one aesthetic style. People will respond positively to more than one, and most likely they will be influenced by how “well realized” the style may be. But people’s preferences change with time, with personal maturity, with lifestyle changes, even with fashion.

As a film and theater designer I often had to work with multiple aesthetic styles to reflect the characters, sets, locations. Scripts and plays would be part of an aesthetic, that informed the design. But why should you concern yourself with defining your own aesthetic preferences?

  • Exploring images always inspired my creative thinking. You too can be inspired just by researching.

  • Discovering your own Aesthetic Preferences can help your creativity by giving definition to your plans. If you want to make something for yourself or your home, you have a starting point.

  • Understanding other people’s aesthetic preferences will help you when you want to make or buy something for them. It can also help you define your target market if you are in business.

  • Possibly examining your aesthetic preference could lead you to finding your creative blocks or fears. Do you find some aesthetic overwhelming, or too hard to realize? Do you fear that you will be judged for your preferences or taste?

  • Examining aesthetic preferences can give you a clear idea of what you don’t like, in the quest for deciding – and expressing – what you do like.

  • As we move forward with different AP’s, think about the fundamentals of each one, to discover the principles and criteria that define the AP – then they can be applied to your other work, other media.

Aesthetic Preference #1 – Romantic Country Cottage.

Here’s the description from the treasury page – I don’t think I can top it:

 Mix cabbage roses, liberty prints & chintz. Tea in cups. Favorite author: immortal Jane Austen, but also some Tolkein, Wodehouse, Shaw. Miss Marple, not Poirot. Old Merchant/Ivory before Helena BC went all Tim Burton. Cold Comfort Farm. Herbs & lavender.

Think of toile printed fabric – there’s that Jane Austen again – and old leather bound journals too, lace collars and irish linen with sprigs embroidered. Little House bonnets and pinafores. Hollie Hobbie takes it linear.

Cottage garden

Cottage Garden at Stop Street

Core Concept: Nostalgia.

At one end Romantic Country Cottage sits next to charming Chinoiserie with painted turquoise tea cups or  blue and white china, at the other it creeps towards Art Nouveau and looks over the hedge at Craftsman. Bleach the chintz (lessen the contrast) and it fades to Shabby Chic.

One of the aspects of this that sets it apart from the much newer aesthetic neighbor, Shabby Chic, is brighter color and greater tonal range – more contrasts. The idea is to choose related prints in close color ways but in different scales to create variation in texture. Simpler two tone textures, like stripes or ticking, create rests for the eye. The colors featured are usually pastels mixed with gelato brights, but with some darker shades of the core colors. There will often be a sense of depth.

I think I’ll start a Pinterest Board devoted to each preference as I mention it. (Please visit and repin)

As far as scrapbooking, there is so much very pretty vintage look floral paper, so many borders, embellishments and pearl button stickers, that it’s actually very easy to achieve. Most people tend to want to take it distressed, and that’s perfectly fine. Make it masculine with earth tones and navy blue, add ticking stripes and more of that brown leather. “A River Runs Through It” to Americana.

Chintz pattern Tea Set

Chintz pattern Tea Set

Is this your favorite style? Do you love overstuffed sofas in chintz with mismatched throwpillows, and walking through an overgrown wildflower garden wearing a big hat and thinking of Marianne Dashwood? Sweet teacakes on a floral platter, and butternut squash soup in a tureen.

And pretty aprons!

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